Flyers

NHL awards: Why Mike Sullivan could sneak up on Alain Vigneault for Jack Adams honor

NHL awards: Why Mike Sullivan could sneak up on Alain Vigneault for Jack Adams honor

Make no mistake, Alain Vigneault's body of work this season is front-runner worthy for the Jack Adams Award.

During 2018-19, the Flyers decided to embark on a massive shift within their hockey operations department and coaching staff. The team finished 22nd in the league at 37-37-8 with 82 points, its fewest over a full season since 2006-07.

In just one season (and not even a full one), Vigneault turned the Flyers into a top-six club. Through a shortened 2019-20 regular season, the Flyers went 41-21-7 with 89 points in 69 games. According to Hockey-Reference.com, the team was projected to finish with 104 to 105 points, which would have been its most since a 106-point 2010-11 campaign.

With the abbreviated regular season because of the coronavirus outbreak, only four teams improved their point totals from 2018-19. The Flyers made the biggest jump with a seven-point increase despite playing 13 fewer games compared to last season, while the Oilers improved by four points (79 to 83), the Avalanche by two (90 to 92) and the Rangers by one (78 to 79).

When it comes to Coach of the Year in 2019-20, Vigneault should be right there with anyone.

Bruce Cassidy, head coach of the NHL-best Bruins, of course will be up there, but ESPN's Greg Wyshynski made a great point, noting the coach of the Presidents' Trophy-winning team has won the Jack Adams honor only twice in the past 20 years.

Jared Bednar (Avalanche) and John Tortorella (Blue Jackets) should be in consideration, as well.

One coach who could sneak up and snatch the award away from Vigneault and the rest: Mike Sullivan.

The Penguins have had better regular seasons in the recent past, but Pittsburgh found a way to finish seventh among the league (three points behind the No. 6 Flyers) in the face of losing:

Brian Dumoulin for 41 games
Jake Guentzel for 30 games
Sidney Crosby for 28 games
Patric Hornqvist for 17 games
Evgeni Malkin for 14 games
Bryan Rust for 14 games
Kris Letang for eight games

Crosby, Malkin, Guentzel, Rust, Hornqvist and Letang were six of the Penguins' top seven scorers this season and last season. For sake of comparison, the Flyers' top seven scorers this season missed six combined games.

That does not at all take away from the job Vigneault and the Flyers did in their resurgent 2019-20 season. It's also not to say the Flyers didn't deal with their share of significant injuries (Oskar Lindblom, Nolan Patrick, Scott Laughton, Shayne Gostisbehere, Michael Raffl). But Sullivan's work around those losses will make him a serious challenger to Vigneault for the Jack Adams hardware.

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The meaning of Oskar Lindblom's presence and comeback to Flyers

The meaning of Oskar Lindblom's presence and comeback to Flyers

It's August and Alain Vigneault doesn't forget the numerous talks with doctors in December about Oskar Lindblom.

He'll probably never forget those conversations; difficult, real-life discussions on a scary reality that can twist one's stomach into a knot.

Lindblom, the Flyers' 23-year-old forward from Sweden with a bright future and smile, had been diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma, a rare form of cancer that occurs in bones or in the soft tissue around the bones.

With what the power of positivity can do for a person's spirit, Vigneault was determined to stay positive.

So he asked ...

"Is there a chance that I could get him back for the playoffs?" Vigneault recalled asking the medical professionals. "Obviously the answer was no, he wouldn't."

Vigneault remembers the answer well. Almost in amazement of the new, unforeseen circumstances surrounding Lindblom's comeback, Vigneault cheerily brought up the remainder of the answer.

"Come next training camp in September, he should be back if everything went the way they thought," the Flyers' head coach said last Wednesday. "And things have gone the way they thought.

"This year, obviously, with the stoppage in play and the COVID-19 factor, the season has been stretched out. September is less than a month away, I was told that come training camp, he'd be able to play in September. So I guess we've got to get to September."

If the Eastern Conference's top-seeded Flyers need any extra motivation in the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs, they have it: September and the possibilities which the month could offer.

Lindblom, who in early July completed his radiation treatments and has been deemed without evidence of cancer at this time, is in Toronto to join the Flyers for the NHL's return-to-play 24-team tournament. After traveling home to Sweden to see family and loved ones and train following the completion of his treatments, Lindblom remains in quarantine, mandated by NHL protocols.

"I haven’t seen him and none of his teammates have seen him," Vigneault said Tuesday in a video interview. "We have texted, though. He’s in isolation. ... He’s close to having gone through the quarantine and the testing that he has to do to be able to be allowed to come back with the group and be able to skate with the group. I believe he’s a few days away from that. There’s no doubt that we’re real happy; every one of us is real happy to have Oskar around. Can’t wait to see him, can’t wait to see him on the ice with the team. That’s going to be a big positive for our group."

Lindblom, who will celebrate his birthday Saturday with birthday buddy Jakub Voracek, is on the Flyers' 31-man roster, which means he's eligible to practice and play in the tournament. After sweeping the round robin to climb atop the East, the Flyers open the first round Wednesday against the Canadiens (8 p.m. ET/NBCSP). During training camp last month, when the Flyers signed Lindblom to a three-year, $9 million contract extension, general manager Chuck Fletcher would not rule anything out for the young winger in Toronto; and why would he with a fighter like Lindblom?

“I don’t know what’s out of the question," Fletcher said July 22. "I certainly wouldn’t put any limits on Oskar. We obviously will do everything we can to protect him, but he’s looking forward to restarting his life and his career. Whatever that means, we’ll find out. We’ll work very closely with his medical team, our medical team and we’ll make the right decisions for him.”

If the Flyers are still playing in September, they'll be in the midst of a second-round series and aiming for the Eastern Conference Final. Maybe Vigneault gets Lindblom back for the playoffs after all? Although, it would be fair to think if that might be a stretch given all that Lindblom has gone through and where the Flyers could be with their lineup at that time.

Lindblom playing again will be momentous and memorable. It doesn't have to happen in these NHL playoffs. The fact that Lindblom is working toward the possibility of appearing in the 2020 postseason is a victory in itself. That is worth celebrating and commemorating.

"Osky, if he is going to be joining us back here, what it’s going to take for him to be even close to playing or practicing or whatever that may be, the work ethic he’s going to have to put in is a lot," Travis Konecny said last Wednesday. "For him to be able to commit to that, I mean, it makes our job seem like nothing. We have to go out and play hockey. Think about Osky, how hard he’s working just to come back and hopefully play one game — it definitely motivates us to do the work for him and make all the hard work he’s going to try to put in worth the time."

September is nearing and so is Lindblom's return to the boys, even if it's just practice and positivity for now.

No one will question the worth of that.

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Marathon Blue Jackets-Lightning Game 1 brings up memories of Flyers' 5OT epic

Marathon Blue Jackets-Lightning Game 1 brings up memories of Flyers' 5OT epic

The Blue Jackets and Lightning decided to open their first-round series Tuesday by playing more than TWO GAMES' worth of hockey in one night. 

The Lightning eventually won in the game's fifth - fifth! - overtime on Tuesday night, an unreal start to the teams' best-of-seven series. Playoff hockey is unmatched, overtime playoff hockey even moreso. 

And for plenty of hockey fans in the Philadelphia area, the game likely dredged up a flood of memories from one night 20 years ago: the Flyers' Marathon on Ice win over the Penguins in the Eastern Conference semi-finals.

It's hard to wrap your head around the numbers, and the stories, that come out of a five-overtime game. The Jackets' Joonas Korpisalo racked up 85 saves on Tuesday night, 13 more than the Penguins' Ron Tugnutt in the Marathon on Ice.

Here's how Tugnutt experienced that game, as told during NBC Sports' "Sports Uncovered: Marathon on Ice" podcast:

Tugnutt played 152:01 minutes and converted 72 saves. He was the losing goaltender in the Flyers' unforgettable 2-1 five-overtime win in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference semifinals.

In that odyssey of a hockey game, Tugnutt said he shed 12 pounds. Twelve pounds.

"I remember needing help going up the stairs by my legs, just I had nothing left," he said on the Sports Uncovered: Marathon on Ice podcast. "I was drained."

Losing 12 pounds over the course of a month is hard enough. In one night? Because you're busy standing in front of slapshots all night long? Even while you're fueling on pizza and energy drinks between periods?

It's almost unreal.

Tuesday night's game entered the pantheon of the longest hockey games in NHL history, a truly storied list:

1. March 24, 1936: Detroit 1, Montreal (Maroons) 0  | 116:30

2. April 3, 1933: Toronto 1, Boston 0 | 104:46

3. May 4, 2000: Philadelphia 2, Pittsburgh 1 | 92:01

4. August 11, 2020: Tampa Bay 3, Columbus 2 | 90:27

I can't imagine how Korpisalo is going to feel in the morning. And now the Jackets and Lightning have to go play the rest of the series.

...good luck!

To relive that epic Flyers-Penguins game, you can listen to "Sports Uncovered: Marathon on Ice" right here, and be happy for playoff hockey - even when that playoff hockey lasts for six hours.

Sports Uncovered is on all podcast platforms: click here to subscribe now!

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