Flyers

Flyers 3, Blackhawks 1: Carter Hart with another 40-save effort, James van Riemsdyk with another goal

Flyers 3, Blackhawks 1: Carter Hart with another 40-save effort, James van Riemsdyk with another goal

BOX SCORE

CHICAGO — The Flyers continue to hold on to dear life in their playoff pursuit, beating the Blackhawks, 3-1, Thursday night.

Goaltender Carter Hart turned aside 40 shots as the Flyers completed a season sweep of the Blackhawks for the first time since the 2015-16 season. 

Here are my observations from the United Center:

• It was interesting to see interim head coach Scott Gordon start with Claude Giroux and Sean Couturier together on the same line when it had been Nolan Patrick on that top line. I’m wondering if it was a strategic move with the Blackhawks loading up their top line with Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. Near the end of the second period, Gordon had split Giroux and Couturier up again. 

• The Flyers had two centers (Patrick, Scott Laughton) along with Travis Konecny on the ice for Erik Gustafsson’s 1-0 goal. The breakdown came as Laughton and Konecny were caught on the same side of the ice with Patrick battling Toews down low. By the time defenseman Travis Sanheim recognized the poor coverage, he was too late and Gustafsson blew a wrister past Hart.

• Hart has regained his mojo. Chalk up three straight starts for Hart, who has been consistently solid in making the saves he’s expected to make, and coming up with some timely saves that only a goaltender with his athleticism can make. It was the first time in 52 games that an opponent had held the Blackhawks to under two goals dating back to Nov. 16. 

• A solid all-around shift for the Flyers' fourth line that started with Justin Bailey breaking free on a breakaway, although his shot didn’t have much on it and was an easy save for Corey Crawford. Bailey picked up the assist on Corban Knight’s snap shot from the slot.

That fourth line is one area I would like to see more production from next season, especially when you look at the production teams like the Lightning and Islanders get out of their bottom lines.

• Ryan Hartman was a popular interview subject of the Chicago media as the Chicagoland native returned to the place where his career started.

Hartman had a rough third period as he was checked hard and was sent to the ice. On his next shift, he blocked a Brent Seabrook shot from about 10 feet away. He also committed a holding penalty, giving the 'Hawks a third-period power play.

While he doesn’t bring consistent effort to every shift, I thought Hartman had some bite to his game playing in front of family and friends.

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Flyers NHL trade deadline option: A boost from Ducks' Derek Grant?

Flyers NHL trade deadline option: A boost from Ducks' Derek Grant?

Leading up to the Feb. 24 NHL trade deadline, we'll look at potential targets on the market and why they may or may not fit the Flyers' plans.

Derek Grant

Age: 29
Height: 6-3
Weight: 206
Team: Anaheim Ducks
2019-20 cap hit: $700,000

Scouting report

The well-traveled center has picked an opportune time for a career year. Grant, who is playing for his sixth NHL team, already owns a personal-best 14 goals and is five points away from breaking his career high of 24 set in 2017-18.

Grant, who has some positional versatility, possesses the characteristics the Flyers targeted last offseason — quality size, good physicality and strength in puck battles.

He's not highly skilled or an active playmaker, but the fourth-line center leads Anaheim's forwards in shorthanded minutes per game and is solid in the faceoff circle.

Projection

This one checks a lot of boxes.

It would make sense for the Ducks, who are in second-to-last place of the Western Conference, to sell high on Grant's stock. He's an older role player putting up career numbers and can become an unrestricted free agent in the offseason.

Grant's cap hit fits the Flyers' plans and he wouldn't block the team's future down the middle given his expiring contract.

The Flyers very well may be happy enough with 21-year-old Connor Bunnaman's play. And if they want more offense, Morgan Frost is heating up at AHL affiliate Lehigh Valley (three goals, two assists in last five games). The 2017 first-round pick could take over third-line center duties, while Scott Laughton would give the Flyers tons of depth at fourth-line center.

But if they want more experience and a player enjoying his best offensive season yet, Grant is a nice option. Adding him would likely only require trading a lower-round draft pick.

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Sorry NHL trade buzz, sorry Flyers' playoff push — Oskar Lindblom's smile wins the day

Sorry NHL trade buzz, sorry Flyers' playoff push — Oskar Lindblom's smile wins the day

All the trade fodder and debate took a backseat.

Gaining ground in the playoff race and smelling first place felt inconsequential.

Quite frankly, nothing compares to Oskar Lindblom's smile.

Just ask the Flyers.

“Oh, it’s awesome. His smile, you know, he’s just a great guy to have around — he brightens your day," Justin Braun said. "The fact that he’s doing well and he’s able to come to the rink and see the boys is just fantastic.”

Lindblom, the Flyers’ 23-year-old forward who is battling Ewing’s sarcoma, surprised the team Saturday by greeting it after a 4-2 win over the Jets at the Wells Fargo Center.

Lindblom visited the entire team and staff in early-to-mid January, when he had begun his cancer treatment.

Once again Saturday, the Swedish native's vibrant smile uplifted everyone. It always does.

“Really good, really good to see him," Scott Laughton said, trying to put his emotions into words. "Just really good to see him.”

"It’s great to see him, I haven’t seen him in a couple weeks," Carter Hart added. "I'm sure he was happy to come to the rink and see the boys. All of us are happy to see him and he’s looking great."

The Flyers had a lot to be happy about Saturday. They strengthened their playoff chances, crept to within three points of the Penguins and Capitals in the Metropolitan Division race and general manager Chuck Fletcher watched his team further cement its status as a contender ahead of Monday's 3 p.m. NHL trade deadline (see observations).

But head coach Alain Vigneault's first postgame comments were about Lindblom.

“He was smiling," Vigneault said. "Great smile, looked beautiful.

“Makes everybody feel good. There’s no doubt that we’re all behind him, his teammates are obviously checking up on him on a regular basis and so is the whole staff.

"But to see him live, it’s just beautiful.”

For the the Flyers, it doesn't get better than that.

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