Flyers

For Flyers, it's not a popularity contest — and it shouldn't be

For Flyers, it's not a popularity contest — and it shouldn't be

While the Eastern and Western Conference Final series pick up, the Flyers will continue to outline their offseason plan as much as possible.

One thing that won't sneak into Ron Hextall's agenda is outside pressure.

If it did, he wouldn't be doing his job.

But Hextall is human. From the seat in which he sits and dissects decision after decision, he feels the daily stresses of general managing a hockey team with such a passionate following. Those fans haven't seen a playoff series victory since 2011-12 and a Stanley Cup championship since 1974-75.

That isn't lost on him.

"We all have pressure," Hextall said last month. "Pro sports is pressure. There's pressure on all of us. Now how you handle that pressure, you better handle it right. My philosophy is I do what I believe is right.

"I'm not going to do something to make me popular. I'm not going to do something that's going to take away from the success of our team to put a few more people in the stands."

Nor should he — that's not how you general manage.

Don't like him? Tough. 

Hate his patience? Sorry.

Hextall can't care about that — he made it clear he's not here to be liked. Even as the Philadelphia sports scene rises back into contention, Hextall will stay the course he carved out from the start and the one that ownership has faithfully backed.

"We're not going to change what we set out to do four years ago," Hextall said. "We put a plan in place. To go sideways now would be the wrong thing to do.

"It sort of took two years to get the wheels in motion and we're on plan. Are we happy where we're at right now? Hell no."

There's merit behind the Flyers' belief in their pace and path to an ultimate goal of contending for multiple Stanley Cups, not just one.

Dave Scott, the president and CEO of the team's ownership group, Comcast Spectacor, expressed no concern following last season in which the Flyers missed the playoffs for the third time over the past five campaigns. Despite the drop-off in 2016-17, Scott said it was "a terrific year from the business perspective."

"It was probably one of the best years we've ever had," Scott said in April 2017. "Ron's our guy. We believe in the system, we like the vision, we like the strategy, the pipeline. These young players coming up, there's a lot of excitement. From the business side, it's been terrific."

During the 2017-18 regular season, the Flyers were third among the NHL in average attendance at 19,517, according to multiple websites. They were sixth in 2016-17 with 19,644. This season, the roster also became younger and more competitive (trends that should continue), resulting in 42 wins and 98 points, both highs under Dave Hakstol, who will be entering his fourth year in 2018-19.

These are reasons why Hextall won't make reactionary moves this offseason.

He never does and won't start now just because the pressure gauge is ticking to new heights. If fans haven't yet comprehended the Flyers' motives, they'll have to start trying.

Or they can make their own decision, a power they've always possessed.

"If we're successful, the people are going to be in the seats," Hextall said. "If you look around the league, we’ve got very good attendance. That's a little bit harsh when you talk about attendance. Our attendance has been very good. Our fans are terrific.

"We're not going to make a change to appease people or because we are supposed to or for whatever reason. We're going to make changes to get better."

Popularity be damned.

NHL playoff odds per DraftKings: A look into 1st-round series on Day 1

NHL playoff odds per DraftKings: A look into 1st-round series on Day 1

The time has finally arrived — the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs are here and you can just feel the excitement in the air. The top 16 teams are set and ready to push toward the Final. 

With crazy upsets and twists among the qualifying round and round robin tournament, let’s take a look at the odds for each series on Day 1, per DraftKings. 

Blue Jackets-Lightning 

CBJ +185 — TB -225

It’s a reunion in the first round for the Blue Jackets and Lightning, as this will be the second consecutive season where the teams are meeting in the first round. 

As one of the biggest upsets in the 2018-19 playoffs, the President Trophy recipients were sent packing by a wild card team in sweeping fashion. The Lightning aren’t going down without a fight this time around and are looking for revenge in the sweetest way possible, a series win. 

The Blue Jackets lost numerous assets in the offseason, but that hasn’t stopped them from making yet another push in the playoffs. Will this new-looking squad be able to pull off another upset against one of the best in the league that has Nikita Kucherov and Vezina Trophy finalist Andrei Vasilevskiy? 

Flames-Stars 

CGY +100 — DAL -118 

The Stars bumped up their seeding by one in the round robin, finding themselves third in the west, while the Flames breezed by the Jets in four games in the qualifying round. 

Tyler Seguin, one of the Stars’ top players, is considered day-to-day after missing the final round robin game against the Blues. His return would be significant, but only if he finds a way to start contributing offensively. While that’s a fairly obvious statement, Seguin hasn’t recorded a point dating back to Feb. 29, so it’s important for him to start connecting. 

The Flames’ edge in this series looks to be special teams. They connected on the power play five times in the qualifying round (29.4%) and have been equally as impressive on the penalty kill (88.2%). 

Hurricanes-Bruins 

CAR +135 — BOS -159

A team that entered the return-to-play setting as the top in the east is now preparing to face the Hurricanes as the fourth seed. While a best-of-seven series is a much different scenario than the round robin tournament, the Bruins looked nothing short of lost in their opening three games — going 0-3 and only finding the back of he net four times. 

On the other hand, the Hurricanes are about to be a force. Granted, they had some time off following a sweep of their series against the Rangers, but it’s nothing much to worry about. The duo of Andrei Svechnikov and Sebastian Aho have been a force, combining for 13 points (6 goals, 7 assists) in only three games. 

If the Bruins can’t get that ‘perfection line’ of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak brewing early on, it’s going to be trouble for Boston. 

Blackhawks-Knights 

CHI +225 — VGS -315

The Blackhawks become a different team once the playoffs start — even entering them as the 12th seed in the west. After sending the 5th-seed Oilers packing after four games, it’s clear that they shouldn’t be overlooked — even though the odds in the first round make the Golden Knights look pretty favorable. 

Truth be told, Chicago just knows how to handle the playoffs — and that’s mainly due to the ample amount of experience over the past decade, with three Stanley Cups to show for it. 

The Golden Knights, though the most recent expansion team in the league — certainly hasn’t played like one. In the three seasons of their young franchise history, they’ve made it to the playoffs, including a Stanley Cup Final appearance in the inaugural season. With unfinished business, they look as driven as ever to add the Cup to their already impressive résumé.

Day 2 odds coming soon ...

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Flyers

2020 NHL playoffs: 3 keys to Flyers beating Canadiens and a series prediction

2020 NHL playoffs: 3 keys to Flyers beating Canadiens and a series prediction

You’d have to go back to 2012 after the Flyers defeated their longtime rival, the Pittsburgh Penguins in a quarterfinal series, to find the most recent time that this much optimism engulfed the local hockey club. After dispatching the other three top teams in the East during round-robin play, Alain Vigneault’s squad will take on a Montreal Canadiens team that had the fewest regular-season points of any of the 24 teams allowed the opportunity to compete for the Stanley Cup. 

From one perspective, it’s as beneficial a matchup as the Flyers could have hoped for in the first round of the playoffs. But, the Canadiens are riding high after dispatching the Penguins in four games during the qualifying round. So how do the Flyers ensure the Canadiens’ Cinderella runs ends before it truly ever begins?

Here are 3 keys for the orange and black:

That was then, this is now

The Flyers should feel confident after sweeping the Bruins, Capitals and Lightning in the round robin. But it’s important to acknowledge that there is a different level of intensity in series play as opposed to seeding games. The Canadiens have already experienced what it feels like to have a singular focus on one opponent thanks to their qualifying-round victory against the Pens.

Furthermore, you can put the Canadiens’ regular-season struggles to the side. They’re still not a great team. But in fairness, their underlying stats suggest they are better than their regular-season record indicates. More importantly, they have a Stanley Cup-winning coach Claude Julien and arguably the most reliable goaltender the game has to offer in Carey Price. That’s two significant ingredients for winning a seven-game series.

A Game 1 loss doesn't mean the Flyers have to panic. But it would change the complexion of the matchup. The Flyers cannot afford to ease into this series. They need to be ready to go at the drop of the puck Wednesday night.

Simple, smart, aggressive

The Canadiens are not built to control play. They did so at times against the Penguins, but that speaks more to Pittsburgh’s flaws than anything Montreal did over the course of four games.

Julien is more than happy to have his team play the role of counterpuncher. Expect the Canadiens to flood the neutral zone and wait for a mistake to turn into an odd-man advantage. With that in mind, the Flyers would be well-served to adopt a specific mindset in each zone.

In the defensive zone, the Flyers need to play a simple game. The Canadiens are not going to win this series by cycling Ivan Provorov and the other Flyers blueliners to exhaustion. Brendan Gallagher and company are looking to create turnovers and turn them into quick-strike goals. Artturi Lehkonen’s game-winning goal in Montreal’s 2-0 Game 4 win against the Penguins is a prime example of that. The Habs capitalized on a Brandon Tanev turnover in Pittsburgh’s defensive zone and the puck was in the back of the net in the blink of an eye. The Flyers need to manage the puck in their own zone and appreciate that the simple play, a chip off the glass or getting net-side in coverage, can be the difference between winning and losing.

The Canadiens’ forwards are not a physically-imposing group. But they have plenty of speed. Expect the Habs to clog the center of the ice and use their wheels to disrupt entries into the offensive zone. The Flyers will need a smart, disciplined approach in the neutral zone. Well-weighted chip-ins that get the Canadiens' defensemen into retreat mode with their back to the ice will be good plays in this series. 

When the Flyers gain the blue line, that’s when it’s time to play with aggression. Hunt the puck and force Shea Weber and company into making quick decisions with the puck. The Flyers’ size should also allow them to win board battles. Creating turnovers means high-danger chances and that is the only way to consistently beat Price. 

While most coaches abhor the thought of an offensive-zone penalty, the orange and black can afford to err on the side of being overzealous in their pursuit of scoring chances in the Canadiens’ end.

Special teams

That is because the Montreal power play, to put it kindly, has not been good. After a mediocre regular season, the Canadiens went 0 for 12 in four games against the Penguins with the extra man. Numerous times, the Canadiens failed to even register a shot against the Pens’ penalty killers. 

The Flyers were no better on the power play in the round robin, going 0 for 11 over three games. That said, the Flyers have been excellent on the penalty kill in the bubble, allowing just one goal in 10 opportunities.

If the Flyers can get their big names going on the power play, it’s hard to see how the Canadiens hang in the series. But if special teams is a wash and the series comes down to 5-on-5 play, the Canadiens have the goaltending to make it a coin-flip situation.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Price is the best player in this series. I would be surprised if it makes a difference.

Flyers in six.

Sports Uncovered is on all podcast platforms: click here to subscribe now!

Subscribe and rate Flyers Talk: Apple Podcasts | Google Play | Spotify | Stitcher | Art19 | YouTube

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More Flyers analysis for playoffs

A look at Flyers-Canadiens schedule with different aspects to note

• Cup crazy? East's top-seeded Flyers have great odds

• How sweep it is — Flyers run through round robin, earn East's No. 1 seed

Voracek out, JVR back after interesting scratch and more Flyers changes

Don't expect the Flyers to be mingling with their rivals at Hotel X Toronto

Costly injury comes at interesting time, creates more decisions for Flyers

The Flyers were never on a hot streak — they're just that good

• Can the Flyers go all the way? Our Stanley Cup predictions are here

• Picture collage and signs show love for Flyers as they eye Cup run in Toronto

Couturier's goals in NHL bubble: Stanley Cup and an important baby book item

Flyers announce playoff roster, have fans going crazy over shirts

• All types of Flyers odds (including the Cup) in NHL's 24-team tourney

• Scott 'couldn't be happier' with Flyers, but there's more action to be done

Lindblom has new contract, his comeback is on with Flyers

• Flyers-Canadiens is perfect on paper, but would it be a trap?

• What happened? Voracek says calm down, he's fine ... now you know

• Fans can purchase Flyers playoff shirts with new slogan

• What it was like to go back to work at Flyers practice in different times

5 questions on Flyers' chances in 24-team tournament

Predictions for Flyers' best Game 1 lineup to start 24-team playoff

Who are the Flyers' top 5 reinforcements for 24-team tournament?

• Elliott has sweet new mask for Flyers' playoff run

• Flyers sign a player to extension at position of strength

What to know as NHL, NHLPA finish big step, announce schedule

Flyers have two top 50 pending UFAs; will they re-sign them?

• Everything Flyers fans need to know for NHL's 24-team tournament

• Bettman gives Gritty the hard truth for why he can't be in Toronto bubble

Key dates, protocols announced as Flyers return