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Rough-and-tumble Hartnell has shot at playoff glory

by John McGourty

Scott Hartnell's teammates and general manager believe he can win the Conn Smythe Trophy. Scott Hartnell highlight video
More than 700 players emerged from training camp last October with jobs on NHL teams. More than 900 players saw time this season on NHL rosters. A little more than 400 players are left to compete in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

One of those players will win the Conn Smythe Trophy as the Most Valuable Player in the playoffs. Most likely, he'll play for the Stanley Cup champion.

Philadelphia Flyers left wing Scott Hartnell was asked if he could be that player. Hartnell demurred, spreading credit around the dressing room, but his teammates and general manager believe he can.

In fact, teammate Jim Dowd compared Hartnell to 1995 Conn Smythe Trophy winner Claude Lemieux, who was voted the MVP of the Stanley Cup Playoffs when his New Jersey Devils defeated the Detroit Red Wings. Dowd played for that Devils team.

"If you're looking for one guy to be the hero, that's not our team," Hartnell said. "We have a good group of talented players, 20 guys, any one of whom can be the hero on any night. All year long we've had different guys step up when we needed it. We know we have to play well collectively within our system and we've been doing that since we went to training camp. That's what we have to do."

Dowd, Philadelphia's fourth-line center, said Hartnell has been one of the Flyers' best players all season, even when he went through scoring droughts.

"He does everything for us," Dowd said. "He shows up and works hard every game. I think he didn't have a goal for the first 25 games or something (actually it was 15), but he was our hardest-working guy. He checked, he fought and he kept getting chances. He's been in the NHL since he was 18 years old. He's a very hungry player and he's just coming into his own at age 25. We like him because he's a great guy, a hard worker with a lot of character.

"I would compare him to Claude Lemieux, whom I played with when we won a Stanley Cup with the New Jersey Devils. It didn't matter whether Claude was going good or bad with his scoring, he was always the hardest working guy and eventually that's what would get him going scoring again.

"Scott's game is skating and hitting and he gets under the opponent's skin, like Claude, and before you know it, the goals start coming again."

The Flyers acquired Hartnell last June, along with top defenseman Kimmo Timonen, from the Nashville Predators in exchange for a first-round pick in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft. He's been everything the Flyers hoped for, general manager Paul Holmgren said.

"Scott got off to a rough start in the production department, didn't score until Nov. 10," Holmgren said. "But it didn't affect his play. His play, to me, has been the same all year. He's provided the physical element that we thought he would. He's gone into the dirty areas to pick up loose pucks. He goes to the front of the net and he's been solid defensively.

"I remember before we went on a little tear, we had Joffrey Lupul hurt and Simon Gagne was out. Scotty had a couple of hat tricks within a week and helped turn things around for us. He's been one of our better players this year. He's been effective all year."

Beginning with the Jan. 8 game against the Atlanta Thrashers, Hartnell had a streak in which he registered a point in nine of 10 games, scoring 11 goals and adding six assists. And with the Flyers in danger of losing their postseason spot, Hartnell had two goals and an assist during the final seven games of the season. He also had 12 penalty minutes, six of them coming April 2 in a 4-2 loss at Pittsburgh, when Hartnell had his nose badly gashed either by a butt end -- Flyers version -- or a skate as he slipped -- Penguins version.

The Flyers clinched their playoff berth in the second-to-last game of the season, a 3-0 victory at home against the New Jersey Devils, and Hartnell had an assist on R.J. Umberger's opening goal. Holmgren was asked if the Flyers' success this season was closely tied to Hartnell's point production.

"I'd have to look at it a little more closely, but that's probably right, looking back,” Holmgren said. “I think he's always been a streaky scorer and I don't know why that is.

“In Nashville he was used in a different way than we were using him earlier in the year. Then we got some injuries and switched him around and started using him in front of the net on power plays. He does really well in front of the net."

Hartnell struggled on a line centered by Jeff Carter earlier this season, but has done well on the left wing when placed with centers Mike Richards, Danny Briere and Umberger. Lately, he's played very well with Briere and Vinny Prospal on right wing.

In a way, it figures he might not fit with Carter, who is a good playmaker but needs his wings to feed him for his scoring blasts. Playmaker isn't one of Hartnell's strengths. Haymaker, yes – he finished tied for second on the team with six fights – but playmaker, not so much.

He's also one of the most popular players in the room. Guys who steamroll opponents, add timely scoring, get stitched on the bench and play with gaping gashes tend to be popular with teammates.

Hartnell was asked how long it took him to fit in with the Flyers after his trade.

"Look around this room and you see a lot of new faces from past years," Hartnell said. "I knew a couple of guys, some from Nashville and some I knew elsewhere. We get a new guy in here and we take him to dinner and get to know him. Early on, we had a long road trip out West and that was great for building camaraderie.

"It maybe took a while but I think we are jelling now. We need that out on the ice, everyone getting on the same page and getting the job done. This is going to be a hard series. We know the Capitals have guys that are hard to play against, like Matt Cooke, Matt Bradley, Boyd Gordon and Donald Brashear. It's going to be a battle. We're ready to play them and give it everything we've got."

Told Hartnell was challenged by the question: "Why can't you be this year's Conn Smythe winner," Holmgren chuckled and said Hartnell doesn't need to be challenged.

"He's certainly capable of that because he is a streaky player who can get hot," Holmgren said. "As a coach, I don't know that you need to be challenging him because he is the kind of player who challenges himself. He's one guy you can put in the lineup and not worry about him because he is going to play hard."

If there's one player on every team who appreciates teammates that play hard, it's the goalie.

"Scott has been our hardest-working player all season," Marty Biron said. "He's been a great addition."

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