The Stanley Cup quarter-finals are just a few days from getting underway. As the round robin and qualifying rounds start to come to a close, the first round has already been solidified for the Flyers after a convincing 4-1 win over the Lightning.
The Flyers are set to face the Canadiens following quite a crazy first week of the NHL’s return.
Let’s take a look at the soon-to-be matchup.
Flyers by the numbers
Goals per game: 3.29 (seventh overall)
Goals allowed per game: 2.77 (tied for seventh fewest)
Power play percentage: 20.8 (14th overall)
Penalty kill percentage: 81.8 (11th overall)
Canadiens by the numbers
Goals per game: 2.93 (19th overall)
Goals allowed per game: 3.10 (13th most)
Power play percentage: 17.1 (22nd overall)
Penalty kill percentage: 78.7 (19th overall)
How they are meeting
There was only one way the Flyers were going to meet the Canadiens in the first round — and a lot needed to happen to make it possible. In a crazy turn of events, the 12th-seed Canadiens knocked out the fifth-seed Penguins in four games in the qualifying round.
The Flyers also needed to find their way to the No. 1 seed at the end of the round robin tournament. Three games and three wins later, they found themselves at the top of the Eastern Conference.
Even with the round robin and qualifying rounds still going, the first matchup has already been set for the Flyers.
Why matchup could be favorable for Flyers
On paper, the Flyers coming out on top of this series almost seems like a no-brainer. Comparing the numbers above, the Flyers dominate in every category, but the biggest factor are those goals for and goals against.
The Flyers’ goaltending duo of Brian Elliott and Carter Hart has been dominant with whatever game head coach Alain Vigneault throws at each netminder. While there was some strategy in playing Hart at home and Elliott on the road the majority of the time, it’ll be interesting it see how the tandem plays out. This is probably the best problem a team could have — having two sturdy goalies ready to go. Where a young Hart gets his first taste of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, this isn’t Elliott’s first rodeo. This will be the veteran goaltender’s eighth trip to the postseason as he has 45 playoff games under his belt — for a netminder, that’s not a bad résumé.
On the opposing end of the ice, the Flyers will be going up against one of the most respected in the game with Carey Price, who has also seen the playoffs on eight separate seasons. This season has been an interesting one for Price though — and an inconsistent one at that. With a 27-25-6 record, it’ll be interesting to see how Price emerges. He certainly put on a show against the Penguins and was one of the main factors for the team's success in that series. Through those four games, Price posted an impressive 1.67 GAA and .947 SV%.
But the Flyers? Across both goaltenders, Hart having two starts (Bruins and Lightning) and Elliott having one (Capitals), you couldn’t ask for better numbers. Hart is currently maintaining 1.00 GAA and .966 SV%, while Elliott also has 1.00 GAA and .941 SV%.
If the Flyers shut down Price, it’s over for the Habs.
Next man up
While the Canadiens wouldn’t have even made the playoffs had the season ended in a normal fashion, the Flyers would’ve been entering the race for the Stanley Cup with a few banged up roster spots. During the mandatory league hiatus, Philippe Myers (right knee patella fracture) and James van Riemsdyk (fractured right index finger), two injured players that would’ve created absences and raised concerns in the winding 13 games of the season, had more than enough time to recover.
The Flyers, unfortunately, are going to be without Michael Raffl for a "little bit." While they are now down a key forward and a staple on the penalty kill, Joel Farabee was the next man up. He found his way back into the roster comfortably and has already earned his first playoff goal and assist. Jakub Voracek was also unavailable to to play against the Lightning, so Connor Bunnaman got to see some playing time as well. For someone who — prior to the 2019-20 season — looked like he was going to be a depth system player for his career, his efforts when getting the opportunity to show what he’s capable of made for an impressive performance.
Alain Vigneault is going to have some difficult decisions when creating his lines — and for the first time in a long time — it’s not for lack of talent, but rather a surplus.
Something worth playing for
This has been a season like no other — from the season being suspended in early March to going on a hiatus for nearly five months because of the coronavirus outbreak, it’s been difficult. The Flyers also had to handle the news of Oskar Lindblom being diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma back in December. It was a statement not a single person would have expected. What was even more unexpected was that just a few months later, Lindblom was officially done with his treatments and now, according to general manager Chuck Fletcher, there’s even a possibility of him traveling to the Toronto bubble with the team.
It’s a story with a happy ending for a player that rightfully deserves it. His teammates have been playing for Lindblom — when he was around, it was clear the team wanted to do well, he lit up the room and his kindness is something worth fighting for.
The image of captain Claude Giroux handing the Stanley Cup off to Lindblom should be motivation enough for the team. In a year with so much negativity, having a moment like that to look back on could possibly (definitely) make it all worth it.
Why matchup could be trouble for Flyers
It wasn’t a major issue during the 2019-20 season, but one fear always lingers — one that happened against the Canadiens back in January — is when the Flyers play down to their opponent. In those games, they often sit back on their skates, turtle with a lead or have to play a game of catch-up. This could be a worst-case scenario trap series, given the seeding — and with so many eyes on the surprising Flyers team pushing to make a Cup run, it’s possible they fall into it.
The Flyers proved that they can battle things out with the top dogs. In fact, it's time to start recognizing the Flyers as a top dog as well. It's hard to ignore, given they now sit on top of the east. After playing three of the top teams in the league consecutively, it’s clear the Flyers have what it takes to see success in their run. It’ll be crucial for them to carry over their mentality and intense play from the round robin — even against the east’s lowest seed in the playoffs.
That’s the one thing about the Stanley Cup playoffs — you never know what could happen.
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