For the first time since 2000, the Flyers will open the Stanley Cup Playoffs as the Eastern Conference's No. 1 seed.
They kick off their first-round series Wednesday against the eighth-seeded Canadiens.
With the Flyers set to begin what feels and looks like their most credible chance at a Stanley Cup run since 2011 or 2012, let's look at five big storylines ahead of their matchup with Montreal:
• When: 8 p.m. ET with Flyers Pregame Live at 7 p.m. ET
• Where: Scotiabank Arena
• Broadcast: NBC Sports Philadelphia
• Live stream: NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com and the NBC Sports MyTeams app
• The goaltending matchup is well-advertised: Carter Hart vs. Carey Price, youngster vs. idol. As Hart, who turns 22 years old on Thursday, started molding his game, he looked up to Price, who turns 33 years old on Sunday.
"Any time you have a chance to play against somebody that you looked up to, it’s always exciting, and in the playoffs even more," Claude Giroux said Monday. "It's two good goaltenders; it’s going to be a treat to watch."
Everybody knows how Price can dictate an entire series by just his own ability between the pipes.
"I really believe everything’s been said about Price," Flyers head coach Alain Vigneault said Monday. "Obviously a premier goaltender in the league, gives the Canadiens a chance every game. I’m not sure there is much more I can add to where he is, how well he plays and what he does for that team."
A few interesting notes on both goalies:
Price has good career numbers against the Flyers, going 16-11-2 with a 2.49 goals-against average and .922 save percentage in 30 career regular-season matchups vs. the orange and black. He has been very good against them over the last two regular seasons: 3-0-1 with a 1.49 goals-against average and .959 save percentage.
There is a potential back-to-back scenario with Games 4 and 5. Despite Hart playing on no days rest only once this season (and it was in relief duty), expect him to play that back-to-back, especially given how big Game 5 could be, with the series either tied, the Flyers looking to clinch or trying to survive.
Meanwhile, Price was off his game on no days rest during the regular season, going 0-2-2 with a 3.76 goals-against average and .864 save percentage.
• The Flyers went 2-1-0 against Montreal in the regular season, with a 3-2 overtime win Nov. 7, a 4-3 overtime victory Nov. 30 and a 4-1 loss Jan. 16.
It's important to remember, though, that the Flyers got much better from early January and Hart faced the Canadiens only once (he beat them on Nov. 7). They also acquired Derek Grant and Nate Thompson at the Feb. 24 trade deadline, with Thompson coming from Montreal.
Having Nate, a veteran player that is such a pro in the way he prepares himself, the way he competes, the way he is with his teammates, a real good teammate — that’s his first and foremost value with him, he comes to play and he plays hard. Obviously in our preparation for the Montreal Canadiens, we did pick his brain on what we saw in video. I’m not going to go into length in what he shared with us; obviously that stays internal. There’s no doubt that he’s been here a short amount of time, but he’s been a real valuable player as far as bringing his game to the table every night and helping our group. In this preparation for Montreal, there’s no doubt that we did ask him a few questions.
• An X-factor in this series for the Flyers is James van Riemsdyk.
The Flyers went 0 for 11 on the power play during the round robin. JVR has a long résumé of power play production in his career and makes a living on disrupting goalies around the net, which is something the Flyers must do to beat Price.
On top of van Riemsdyk playing with a little bit more to prove after being scratched for the second game of the round robin, he also owns quality lifetime numbers against the Canadiens. In 39 career regular-season matchups with Montreal, van Riemsdyk has 16 goals and nine assists. He has scored more goals against only one other team: the Sabres with 17.
Vigneault will continue to look for more from van Riemsdyk and the big winger profiles well in this series.
• After missing the round-robin finale because of an undisclosed issue, Jakub Voracek has practiced the last two days and said he's good to go.
Voracek was one of the Flyers' best players when the club started finding its identity in November. He's important to the man advantage, as well.
We'll have to wait and see if he goes back on the Flyers' top line. It seems likely he will to at least start the series given the chemistry he has with Giroux and Sean Couturier. He could also see time on the third line if the Flyers elect to play Joel Farabee on the first unit, where the rookie's strengths become much more utilized.
Because of the team's depth in a system predicated on balance, Voracek played 17:03 minutes per game in the regular season, his fewest since 2011-12, his first year with the Flyers. As a result, he was more effective in all three zones with less pressure to constantly push the envelope offensively.
"Let’s be honest, I think this is the best team since I came to Philly in 2011," Voracek said Tuesday. "That first year we had a pretty good team, but we are really deep this year. I think we showed it before the stoppage, we showed it in the last four games (three round robin, one exhibition) that basically we are capable of beating anyone. Skating well, check them well.
"Let’s be honest, I think we are going into the playoffs as one of the favorites. That’s a good feeling and hopefully we are going to find a way to go all the way because we feel really comfortable with this group. That’s where we stand right now."
As for Michael Raffl, who suffered an undisclosed injury in Game 1 of the round robin, it's uncertain when the Flyers will see his return.
• During the playoffs, Vigneault is close to the vest with his lineups. For strategic purposes, the Flyers will keep all lineup decisions to themselves moving forward.
It's uncertain if Robert Hagg or Shayne Gostisbehere will be the Flyers' sixth defenseman for Game 1. Expect to see Hagg begin the series in the lineup and with Justin Braun, but Gostisbehere opened eyes in the Flyers' 4-1 round-robin win over the Lightning to tighten the race for playing time.
If this first-round series doesn't start particularly well and the Flyers want to combat Montreal's quickness with Gostisbehere's elusiveness, they could look to call his number, as Vigneault has mentioned the importance of adjustments throughout a series.
"I’ve decided who I’m going to play for the first game, but that’s something that I’m not willing to share at this moment," Vigneault said Tuesday. "But there’s no doubt that Shayne did play his best game. You can see right now at this point that he's healthy, he’s confident about the surgery that he had on both his knees. He feels good about himself and feels energized. If we need him during the series, there’s no doubt that he'll be ready for us."
Claude Giroux-Sean Couturier-Jakub Voracek
Scott Laughton-Kevin Hayes-Travis Konecny
James van Riemsdyk-Derek Grant-Nicolas Aube-Kubel
Joel Farabee-Nate Thompson-Tyler Pitlick
Ivan Provorov-Matt Niskanen
Travis Sanheim-Philippe Myers
Robert Hagg-Justin Braun
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