NHL Playoffs

Who are these Flyers? Get ready to find out

Who are these Flyers? Get ready to find out

After just three losses all of February, the Flyers have dropped three straight to kick off March.

A sudden losing streak should be all the motivation needed for the Flyers as they look to hold down a postseason berth with 16 games to play.

But a little prove-it time can't hurt, either.

Because here come the Penguins and Bruins, right when the Flyers are facing a gut check.

How the Flyers react to this upcoming back-to-back set will say a lot about this team and its potential fate.

"For us, these next two games are crucial," Radko Gudas said Sunday. "It's going to show us a lot where we're at as a team and where we're going to be."

Indeed, and on multiple fronts.

The obvious is the Flyers are on a losing streak and want to get things right again. They're only a point behind Pittsburgh for second place in the Metropolitan Division and only two out of first place entering Tuesday's action.

Just as important, though, is what a victory or two could mean for the Flyers' psyche. The Flyers need to show themselves, more than anyone, that they can beat the Penguins and Bruins. 

They haven't beaten either this season, and the most recent losses to both are noteworthy. The last time the Flyers saw Pittsburgh was a 5-1 blowout at the Wells Fargo Center, while the lone Boston meeting was a 3-0 home blanking, which came at the height of the 10-game winless skid.

After hosting the Penguins Wednesday and visiting Boston Thursday, the Flyers still have one more game with each the rest of the way. Those matchups will hold great meaning, and so would confidence going into them.

No back-to-backs are easy, but this one serves as a massive barometer for Dave Hakstol's mix of youth and veterans, sizing it all up against two of the Eastern Conference's elite.

Pittsburgh, the two-time defending champions, winners in eight of its last 11 games and with the NHL's top power play.

And Boston, hockey's best team since mid-November with the league's fewest goals allowed at 2.48 per game.

Do the Flyers possess the defense and discipline to play with these teams? Are they not only a playoff contender, but also a group that can win a series for the first time since 2011-12? Where do the Flyers exactly stand?

Following Wednesday and Thursday, we'll have a much clearer idea — in the standings and the big picture, too.

Why All-Star break comes at perfect time for Flyers

USA Today Images

Why All-Star break comes at perfect time for Flyers

If you’ve driven from the Sports Complex to Center City up Broad Street, then you have a pretty good indication of what the Flyers' schedule has been like over the past month.

Start, stop, start, stop, start and then stop again.

I’m not exactly sure why the traffic signals can’t be synchronized at least for a good half mile stretch, but every time the Flyers have a good pace to their schedule, they’re forced to pump the brakes. 

First came the league-wide Christmas break when the Flyers had four days between games. Then came the Flyers' five-day bye week and now a brief three-day holiday for the All-Star Game.   

“It’s crazy, three breaks in one month, I don’t think I’ve had it before,” Jake Voracek said. “Personally, I like to keep going. On the other hand, if I know I’m going to have that bye week or if I’m going to have that All-Star break to get some rest, it’s going to help. I’m playing around 20 minutes a night. That rest is awesome.”

Head coach Dave Hakstol approaches each break a little differently depending on the workload leading up to that break and where they are on the schedule.

“Everyone’s a little bit different,” Hakstol said. “Each one of the breaks, you’re in a different spot when you come into the break or come out of that break. I think right now for our team, it’ll be a good time for a break. It’s a short break.”

For most teams, you’ll typically find a heavy workload of games that precede the break. Just before the Christmas break, the Flyers endured a stretch of seven games in twelve days. They reeled off three straight wins before dropping three of their next four, the first sign of physical and mental fatigue setting in. Thursday’s 5-1 to the Lightning wrapped up a stretch of six games in ten days and Hakstol believes this break comes as a bit of relief.

“I’ve probably been split down the middle on the last couple, to be honest with you," Hakstol said. "They are what they are. You can make a positive spin or you can make a negative spin. Honestly, I think at this point in time we’ve played a lot of hockey. I think you saw a little bit of that in our game the other night. Mentally and physically, we looked like we had some fatigue to our game I thought the other night in Detroit.”

Interestingly, in the first 49 games of the season, the Flyers have had seven extended periods between games — stretches where they’ve had at least three full days off in between games. In that first game back the Flyers are 4-3-0, ranging from an 8-2 blowout victory over the Washington Capitals in the home opener to the last time they were shutout, 3-0, at home to the Bruins.

In other words, the Flyers haven’t responded one way or the other coming out of a significant break in action. 

Once the league reconvenes following the All-Star Break, that will all change.

From here on out it’s a sprint to the finish. A 31-team drag race, foot to the pedal, with no opportunity to decelerate. 33 games over the final 67 days of the regular season, and for the Flyers, not a single three-day break.

“We’re in the fight and it’s going to be a dogfight now coming back as soon as we come back off the break,” Hakstol said after Thursday’s game. “The schedule doesn’t lighten, but it doesn’t really lighten up for anybody. We got to keep finding ways to get points and keep finding ways to get a little bit better.”

“Every team in our division is capable of making a push,” Travis Konecny said. “It’s just going to come down to whatever team sticks with it, whatever team stays positive, grinds the longest, just battles it out.”

End to End: Our Stanley Cup Final and Conn Smythe predictions

End to End: Our Stanley Cup Final and Conn Smythe predictions

Throughout the offseason, we’ll ask questions about the Flyers to our resident hockey analysts and see what they have to say.
Going End to End today are CSNPhilly.com producers/reporters Tom Dougherty, Jordan Hall and Greg Paone.
The topic: Our Stanley Cup Final and Conn Smythe predictions.
As a long-time loser in predicting Stanley Cups — I have predicted the St. Louis Blues to make the Final the last four seasons — I am venturing another prediction today.
The Predators are a great story, and it’s been a fun ride watching Nashville make its way through the Western Conference for its first Stanley Cup Final appearance. Peter Laviolette has done a marvelous job with the Predators with players that fit his system (important to note). P.K. Subban is great for hockey, and having him in the Final should make NBC happy. He’s an extremely marketable player who’s an excellent hockey player too. Nashville is an underrated hockey market, as well, and it’s deserving of the spotlight it’ll be getting.
But I just don’t think they have the depth to beat the Pittsburgh Penguins, who I see winning their second straight Stanley Cup in seven games. The Preds survived the Anaheim Ducks after losing Ryan Johansen for the playoffs. I think that loss will prove costly in the Final.

Ottawa played Pittsburgh tough in the Eastern Conference Finals and took the Penguins to double-overtime in Game 7 before the Pens won. As long as the Penguins have a healthy Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, I’m not going to pick against them in the series.

Sure, the Pens’ defense is banged up. There’s a weakness there, and Nashville’s defensive corps is deep with a great mix of two-way defenders. Pekka Rinne has been nearly unbeatable all playoffs. It should be a really competitive Final. However, I just feel the Penguins will survive. They survived against the Washington Capitals, who were the best team in the NHL during the regular season. They survived against the Senators. And they’ll survive again against the Predators.

And while Matt Murray will be the goalie for the Penguins in the Final, this Cup belongs to Marc-Andre Fleury. Fleury beat the Capitals. He beat the Blue Jackets. He deserved better than to be yanked after one bad game against the Senators. But since he won’t be in net, I’ll go with Crosby for the Conn Smythe. He’s still the best player in the world, and he’s been great this postseason. He’ll be just as good against Nashville.

This is a fun and enticing Stanley Cup Final.

I just don't see the Penguins losing.

Crosby, Malkin and Phil Kessel are clicking on all cylinders just like last season's Cup-winning team. And Crosby looks quietly hungry for another ring.

As stout as Rinne and the Predators have been defensively, I don't think they've seen a goal-scoring team quite as good and deep as Pittsburgh. Meanwhile, Nashville will also be without Johansen, its second-leading scorer this postseason.

Malkin has really taken his game to another level in the playoffs. He did so during the regular season, as well. With that, I'll say he caps it all off with a big Stanley Cup Final and the Conn Smythe Trophy.

And Crosby will have his third Cup — we all know the significance behind that.

I love the dynamics surrounding this year's Stanley Cup Final.

On one hand, you have the darling Penguins, a complete powerhouse with some of the best talent in the world poised to lift the Cup for the second consecutive spring.

On the other hand, you have the upstart, hungry, take-no-guff Predators, who are ready to keep shedding the underdog label on the way to the ultimate prize.

The individual matchup of Subban vs. Crosby will excellent theater and will certainly garner the spotlight. As well it should as they're obviously two of the best players in the world.

And don't discount the matchup of Rinne and Murray in the nets. Rinne's superb puckhandling ability makes Nashville especially dangerous as he can jumpstart a Predators rush with just a flick of his wrist.

The Preds' speed and ability to attack and overwhelm in the offensive zone are their best traits. But if any team out there has the ability to match and even surpass, it's Pittsburgh.

So, as you may have gathered, I really feel this is an even series despite the facts Pittsburgh has an invaluable experience edge and the Preds are without their stalwart center in Johansen. So the smart money says I should lean to Pittsburgh then, right?

Well, I've never really been one to go along with the pack, so... I'm going with Nasvhille in six games and Filip Forsberg for the Conn Smythe. Forsberg has been fantastic this postseason and leads Nasvhille with eight goals and 15 points. The guy also has a knack for the clutch, timely play and I expect to see many more of those from him in this series.

It's tough to describe, but the Preds just have that "feel" right now.