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Keith Yandle scratched by Flyers, Iron Man streak ends at 989 games

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Keith Yandle takes a picture with Florida Panthers captain Sasha Barkov in the team locker room after Barkov’s first NHL hat trick during the 2018-19 season. — Photo @GeorgeRichards

Keith Yandle will see his NHL record Iron Man streak end at 989 consecutive games tonight as the Philadelphia Flyers will make him a healthy scratch for their game against the visiting Maple Leafs.

Yandle, who had the final two years of his contract bought out by the Florida Panthers last summer and then signed with the Flyers, said knowing the streak would come to an end had him reflecting on how long a road it has been.

In January, Yandle surpassed Doug Jarvis for the Iron Man record — one that stood for 35 years when he played in his 965th consecutive game.

Before tonight, Yandle had not missed a game since 2009 when he played for the Phoenix Coyotes.

”It’s tough to have a bad day in the NHL,” Yandle told reporters following the Flyers’ morning skate. “Obviously, getting the news that you’re not playing is not what you want to hear. But that’s every single guy. Every guy wants to play, be on the ice going to battle with their teammates. Once you’re on the ice, you feel like a kid again. I’m just trying to stay positive.”

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Yandle’s run of consecutive games was a long one, taking him from the Arizona desert to New York City and then to a big, seven-year contract in South Florida.

Of Yandle’s 989 consecutive games played, 371 came as a member of the Panthers.

“It’s incredible, truly incredible,’’ Aaron Ekblad, one of Yandle’s closest friends on the Panthers, said before Yandle played in his 1,000th NHL game last season.

“We have had some great memories together here since he started playing here. Hopefully we can keep him going and hopefully he can play 1,500 games.

“We love the guy here in this room and we’re happy to see him do it, no doubt.’’

Yandle’s game has, obviously, diminished which is one reason why the Panthers made the tough decision to buy out the final two years of the seven-year, $44.5 million contract he signed with the team in 2016.

That move saved the Panthers some cash and gave them some salary cap room to make some offseason moves.

The Panthers had $2.3 million deducted off this season’s salary cap due to the buyout, $5.4 million next season and $1.2 million in the two seasons after that. 

Yandle, 35, quickly signed a discount deal with the Philadelphia Flyers.

He appeared in all 67 games this season and has been mostly ineffective. He has 15 points (one goal) and a league-worst minus-39 rating.

“We’re at the point in the season where as an organization it’s important we get young players in,” interim coach Mike Yeo said. ”Obviously we have to have an eye on the future and what’s coming down the road, and give some new guys an opportunity.”

Although he played in all 56 games for the Panthers after it appeared his streak would end on Opening Night, the Panthers made him a healthy scratch against Tampa Bay in the playoffs — a benching which did not affect the streak.

Saturday morning, wearing a “Broadway” hat to honor the late Jimmy Hayes, Yandle said he understood the Flyers’ decision to try out some younger players in the final games of a lost season in Philadelphia.

Yandle will hold the title of NHL Iron Man through at least next season. Arizona’s Phil Kessel — who will be a free agent after this season, is only 24 games behind him.

“I did a little bit of talking last night with my wife, my brother, my parents,” Yandle said. “It’s just one of those things you look back at and how long it has been. Obviously it’s something I take a lot of pride in. I am fortunate to have played one game in this league and I say that all the time.

“I have been blessed to be in this league as long as I have. I owe everything I have to this league. It’s been a great journey. You look back and think of your first game. The last couple of days have been a lot of reflecting and i’m not really a guy who reflects too much. It kind of hit you a little bit. I’m fortunate to be here.”

The streak almost came to an end in 2018 when Yandle took a shot off the face at PNC Arena in a game against the Hurricanes.

The puck did some damage, leading to intense dental work and oral surgery both at the arena and upon the team’s return to Fort Lauderdale.

After being struck in the face, a hunched-over Yandle skated to the door closest to the locker room leaving a trail of blood and teeth on the ice.

Yandle missed the entire second period as he was worked on by the Carolina team dentist.

Yet when the third started, Yandle was on the ice — wearing a full cage on his helmet. He played eight shifts that period.

“I was surprised to see him come back because it looked so bad,” Ekblad said. “But at the same time, I was not surprised.”

The Panthers had a game the following night against Buffalo and Yandle spent much of his pregame preparation back in a dentist’s chair in Boca Raton.

He played that game as well.

“What he has gone through over the past 24 hours is pretty remarkable,’’ Joel Quenneville said.

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