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Flyers are making believers in round robin, pick up huge win over Capitals for East seeding

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The round robin looked good for the Flyers the moment the details were announced about the NHL's return-to-play 24-team tournament.

It looks really good right now.

The Flyers have pounced on their shot to rise in the Eastern Conference before the real deal begins during the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. On Thursday night, they beat the Capitals, 3-1, in their second round-robin game at Scotiabank Arena in the Eastern Conference's hub city Toronto.

Scott Laughton scored a pair of goals and Travis Sanheim registered the other as the Flyers notched another eye-opening victory.

How's the excitement level in the Delaware Valley?

Let's get into observations on the round-robin picture and the game:

• Given the Flyers could not slide any lower than their current No. 4 seed and had the chance to climb atop the Eastern Conference bracket entering the first round, their outlook appeared very attractive for the round robin, unlike like for the top-seeded Bruins, who could only fall (and they have).

So far, the Flyers have completely taken advantage of the juicy opportunity.

With the regulation win over the Capitals, they secured at least the Eastern Conference's No. 2 seed in the first round of the playoffs. The Flyers have set up a round-robin championship with the Lightning on Saturday. The winner of the game takes the No. 1 seed, the loser settles for the No. 2 seed.

 

Here are the current standings entering the round-robin finales:

1. Lightning — 2-0-0, four points
1. Flyers — 2-0-0, four points
3. Capitals — 0-1-1, one point
4. Bruins — 0-2-0, zero points

Update: What Flyers fans need to know for round-robin finale, 1st-round matchups

• Is there any argument to the Flyers' status as a legitimate Stanley Cup contender in this tournament?

They were proving themselves down the stretch of the regular season and they have to be making believers out of others right now.

Including the regular season and this round robin, the Flyers have gone 7-1-1 in nine combined matchups with the Capitals and Bruins.

Tough to argue that.

• Laughton, Kevin Hayes and Travis Konecny were put back together later in training camp and good thing the coaching staff made that call.

The line has been terrific, by far the club's best group of forwards so far in Toronto.

Hayes was impressive in camp with his puck-protection ability, patience and ability to slow the game down. He has completely carried that over into the tournament.

Laughton now has four goals in Toronto (three in the round robin, one in the exhibition game). Konecny had a beautiful assist on the first to give the Flyers a 1-0 lead in the opening stanza. Hayes set up Laughton's second marker, which ballooned the Flyers' lead to 3-0 in the third.

Hayes, who also set up Sanheim's 2-0 goal, has four assists and a plus-4 mark in two round-robin games. Konecny finished the game with two helpers, as well.

The line is rolling into the showdown with the Lightning.

• Because of that second line, the top line of Claude Giroux, Sean Couturier and Jakub Voracek has not had to do as much, which is a positive. The Flyers will want more offensive production from this group, no doubt about it, but the fact that this trio has combined for one assist over the first two games and the Flyers have outscored the Bruins and Capitals 7-2 is a great sign.

• The Flyers held Alex Ovechkin scoreless. The Capitals' superstar has not recorded a point in five matchups with the Flyers this season.

In Ovechkin's 15-year career, this was the first time the Flyers had ever held him to without a point in one regular season.

"You've got to know when he's on the ice," Hayes said postgame in a video interview. "I think that's a major key for our team, it's on the board every time: Know when 8's on the ice."

 

• Backup Brian Elliott was steady for the Flyers, needing to make only 16 saves on 17 shots. The goalie situation has played out well for the Flyers. Carter Hart is primed for the pipes Saturday.

The Flyers beat Braden Holtby for the fourth time this season.

• The decision to scratch James van Riemsdyk was difficult to comprehend.

No big deal, though, for now.

Alain Vigneault wants more from his goal-scoring winger, but coming into Thursday, the Flyers had played only one exhibition game and one round-robin contest. Not a ton of reps or a huge sample size. Demoting him to the fourth line would have been a strong message sent and then van Riemsdyk could have had the opportunity to climb if he proved worthy of it in limited minutes.

We've known the Flyers would try different looks and play some reinforcements for evaluation. Vigneault hasn't given us many reasons to doubt his decisions as he has very often pushed the right buttons throughout Year 1 in Philly. Thursday, though, the Flyers were presented with a golden chance to grab at least the No. 2 seed in the first round of the postseason. It wasn't an ideal time to sit a two-time 30-goal scorer who helps on the power play in favor of 22-year-old Connor Bunnaman, who will likely be a deeper extra during playoff series.

Credit to Vigneault, the Flyers still recorded the important win, so there was no harm done. The van Riemsdyk storyline will be worth monitoring moving forward. His spot in the lineup doesn't sound in jeopardy but where he plays will be interesting to watch.

• For Vigneault, the decisions ahead are good ones to have but they don't get any easier. The head coach said he was looking to get either Shayne Gostisbehere or Mark Friedman in the lineup for the team's round-robin finale. Both blueliners played in the exhibition game and are going to be the Flyers' seventh and eighth defensemen, respectively, to open the first round.

"I've already gotten Ghost and Mark in," Vigneault said Wednesday in a video interview. "There's a good chance that we're maybe going to use that last game to get someone else in; probably in, Ghost or Mark."

Let's see if Vigneault still does that despite the opportunity for the Flyers and how well the defensive pairs have played.

Then again, the Flyers' power play is 0 for 8 through the round robin. Perhaps Vigneault gives Gostisbehere a look to give the offensive-minded defenseman a chance to boost the second-unit man advantage. His elusiveness up at the point could be a way to provide a spark.

Here was Vigneault after the game on the upcoming defensive decisions:

I liked the way our group looked tonight, but we’ve got one more round-robin game. Definitely going to talk with my coaching staff and [general manager Chuck Fletcher] and [assistant general manager Brent Flahr] to get their input on the matter. It’s about preparing the team, it’s also about winning obviously. But there’s that fine line, we haven’t played for a long time. If you do expect your team to have a long playoff push, obviously things have to fall into place, etc., but you do need some depth.

 

Tonight, I was very happy with getting Joel in and Bunny in, I thought both those young men played well.

So we’ll see here what we decide. We’ve got 48 hours before I need to make that call for the benefit of the team.

• The Flyers caught a break with the absence of Capitals blueliner John Carlson (undisclosed injury), who missed his second straight round-robin game.

The James Norris Memorial Trophy finalist led all NHL defensemen in points during the regular season with 75.

• The Flyers wrap up their three-game round-robin slate Saturday when they play the second-seeded Lightning (start time TBD).

The Capitals and Bruins finish the round robin Sunday (start time TBD). The first round of the playoffs is scheduled to begin next Tuesday.

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