Flyers

NHL playoffs Flyers vs. Rangers: Previewing possible 1st-round matchup

NHL playoffs Flyers vs. Rangers: Previewing possible 1st-round matchup

Leading up to the Flyers' Aug. 2 round-robin opener — which officially commences the team's run at the 2020 Stanley Cup in the NHL's return-to-play 24-team tournament — we're going to break down every possible first-round matchup for the club.

Today, we look at the 11th-seeded Rangers.

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)

Rangers by the numbers

Goals per game: 3.33 (fifth overall)
Goals allowed per game: 3.14 (tied for eighth most)
Power play percentage: 22.9 (seventh overall)
Penalty kill percentage: 77.4 (tied for 23rd overall)

How they could meet

There a few scenarios in which the Flyers could draw the Rangers for the first round.

If the Flyers earn the No. 1 seed during the round robin and the Rangers are the lowest seed to advance past the qualifying round, those two will meet in the first round.

If the Flyers can grab the No. 2 seed, they could also face New York if both the Rangers and 12th-seeded Canadiens win their qualifying-round series.

Why matchup could be favorable for Flyers

The Flyers completely dictated terms against the Rangers during the regular season, quieting New York with impressive forechecking, breakouts and possession time.

Alain Vigneault's club won all three meetings with the Rangers by a combined score of 15-6. New York can score but it'll give up goals, as well. The Flyers controlled all three contests by playing Vigneault's hard-on-the-attack style.

There was also a tangible sense of extra motivation from former Ranger Kevin Hayes playing his old organization and even a little bit from Vigneault, who was fired by New York in April 2018 after missing the playoffs. Hayes scored three goals over the three-game regular-season series and the Rangers might be Carter Hart's best matchup.

Why matchup could be trouble for Flyers

Artemi Panarin is a Hart Memorial Trophy finalist and no team will look forward to facing the 32-goal, 95-point, plus-36 winger. The Flyers held Panarin in check (no goals, three assists, minus-4), but the 28-year-old is a proficient game-changer. He had 28 multi-point performances and the Rangers went 22-5-1 in those games.

New York also has 41-goal center Mika Zibanejad and an interesting goalie trio of Henrik Lundqvist, Igor Shesterkin and Alexandar Georgiev that could pose trouble.

While the Rangers have holes on the back end, a lower seed with nothing to lose and a star player can be dangerous.

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Alain Vigneault setting his tone? Calling out Kirk Muller, Canadiens has meaningful feel

Alain Vigneault setting his tone? Calling out Kirk Muller, Canadiens has meaningful feel

Alain Vigneault knows his way around come postseason time.

He can be a different guy when those lights flicker on for the Stanley Cup Playoffs and that trophy is up for grabs.

That isn't to say he's not intense or competitive during the regular season, but he understands well and relishes what's at stake when the calendar turns to the postseason.

Everything is turned up a notch.

In the playoffs, Vigneault won't reveal any lineup decisions in the days leading up to a matchup. There's a new level of gamesmanship. Plain and simple, Vigneault wants to win. The five-time Jack Adams Award finalist who has now coached in four pressure-filled markets — Montreal, Vancouver, New York and Philadelphia — wants the Stanley Cup. He was a game away from winning it in 2011 with the Canucks, made it back to the Final in 2013 with the Rangers and owns 12 career playoff berths on his 17-year résumé.

When the Cup logo is flashing everywhere you look, he doesn't mess around.

"At the end of the day, at this time, there are no friends," Vigneault said Monday. "There are no friends in coaching and there shouldn’t be any friends as far as players. There’s a lot of respect obviously on both sides, but it’s time to play and it’s time to bring it. That’s what both the Flyers and Montreal are going to try to do."

Vigneault's intensity, competitiveness and no-friends mantra were evident Friday night following the Flyers' 5-0 loss to the Canadiens in Game 2 of their best-of-seven first-round series.

After the top-seeded Flyers took Game 1, eighth-seeded Montreal took it to them Friday. And it didn't let up. With just over two minutes left to play and the Canadiens leading comfortably 5-0, Montreal went on the power play. Kirk Muller, serving as the Canadiens' head coach in Claude Julien's stead, sent out his first unit of Nick Suzuki, Tomas Tatar, Jonathan Drouin, Shea Weber and Jeff Petry.

Unprompted postgame, Vigneault went out of his way to highlight the opposition's late-game tactic in a blowout. Suffice it to say Muller's decision did not sit well with the Flyers' bench boss.

I saw toward the end of the game there, where Kirk Muller, they've got a 5-0 lead and he puts his No. 1 power play on the ice. We had embarrassed ourselves enough, I don’t think we needed to get embarrassed more. I’m going to make sure our team is very aware of that next game.

While Vigneault was genuinely peeved, the comment very well could be a motivational tactic for his club, to create a little bad blood in the series for a top-seeded team that maybe needed a reason to get angry after rolling through the round robin and gaining league-wide notoriety. The Flyers just received a mini wake-up call at an opportune time — early in the series when they were up 1-0. Now there's some fuel to their urgency for a response.

"We got our butts kicked today in all facets of the game," Vigneault said. "They outworked us, they outplayed us, they out-executed us.

"Playoff hockey is about winning four games. Right now, the series is tied 1-1. There’s no doubt that they outplayed us in all facets of the game tonight, especially in the will department. We’re going to need to be a lot better."

Did Flyers players take notice of Montreal's first power play unit hitting the ice late in a 5-0 game?

"Everyone sees everything out there," Kevin Hayes said. "That’s their coach’s decision, you’ve got to ask him."

"Yeah, I saw it," Claude Giroux, not sounding too concerned by the move, said. "No comment on that. We’re just going to worry about the next game here."

Vigneault certainly means what he said about the waning minutes of a blowout. If you recall in February, the Flyers had a 5-2 lead over the Panthers and went on the power play with about a minute left in regulation. Vigneault sent out a man advantage unit of Robert Hagg, Justin Braun, Connor Bunnaman, Michael Raffl and Nicolas Aube-Kubel.

That was the regular season, this is the playoffs. Is there a major difference? We'll let you be the judge.

There are two sides to every story. Muller had a reasonable response when asked about Vigneault's displeasure with his decision.

“I’ve got a lot of respect, I’ve worked with those coaches over there, they’ve done a heck of a job with their team, they’ve got a good hockey club," Muller said postgame. "I would never disrespect anybody. But we’re in the playoffs, you look at the first series against Pittsburgh, our power play wasn’t that great. I felt that if this was during the season, it would be a different story, but we have no practice time here, we’ve got to keep working on it.

"I totally understand if that were his comments, I was probably expecting it, but my job is to make this team as good as it can be right now and I had to keep getting some of these guys that haven’t been productive starting to feel it. I’ve got to focus on our guys in that situation.”

Vigneault was bothered by the Flyers' loss. He gave credit to the Canadiens. But he also discredited Montreal for that late-game decision.

The method to a Vigneault-driven playoff push hasn't been witnessed yet in Philadelphia.

This could be just the beginning.

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Flyers slammed back to earth in Game 2, hope they didn't lose Travis Konecny to injury

Flyers slammed back to earth in Game 2, hope they didn't lose Travis Konecny to injury

BOX SCORE

Entering Friday afternoon's game, the Flyers had not yet trailed through their 4-0-0 start to the NHL's return-to-play 24-team tournament.

They trailed early and big in a back-to-earth Game 2 loss to the Canadiens at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto, a disastrous 5-0 decision that has evened the Flyers' best-of-seven first-round playoff series with Montreal.

Carter Hart was yanked from the game with 2:03 left in the middle frame after yielding more than three goals for the first time in 12 games.

An awful first period by the Flyers (more on that below) set the tone and now head coach Alain Vigneault will have to work his magic with some adjustments if his top-seeded club wants to regain control of the series.

"We got our butts kicked," Vigneault said postgame in a video interview.

More: Vigneault setting his tone? Calling out Canadiens coach has meaningful feel

• After shining through his first three starts in the tournament (3-0-0, 1.00 goals-against average) and having his 22nd birthday Wednesday, Hart was roughed up by Montreal.

The Flyers were not good in front of him and Hart wasn't good himself, either.

On Jesperi Kotkaniemi's first of two goals to make it 2-0 in the opening stanza, Hart had a bad giveaway behind his net that eventually led to the marker. If there's one thing Hart has had to work on, it's his play with the puck outside of his crease.

Hart made only 22 saves on 26 shots before Brian Elliott took over, finishing the game with five saves on six shots. Hart will be right back at it in Game 3. It's his first taste of failure in the NHL playoffs.

Carey Price is so difficult to beat when he has a big lead. He was impressive and pitched a 30-save shutout.

• As the Flyers started looking like a contender down the stretch of the regular season and through the round robin, they didn't give fans much at all to complain about; they were that good.

Well, the first period Friday against the Canadiens was worthy of complaints. The Flyers put out what might have been one of their worst first-period performances of the 2019-20 season.

From the onset, the Flyers looked slow, sloppy and out of sync as the eighth-seeded Canadiens completely took it to the Eastern Conference's top seed.

The Flyers trailed 1:02 into the action on a Tomas Tatar goal (his first of two) and things never got better during the opening stanza. As a result, they were down by multiple goals at first intermission for the first time in their last 15 games, while they were outshot 16-6. At one point, Montreal had a 12-0 advantage in shots. 

It sort of felt like an ugly flashback to 2018-19. The Flyers were not ready or energized out of the chute and it burned them a game in this series. Every game is precious in the playoffs.

• The Flyers' nightmare was capped when All-Star and leading scorer in the regular season Travis Konecny exited the game in the third period after blocking a shot with his foot.

Konecny departed under his own power without putting pressure on his left leg. The Flyers will hope it was a precautionary exit in a game that was already decided.

Michael Raffl (undisclosed injury) was able to skate in warmups after missing the final two round-robin games and Game 1 of this series. Scratches can skate during warmups and the fact that Raffl partook is a good sign for his potential return.

• If you're looking for any positives after this one, it's that the Flyers went 19-6-1 without consecutive losses from Jan. 8 to the end of the regular season (also known as the NHL pause on March 12).

Under Vigneault, the Flyers were very good at burying a bad performance by quickly turning the page with proper adjustments. They suffered a 5-0 loss and 4-1 defeat during that stretch from Jan. 8 to the end of the season; they responded well from both of those clunkers with strong wins.

• Losses like that will bring changes in the playoffs.

The third defensive pair of Shayne Gostisbehere and Justin Braun struggled. Both blueliners had a minus-2 rating, both had turnovers and both just didn't look in rhythm.

The Canadiens' fourth goal took a bad bounce of off Gostisbehere's skate. Those happen but they also don't look good. A Gostisbehere penalty led to a Montreal power play goal to make it 3-0. The holding call on Gostisbehere was questionable as he was trying to prevent a breakaway from Max Domi.

Everyone played poorly, but it wouldn't be surprising if Vigneault gives Robert Hagg a look for defensive and physicality reasons in a big Game 3.

• In an attempt to spark the Flyers, Vigneault shuffled his lines for the third period but it didn't lead to much.

The Flyers' top five goal scorers from the regular season — Konecny (24 goals), Kevin Hayes (23), Sean Couturier (22), Claude Giroux (21) and James van Riemsdyk (19) — have combined for nine assists but no goals in the tournament so far.

• The Flyers' power play is 1 for 19 in the tournament. It hasn't been sharp or consistent when the Flyers get set up.

• The series continues Sunday with Game 3 at 8 p.m. ET on NBC.

For the full series schedule, click here.

The Flyers won't have an on-ice practice Saturday.

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

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