Flyers

Mark Recchi gives high praise to Flyers, says Penguins are preparing for 'dogfight' in Stanley Cup Playoffs

Mark Recchi gives high praise to Flyers, says Penguins are preparing for 'dogfight' in Stanley Cup Playoffs

The Flyers and Penguins have had some battles during the 2019-20 regular season.

Mark Recchi remembers them well and is likely rewatching them during the ongoing suspension of the NHL season amid the coronavirus outbreak.

If the 2019-20 regular season ended today and the league was to jump directly into the Stanley Cup Playoffs under its regular format, the Flyers would face the Penguins. The Flyers are in second place of the Metropolitan Division, which would slot them to meet third-place Pittsburgh for a first-round date.

Recchi, a Hockey Hall of Famer and current Penguins assistant coach, said the mindset of Pittsburgh's staff is pretty much on Philly. After all, if the NHL is able to find a way to finish the regular-season slate, the Flyers and Penguins would still have one more matchup. Both clubs have 13 games apiece left on the NHL's remaining regular-season schedule, the status of which is up in the air (along with the playoffs, as well).

“We actually think if we do play, we’re going to probably end up playing them, so we’re kind of preparing like we are anyways," Recchi said Tuesday in a video interview with former Flyer and current Flyers Pregame and Postgame Live analyst Chris Therien.

Recchi has been impressed with the Flyers' 2019-20 resurgence under Alain Vigneault and company.

One of general manager Chuck Fletcher's initiatives last offseason was to make the Flyers tougher to play against. With the implementation of Vigneault's system and the help of offseason additions Kevin Hayes, Matt Niskanen, Tyler Pitlick and Justin Braun, the Flyers accomplished that goal. They've allowed the NHL's fewest shots per game (28.7) and own a plus-36 goal differential after surrendering the league's third-most goals per game (3.41) last season and finishing with a minus-37 goal differential.

"You know what, they really came together as a team this year — they have become a really stingy team," Recchi said. "Our first 40, 50 games, with all of our injuries, we kind of played to that same identity. ... I think [the Flyers] didn’t get off to a great start, but they really did a good job, the players did a terrific job, obviously the coaches did a great job.

"They’re tough, they’ve done a great job, their goaltending has been very good, their combination of the veteran (Brian Elliott) and the young Carter Hart. It’s good, I think their D core is very solid, Matt Niskanen was a huge pickup for them. I think he’s a terrific defenseman — good veteran that stabilizes things and he’s a really good person.”

The three matchups between the Flyers and Penguins were all different. Pittsburgh blasted the Flyers, 7-1, in October. The Flyers then dominated the Penguins, 3-0, in January before losing to them, 4-3, in overtime later that month.

The potential series would project to be as competitive as any in the opening round.

Recchi, the former Flyer and three-time Stanley Cup champion as a player, can see why.

"They’re a really good team and they were stingy," Recchi said of the Flyers. "When we played them those couple of games — right before the break and then we played them not long after — they were tough games. They were playing really, really good hockey, so if we end up facing them, we know, no matter what, we’re going to be in for a dogfight. Because they were playing terrific before and it’s not going to go far away, they’re still going to come back, they obviously have the right attitude, the players do, so they’ve done a heck of a job there."

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Ice cream and a memory vs. Carey Price remind us Carter Hart is just a kid ... but ready for the moment

Ice cream and a memory vs. Carey Price remind us Carter Hart is just a kid ... but ready for the moment

When Carey Price was at his most dominant, winning the Vezina Trophy (top goalie) and Hart Memorial Trophy (MVP) in 2014-15, Carter Hart was just 16 years old. 

The precocious but innocent kid had just begun molding his game at the junior hockey level with the WHL's Silvertips in Everett, Washington.

Price was at the sport's pinnacle.

"He was my favorite goalie growing up," Hart said.

On Wednesday, the night before his 22nd birthday, Hart found himself stretching next to Price at the center-ice line in front of the scorekeepers' bench.

There was Hart, on the same NHL stage as his idol, facing him in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The NHL postseason is serious business, requiring the utmost competitiveness and focus. Hart, whose youthfulness often belies his maturity, fully understands the beast that is the Stanley Cup Playoffs. But the postseason makes for special moments and memories. NHL players all looked up to someone at some point. For Hart, he allowed himself to appreciate the storyline ahead.

"Definitely really cool," Hart said last Sunday about the upcoming best-of-seven first-round matchup with Price's Canadiens. "Just had the chance to actually meet him the other week and talk with him for the first time, so that was something pretty cool. For your first playoff series, playing against Carey Price will definitely be a lot of fun; I look forward to it."

Price, who turns 33 years old on Sunday, was unable to spoil the youngster's birthday. By midnight, Hart and the top-seeded Flyers had a 1-0 series lead after earning a hard-fought 2-1 victory over eighth-seeded Montreal. Hart is 3-0-0 with a 1.00 goals-against average and .966 save percentage through three games in the NHL's return-to-play 24-team tournament.

On the ice, the Flyers were able to celebrate around Hart after he turned away 27 of 28 shots, with 16 of those saves coming in the second period when the Flyers really needed him.

Off the ice, they made sure to celebrate Hart's birthday a little early, making the best of the circumstances in the Eastern Conference's Toronto bubble.

“I think some guys got him some ice cream yesterday after the game and just sang him happy birthday," Shayne Gostisbehere said Thursday with a smile. "He’s been pretty good.”

“Let him do his thing,” Scott Laughton chimed in about Hart.

“Yeah, let him do his thing," Gostisbehere echoed.

After a short and sweet exchange with Price, Hart did his thing in Game 1.

“Just said hello quickly in warmups, good luck and it was just time to go play," Hart said.

If Hart continues to play the way he has this season and to start the tournament, he could remember the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs for much more than a memorable matchup with Price.

But there's a kid in everyone. Then again, Hart is only 22 years old.

"He’s a special kid," Derek Grant said last week. "He’s so calm. He puts his mask on, you don’t know how old he is."

With his mask off, Hart hopefully enjoyed a little ice cream and soaked in the moment.

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Canadiens head coach Claude Julien hospitalized with chest pain

Canadiens head coach Claude Julien hospitalized with chest pain

Canadiens head coach Claude Julien has been hospitalized because of chest pain, the team announced Thursday.

Julien is not expected to return to the bench for the Canadiens' best-of-seven first-round playoff series against the Flyers. Assistant coach Kirk Muller will take over head coaching duties in the interim.

Julien was behind the bench leading Montreal in Game 1 Wednesday night at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto. The Flyers beat the Canadiens, 2-1, while the series continues Friday with Game 2 at 3 p.m. ET.

Here is a statement from Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin, via the team's official website:

Good afternoon. I'm here to inform you of the reason Claude Julien was not here this morning at practice. Claude experienced chest pain during the night. We immediately consulted our doctors and it was agreed to transfer him to the hospital by ambulance. He's presently there and he's undergoing tests to determine the exact nature of his condition. This has nothing to do with COVID.

We don't expect him to be back during this series against the Flyers. Kirk, Dominique [Ducharme] and Luke [Richardson] will share the responsibility, however, Kirk is the associate head coach and he will assume the responsibility of head coach until Claude's return.  

We understand that Kirk does not speak French, but these are exceptional circumstances and we're asking you for your understanding. Out of respect for Claude and his family, I will not answer any further questions about his medical condition.

The veteran coach led the Bruins to a Stanley Cup championship in 2011. The 60-year-old began his NHL head coaching career in Montreal and has been with the club for parts of seven seasons.

"There’s no doubt that there’s a deep bond and a deep respect because we know the jobs that we’re doing," Flyers head coach Alain Vigneault said about Julien before the series.

Vigneault, 59, also began his NHL head coaching career in Montreal. From 1981-83, Vigneault and Julien were teammates on the Central Hockey League's Salt Lake Golden Eagles.

"I didn't see him after the game," Vigneault said Thursday afternoon in a video interview following practice. "I've known Claude since I was 20, so we go way back, good friends. I'm going to reach out with him; I just found out the news, I want to say 20 minutes ago, just before jumping on the bus. I'm not aware of exactly what happened."

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