An NHL debut worth the wait for Flyers prospect Robert Hagg

An NHL debut worth the wait for Flyers prospect Robert Hagg

Game 82 was meaningless for the Flyers, but it meant the world to Robert Hagg.

With the emotions from playing his first NHL game starting to sink in, Hagg's voice grew somewhat shaky following Sunday night's 4-3 shootout loss to the Hurricanes (see game story).

The native of Sweden thought about the phone call to his family on Saturday after he received word that the Flyers were calling him up from AHL affiliate Lehigh Valley.

Nothing would top those emotions.

"It's a dream come true," Hagg said. "I've been dreaming about this since I was kid. Tears and laughs from both sides on the phone."

A joyful time for the 22-year-old defenseman, who had participated in four Flyers development camps and parts of four AHL seasons with the Phantoms before getting his shot.

In July, Hagg talked about an oblique injury he suffered during the 2015-16 season that resulted in missed playing time and a deteriorated confidence.

"When I came back, I couldn't put it together," he said then. "I don't know what happened. So I had to start all over."

This summer, feeling recuperated and rejuvenated, he set his sights on the Flyers.

"That was the goal for the year," he said Sunday. "I reached it."

In the wee hours of the season, no less.

"Now I know how it feels to be out there," Hagg said. "I know it's Game 82, and the game is probably not the way coaches want it to be played, but I had a lot fun out there.

"The speed is different, the guys are more skilled, stronger on the puck, so you have to be pretty alert."

Hagg played 21:19, doled out a team-high four hits and blocked three shots. He was easy to see, and not because he was wearing No. 48 -- a popular jersey number among fans thanks to Danny Briere. Hagg has good size at 6-foot-2 and a steadiness to his game. He was paired with Shayne Gostisbehere, but also took some shifts with Ivan Provorov.

It appeared to be an audition of sorts, albeit just one game.

"Solid play," Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol said. "I thought it was solid, strong play. Confident player. I thought he defended pretty well. It didn't take him very long to settle into the hockey game. He defended well. He moved well. I thought he supports the play really well. He showed real good confidence. So overall, it was a nice start for him."

Hagg, a 2013 draft pick, became the third rookie to make an NHL debut this week for the Flyers, joining Sam Morin and Mike Vecchione. Maybe the Flyers can take some solace in that as they pack up for the offseason with no playoff berth for the third time in the last five seasons (see 10 observations).

"I think Hagger played great tonight," Wayne Simmonds said. "Big Sam got in the other night, he played great. Vex played pretty well the two games he played, too, so we know we're going to have a lot of young guys coming in and I think that'll be a good thing."

Flyers player development coach Kjell Samuelsson and Phantoms assistant coach Kerry Huffman have played an important role in the maturation of the organization's prospects. 

Given Hagg's road has been one of greater bumps and distance, he's grateful for both coaches helping him grow.

"Huge part of it," Hagg said. "Especially Kjell, I've been working with Kjell now for three years and he's been on me basically every day to do stuff, so they've been a huge part of it."

Hagg also credited his new NHL teammates with assists.

"They just told me to play my game, go out there and have fun and try to relax as much as I could," he said. "It's Game 82, last game of the year, told me no pressure at all. Try to calm me down. They did a good job, all the guys were really good with me."

He'll see many of them in training camp next fall. The Flyers are expected to have at least two jobs open on defense, and Hagg will be near the forefront of the conversation.

For now, though, he'll soak in this April night.

"It was awesome," he said. "It's a dream come true to become a player in the NHL, play one game -- right now, I want to go out and play many more, but I'll have to wait for next season to see how it goes."

With Hagg, waiting shouldn't be a problem.

Back to the Phantoms
On Monday morning, Hagg and goalie Anthony Stolarz were loaned back to the Phantoms. 

The Flyers have played out their string of games, while Lehigh Valley is on the verge of clinching an AHL playoff berth, so the move is far from a surprise. The Phantoms are second in the Atlantic Division and their magic number is down to one point to clinch a playoff berth with three games left to play. 

Capitals regain top spot in Metro as Ovechkin scores NHL-best 35th goal

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Capitals regain top spot in Metro as Ovechkin scores NHL-best 35th goal

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Alex Ovechkin can stop fretting about what the Washington Capitals captain described as the worst game of his career.

He and the Capitals were much better in a 3-2 win over the Buffalo Sabres on Monday, two days after a 7-1 meltdown at Chicago.

After being held without a shot against Chicago, Ovechkin responded by scoring his NHL-leading 35th goal, and Washington reclaimed the top spot in the Metropolitan Division

"Yeah, I think the last game I didn't play my game. I think it was the worst play of my career by myself. I take the blame on it," Ovechkin said. "I think we understand the game in Chicago was just forget about it, you know. We moved forward. We got two points."

Capitals coach Barry Trotz noticed how much more involved Ovechkin was against Buffalo, particularly after a few early exchanges with Sabres defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen (see full recap.)

Marchand's OT goal gives Bruins win over Flames 
CALGARY, Alberta — Brad Marchand scored his 22nd goal 3:36 into overtime to give the Boston Bruins a 2-1 victory over the Calgary Flames on Monday.

After a turnover deep in the Flames end, Riley Nash sprung the Bruins' leading scorer on a breakaway and Marchand made no mistake, slipping the puck through the pads of David Rittich.

David Pastrnak also scored for Boston (36-13-8), which moved within one point of Tampa Bay for first place in the Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference. Boston has two games in hand.

Matthew Tkachuk scored for the Flames (30-21-9), who fell to 1-3-4 in their last eight home games.

With the teams meeting for the second time in six days, Calgary was territorially outplayed by a wide margin in the first period but Rittich kept the Flames in it (see full recap.)

Cullen, Ennis star in Wild win against Islanders 
NEW YORK — Minnesota knows it needs to play better on the road to strengthen its push for a playoff spot. The Wild also want to do a better job of holding third-period leads than they have lately.

They accomplished both Monday against the New York Islanders.

Matt Cullen and Tyler Ennis scored in Minnesota's three-goal second period, and the Wild beat the Islanders 5-3. Jason Zucker added two goals, Joel Eriksson Ek also scored, and Devan Dubnyk stopped 32 shots as Minnesota improved to 4-1-2 in its past seven games.

The Wild just lost three of five on their homestand, including twice when they gave up the tying goal in the third period before falling after regulation.

"Having the lead in the second and keeping it is really good for us," Zucker said (see full recap.)

Arvidsson scores twice in Predators' win vs. Senators 
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Viktor Arvidsson scored twice to reach 20 goals this season, and the Nashville Predators beat the Ottawa Senators 5-2 on Monday night.

Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis and Craig Smith also scored for Nashville, which ended a two-game skid and tied Winnipeg for first place in the Central Division.

The Predators recorded two power-play goals and scored on the man advantage in their second straight game after going six games without converting on the power play.

Pekka Rinne made 36 saves to earn his 30th win of the season.

Jean-Gabriel Pageau and Max McCormick scored for the Senators, who played catch-up most of the game. Craig Anderson stopped 36 shots (see full recap.)

Goaltending help is on the way for the Flyers

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Goaltending help is on the way for the Flyers

With injuries to Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth, the Flyers wasted no time in finding a competent goaltender.

General manager Ron Hextall acquired Petr Mrazek from the Detroit Red Wings late Monday night in exchange for a conditional fourth-round pick in 2018 and a conditional third-round pick in 2019. According to sources, the Flyers were also in discussions with Toronto regarding Calvin Pickard but ultimately settled for Mrazek.

“We’re excited to have obtained Petr Mrazek. Petr is a proven NHL goaltender and given the situation we’re in, we needed a proven goaltender and we got one,” said Hextall. 

Hextall confirmed if the Flyers make the playoffs and Mrazek wins five regular season games, the 2018 fourth-round pick becomes a third rounder. If the Flyers advance to the Eastern Conference Finals and Mrazek wins six playoff games, the third-round pick then becomes a second rounder.

If the Flyers re-sign Mrazek for next season, then the Red Wings would also get the Flyers' third-round selection in 2019.

“Quite frankly when I look at this deal, I think it’s a fair and reasonable deal for both sides,” Hextall said. “If Petr performs, we pay more and Detroit gets more. I like the makeup of this deal. I think it’s a fair deal and I think both teams got what they wanted.”

Hextall had reportedly turned down Mrazek for a third-round pick last week, according to Helene St. James of the Detroit Free Press, but that was prior to Neuvirth’s injury Sunday against the Rangers. Hextall also announced that Neuvirth is out “long-term” meaning weeks and not days, and quite possibly the remainder of the regular season.

As a backup to Jimmy Howard, Mrazek has appeared in 18 games this season with an 8-7-3 record, a 2.89 GAA and a .910 save percentage. In January, Mrazek posted back-to-back shutouts against the Blackhawks and the Devils before the Flyers snapped Mrazek’s shutout streak at 145 minutes and five seconds in a 3-2 overtime loss. 

The Red Wings will retain half of Mrazek’s $4 million salary in the deal, leaving the Flyers with a reasonable $2 million cap hit. He’s a restricted free agent at the end of this season.

Since Dec. 4, the Flyers are 21-8-3 and have climbed up the Metropolitan Division standings where they’re currently tied with the New Jersey Devils for third place with 70 points.

“This is a sign that our players have done a really good job,” Hextall said. “They’ve worked extremely hard. We’re in a tough situation. You lose your two goalies when you’re fighting for a playoff spot and our players have worked hard for a long time now. I didn’t feel like it was fair to not have a proven NHL goaltender for this team.” 

Mrazek is expected to join the Flyers for Tuesday's morning skate.