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NHL Stadium Series

Simmonds' future with Flyers among storylines at Stadium Series

Win against Penguins could go long way in determining whether forward is traded

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / Senior Writer

PHILADELPHIA -- The Philadelphia Flyers aren't short on drama and storylines going into the 2019 Coors Light NHL Stadium Series game.

"There's a lot of things that are going on here," Flyers coach Scott Gordon said.

A lot might even be an understatement for the Flyers, who will play against the Pittsburgh Penguins at Lincoln Financial Field on Saturday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, SN360, SN1, TVAS2).


[RELATED: Hart takes Stadium Series benching in strideStadium Series coverage]


Let's start with the obvious: Philadelphia's push in the Stanley Cup Playoff race. The Flyers hit a bump this week, losing back-to-back games against the Tampa Bay Lightning and Montreal Canadiens by a combined score of 10-3.

Philadelphia lost once in regulation and twice overall in its previous 14 games (12-1-1). It was last in the NHL with 38 points on Jan. 19, 15 points out of the playoff race. The Flyers were six points out before their game against the Lightning on Tuesday.

They've got to make up at least eight points now. It could be up to nine by the time the puck drops against the Penguins, who also face the prospect of being on the outside of the playoff race in the Eastern Conference come Saturday night.

The Carolina Hurricanes would leap Pittsburgh, currently in position to be the second wild card into the playoffs from the Eastern Conference, and push Philadelphia further down with a win at the Dallas Stars on Saturday.

"We have to obviously bounce back from the two previous games, so there's a lot of things to be considered and talked about," Gordon said, "but we also have this other thing called the Trade Deadline."

The Flyers have at least one huge decision to make before the 2019 NHL Trade Deadline on Monday at 3 p.m. ET. Do they keep forward Wayne Simmonds or trade the pending unrestricted free agent, who has been one of their heart-and-soul players since his arrival here in 2012?

Simmonds, who has 27 points (16 goals, 11 assists) in 61 games this season, is in the last year of a six-year contract. The Stadium Series game could be his finale with the Flyers, especially if they lose and fall further down the standings.

"It could be a possibility, but I think up until this point I've just tried to go about my business as normally as possible," Simmonds said. "I'm going to be thinking about winning the game, not if it's my last game or not with the Flyers. We have points to get to get back into this playoff race, and that's all my brain is processing right now. The other stuff is, you know, it is what it is, right? All I can control is I'm a Philadelphia Flyer right now and I've got to prepare for a game [Saturday]."

Flyers goalie Brian Elliott, another pending UFA, is preparing for his first start since Nov. 15 after missing 40 games because of a lower-body injury. He was recalled Tuesday after playing two games with Lehigh Valley in the American Hockey League.

Elliott is the somewhat surprising choice to be Philadelphia's starting goalie in the Stadium Series game, considering Carter Hart, 20, has started 22 of 29 games since Dec. 18 and is one of the biggest reasons why the Flyers have found their way back into the race.

Hart, though, was pulled less than 11 minutes into the games against the Lightning and Canadiens this week because he allowed three goals on nine shots in each. He was replaced by Elliott, who made 51 saves on 54 shots.

Gordon said he agonized over the decision to start Elliott instead of Hart. He decided on Elliott because he wanted to treat it as a normal game, meaning an indoor game, and he would never start a goalie for a third game in a row if he had already been pulled early in the previous two.

Video: Carter Hart on not starting in 2019 Stadium Series

"How things unfolded the last couple games, I didn't know what was going to happen," Elliott said. "I just wanted to be part of things, even sitting on the bench. I played a couple games in the [AHL] to see how I was doing and coming back and getting a chance to play these last two games and feeling good about it, feeling good about my game, I know it was a tough decision to make.

"[Hart] was a big part of getting this team to this situation that we're in chasing a playoff spot right now. It's a tough, tough decision. I don't envy anybody that has to make it. For me, you just have to put all those things to the side and try to enjoy the moment, go out there and try to be the best for the guys in front of me."

If he does, the Flyers will have another goalie they can trust with a key start while at least keeping pace in the playoff race, which might be enough to sway general manager Chuck Fletcher into keeping Simmonds instead of trading him.

That's a lot riding on one game. It's not overselling it, though.

"The hard part is this is a fun thing too and there's obviously a lot that's going on before the game, after the game," Gordon said. "It certainly isn't the easiest time of year to have this type of game, but we've got to push that stuff aside and get our focus back and get ourselves playing to the way we had been playing up until the last two games."

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