Flyers

How Jordan Binnington's run with Blues relates to Carter Hart, Flyers

How Jordan Binnington's run with Blues relates to Carter Hart, Flyers

Back on Jan. 7, Jordan Binnington came into the Wells Fargo Center and made his first-ever NHL start. He blanked the Flyers, 3-0, as the Blues beat Carter Hart.

On that night, Hart, at 20 years old and playing just his seventh game, actually had more NHL experience than the opposing goalie.

After the game, Hart smiled. Just 20 days earlier, he experienced the thrill of making his first NHL start. He could appreciate the high Binnington must have been on to deliver a shutout in such a moment.

Little did anyone know it would be the start of a remarkable run by the rookie Binnington, all the way into the Western Conference Final, which begins Saturday night (8 p.m./NBC).

In 30 starts, Binnington went an astounding 24-5-1 with a 1.83 goals-against average, .930 save percentage and five shutouts. When the Blues visited the Wells Fargo Center, they had the same number of points as the Flyers. St. Louis was 29th in the NHL at 16-19-4 and 36 points. The Flyers were 30th at 15-20-6 and 36 points.

Now, the Blues are one of four teams remaining in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, in massive part because of Binnington, who is a Calder Memorial Trophy finalist.

But Binnington had some help. St. Louis allowed 28.6 shots per game during the regular season, tied for the NHL's third fewest. The Blues won 32 games when they outshot an opponent, tied for the NHL's most. They had just six losses when outshot by an opponent, the NHL's second fewest.

St. Louis didn't make many comebacks because it didn't need them. The Blues made their push by setting the tone early in games, securing leads, sustaining pressure and playing smart hockey with a goalie that could finish. It was a good environment for Binnington, a 25-year-old with four seasons of AHL experience.

If you recall the 3-0 win over the Flyers on Jan. 7, the Blues dominated possession and often pinned the Flyers in their zone. Hart was forced to make 34 saves on 36 shots, with Binnington sealing the deal behind 25 stops.

The Flyers seldom played that style of game with Hart in net, something new head coach Alain Vigneault hopes to change.

"Puck management can be as important and can be as effective to playing good defense," Vigneault said Apr. 18. "A lot of times people talk about playing good defense and that's the forecheck or the D-zone coverage. Yeah, it is, it's because you don't have the puck, but you've got to know what to do with the puck, and when you do know what to do with the puck, then a lot of times you're not defending as much."

Hart was pretty darn good himself since Jan. 7. He went 14-10-0 in 25 games (24 starts) with a 2.84 goals-against average and .920 save percentage. Over that stretch, he made 759 saves compared to Binnington's 727. A reason why Hart converted more saves is because the Flyers allowed the NHL's most shots (1,439) since Jan. 7, putting a lot on a 20-year-old rookie's shoulders.

He made the most of the environment.

"We have a young goaltender that's got tremendous amount of potential that might become one of the top goalies in the league," Vigneault said.

It'll be up to the Flyers to help him.

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Flyers open 24-team tournament with a bang by taking down NHL-best Bruins in round robin

Flyers open 24-team tournament with a bang by taking down NHL-best Bruins in round robin

BOX SCORE

Fans on Sunday afternoon celebrated the return of meaningful Flyers hockey after 145 days since the club's last game.

The Flyers themselves did some celebrating, too, by outplaying the league's best team for a 4-1 win to open their three-game round-robin slate in the NHL's return-to-play 24-team tournament.

Michael Raffl, Nate Thompson, Philippe Myers and Scott Laughton netted goals for the Flyers, who came on strong in the second period and then controlled the Bruins to the finish line at Scotiabank Arena in the Eastern Conference's hub city Toronto.

The fourth-seeded Flyers helped their potential climb before the first round by getting a big game out of the way and opening the round robin 1-0-0.

Plenty to like with the Flyers' start to the tournament. Let's get into observations:

• Nobody should tell you to temper expectations if you're giddy over the futures of Myers and Travis Sanheim.

Who wouldn't be excited about two long defensemen no older than 24 years old that are mobile, create offense and are only getting better in the defensive end?

The two make up a young defensive pair with only four combined games of playoff experience entering the tournament. But the Flyers made a point during the regular season to have them learn and gain confidence by playing hard minutes in big situations. On Sunday, the coaching staff saw early returns on that game plan.

"Not only did we not hide those guys, but we purposely matched them against the best lines in the league. A: because they have that ability. But B: because we wanted them to grow," Flyers assistant coach Mike Yeo, who oversees the blueliners, said during training camp.

The 6-foot-5 Myers scored a nasty and important goal in the second period just eight seconds after Chris Wagner trimmed the Flyers' lead to 2-1.

"I love playing against the best players and I’m looking forward to the challenge," Myers said in camp. "It’s a challenge that I’m embracing with open arms."

Sanheim got the Flyers started with a nice feed to Raffl, who made a pretty finish to hand the Flyers a 1-0 advantage in the middle frame. Both Sanheim and Myers were physical and smart in the defensive zone, as well, breaking up plays when the opportunity called for it.

Against the Bruins this season, the duo has combined for four goals, six points and a plus-11 rating. They're not intimidated and that's huge for the Flyers' chances.

• If you want to get a true sense of how much deeper the Flyers are compared to years past, ask Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek. Two of the mainstay pieces to the club's core have put a lot of production on their shoulders but the Flyers haven't won a playoff series since 2012, Voracek's first season in Philadelphia.

They've admitted the difference of the Flyers' improved depth.

"I think you can tell that’s another reason why we’re winning games," Voracek said in February. "So many times me, G or [Sean Couturier] didn’t have any points, and we find a way to score four, five goals. Let’s be honest, it didn’t happen very often in the past. We are extremely deep. It feels like every time when somebody is off scoring-wise, somebody else is picking it up. That’s what the good teams do and we do it well.”

The Flyers' fourth line of Raffl, Thompson and Tyler Pitlick totaled two goals, three points and a plus-4 mark.

Giroux, Couturier and Voracek didn't need to score much. They combined for one assist but delivered quality defensive work and the Flyers beat Boston by three goals.

• One possible bad storyline from the Flyers' perspective to come from Sunday's outing was Raffl being forced to leave the game during the third period.

He went into the boards awkwardly in a race for the puck. He didn't appear in terrible pain but wasn't putting pressure on his one leg as he needed assistance off the ice from Flyers director of sports medicine Jim McCrossin.

After the game, the Flyers did not have an immediate update on Raffl as the play happened later in the final stanza.

"I looked at it quickly on the overhead just a little bit after it happened," Flyers head coach Alain Vigneault said in a video interview after the game. "Seemed like it was close to being a slew foot but I'd have to see the replay again."

Missing Raffl for any time would be a blow to the team's aforementioned depth. Stay tuned. The Flyers do know they have Joel Farabee waiting in the wings.

• All was well for Carter Hart in his tournament debut. He converted 12 saves in the first period and the lone goal he allowed was from a funny bounce off Robert Hagg's skate.

Hart made 34 saves on 35 shots.

"I know I've been here a short time, but he doesn't look 21 to me," Thompson said after the game in a video interview. "He reminds me a little bit of a goalie I used to play with in Montreal."

Thompson was referring to Carey Price.

The Flyers did not have to face Vezina Trophy finalist Tuukka Rask (unfit to play), who is 15-2-4 with a 1.94 goals-against average and .934 save percentage in his career against the orange and black.

They instead saw Jaroslav Halak, who is no slouch. The 35-year-old veteran recorded a 2.39 goals-against average during the regular season but the Flyers got the best of him.

• The Flyers impressively held Boston's big trio of David Pastrnak, Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron scoreless as the three were a combined minus-7. 

"I think our guys did a good job, especially Coots' line playing against them," Laughton said.

• Thompson, who received the nod over Farabee, looked off his game a bit early on in fourth-line duties. He had trouble with the puck on his stick a few times and sent a questionable pass through the defensive zone in the first period.

Then he made up for it with this shot to hand the Flyers a 2-0 lead in the second period. The 35-year-old knows the postseason, having played in an Eastern Conference Final and a Western Conference Final. A really good guy to have. General manager Chuck Fletcher acquired Thompson at the February trade deadline for a 2021 fifth-round pick.

• The Flyers have two more games in the round robin. They face the Capitals Thursday (start time TBD) and Lightning Saturday (start time TBD).

The Flyers could try some different looks Thursday (see story). Maybe the Flyers now lean more toward giving Raffl a game off. We'll see.

The Capitals and Lightning play the other Eastern Conference round-robin opener Monday (4 p.m./NBCSN).

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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.

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2020 NHL playoffs: Flyers, Stanley Cup predictions

2020 NHL playoffs: Flyers, Stanley Cup predictions

This weekend officially kicked off the 2020 race to the Stanley Cup. After months of waiting and uncertainty, we are now shifting gears to hockey nearly around the clock and that’s a dream in itself.

Before the Flyers embark on their playoff journey, NBC Sports Philadelphia's Brooke Destra, Katie Emmer, Joe Fordyce and Jordan Hall give their predictions for the team and who wins it all.

Destra

I have waited my whole life to feel this confident about a Flyers team. If you’ve been watching throughout the season, especially following the NHL All-Star break, you could tell that this team was destined for more than another year of disappointment. 

This goes back to the offseason when general manager Chuck Fletcher made some roster additions. He didn’t need to go out and get a big-time free agent, but rather evaluated the needs of the current roster and found a way to complement it. Without the addition of Kevin Hayes, Sean Couturier wouldn’t have been able to flourish as the 1C he is. Without Matt Niskanen, Ivan Provorov wouldn’t have been able to get guidance from a true veteran defenseman and find his game that is wise beyond his years once more. No additions would have led to another season of falling short of expectations and now the bar is set for the ultimate test — the Stanley Cup. 

When we first evaluated the team’s potential before the beginning of the season, I believed winning a single playoff round would have been enough for fans. It would showcase growth and promise for seasons to come. Yeah, that’s not the mentality anymore. 

This is it. This is the year the Flyers win it all. Claude Giroux will finally get to raise that beautiful Stanley Cup over his head and the drought in Philadelphia will be over after 45 years of waiting. The cards have been dealt in the Flyers’ favor and they have the power to control their fate. I see the Flyers winning in six games against the Golden Knights. 

This isn’t optimism anymore, this is certainty. 

Emmer

This Flyers team certainly has a different vibe than years past. From its solid depth at forward to its drastically improved special teams, to having arguably the strongest goaltending duo in the NHL —it has a healthy chance of taking a deep playoff run in 2020.

That being said, it’s still tough to predict where the Flyers end up ... after all, this is the Stanley Cup Playoffs we’re talking about. It’s such an equal playing field. With healthy rosters returning that wouldn’t have been the case originally and the lack of ice time for players throughout the pause for the majority of four months or more, it’ll certainly be interesting who comes out of the gates the strongest.

I’m optimistic about the Flyers’ chances. Why not have fun and say they pass the Penguins in the first round in six? Then I’ll say they go on to beat out the Capitals in seven and the Lightning in six to make it all the way to the Final to face the Avalanche, where they’ll win in seven and Giroux (and the city of Philadelphia) will finally get that Stanley Cup they’ve been waiting 45 years for.

Another bold prediction? Kevin Hayes goes off in the playoffs and wins the Conn Smythe.

Fordyce

The Flyers will benefit from playing three games in the round robin, where they can only improve their seeding. They can’t finish lower than fourth but can get as high as the top seed entering the playoffs. I’m going to go out on a limb and make a prediction that we will see a different Shayne Gostisbehere when the games resume. During the regular season, we saw a version of Gostisbehere that appeared to have no confidence on the ice. For Ghost, confidence is key and maybe more than any player I’ve ever seen.

In the scrimmage with the Penguins, Ghost looked like a different player. On the final play that won the game, Ghost took what was there. He reversed the puck back to Scott Laughton to play give- and-go with Travis Konecny that led to the winning shot from Laughton. When Ghost lacks confidence, he may try to force a play on the other side of the ice. It was good to see his assertive play on the ice and I’m betting on a resurgence from Gostisbehere.

In the Stanley Cup Final, I’m going to say the Tampa Bay Lightning will beat the Colorado Avalanche. The Lightning have some revenge to exact after a first-round exit last season, despite having the best record. With their roster of scorers that seems to never end, their lethal power play and Andrei Vasilevsky between the pipes, the Lightning are well positioned to win the Cup. The Avalanche have had the best road record in the NHL and the top goal differential in the Western Conference, so I see them making it through the Edmonton bubble but eventually falling to the Lightning.

Hall

There's definitely a feel to these Flyers. It's a fun, likeable, hard-working, well-coached group with plenty of ingredients. Sometimes in sports, you can sense when a team has something brewing.

The 2019-20 club has a conceivable shot at a playoff run, which should be exciting for a fan base that has been patient over the previous seven seasons, a stretch in which it has seen stagnancy, three playoff berths and no series victories.

The Flyers are in a promising spot and a lot of people deserve credit. It's no longer just about the future.

With that being said, my concerns about their Cup chances arise because of a possible second-round matchup against either the Lightning or Bruins, and then maybe having to beat one of those clubs in the East Final. It's not an easy road.

A big step forward and productive Flyers season ends in a long second-round series after a first-round victory.

For the Stanley Cup Final, I'm going to stick with what I had at the beginning of the season: Lightning over the Blues.

As for a bold prediction, how about Travis Sanheim leading Flyers defensemen in scoring for the tournament? That's bold enough, right?

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 24-team tournament

From lineups to big picture, everything Flyers fans need to know for round robin

• Potential heavyweight coaching matchup for Flyers in 1st round

• Flyers celebrate return of hockey with OT drama and positives in exhibition

• So, about those Penguins ... 1st-round matchup for Flyers?

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

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One of the most intriguing (and favorable?) 1st-round matchup possibilities

• Could Flyers still share the wealth against Blue Jackets in 1st round?

Would Islanders be Flyers' kryptonite if they meet in 1st round?

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