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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