Flyers

Flyers

Back in April, Ron Hextall spoke about pressure.

At the time, the Flyers weren't facing any overwhelming feeling of now or never.

They had just come off 42 wins and 98 points, both highs under Dave Hakstol in Year 3 of his tenure, took the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Penguins to six games in the first round of the playoffs, and many of their core pieces experienced career years to coincide with the team's growing youthfulness.

The expectation for a bigger step, though, was starting to build and became magnified when the Flyers signed James van Riemsdyk on Day 1 of free agency. 

"We all have pressure," Hextall, now the Flyers' former general manager, said after the 2017-18 season. "Pro sports is pressure. There's pressure on all of us. Now how you handle that pressure, you better handle it right."

The Flyers couldn't get past it through two and a half months of this season as the pressure morphed into an unstoppable force.

Seeing how freely and crisply the Flyers played Tuesday night during a 3-2 win over the Red Wings, it became increasingly clear that the stresses and drama brewing off the ice were weighing down the players who dictate the whole show on the ice.

Can you fault them for feeling it? In just two weeks, their GM, assistant GM and an assistant coach were fired, setting up for three replacements to take over all while their head coach was in this weird limbo but squarely on the chopping block.

 

Yes, they are professionals and making good money to play this sport at a high level.

But they are also human beings.

The Flyers may not be Stanley Cup contenders, but they possess too much talent to be wallowing in last place of the Metropolitan Division and ranking among the league's bottom three in goals allowed, power-play percentage and penalty-kill percentage.

The Wells Fargo Center had a different aura Tuesday night.

The Flyers were a different team.

The walls no longer felt like they were falling in, so the Flyers didn't try to do too much and instead just played the game the way they should.

Fans were engaged with a positive outlook. The goalie of the future was making his NHL debut and a new voice was behind the bench. The fans weren't looking to jump all over the first mistake or call for Hakstol's head the second the opposition scored. 

That's not to blame the fans. It's simply pressure in pro sports, like Hextall said.

As the Flyers tried to save their coach's job after already seeing a significant shake-up atop the totem pole, that pressure would creep in and then pounce.

On Tuesday, a reset was felt — not pressure. The Flyers took control of the game. Carter Hart, at 20 years old, was in net. Scott Gordon, on an interim basis, was head coach.

"It has been a while since we've heard some 'Let's Go Flyers' chants, so it's pretty nice," Shayne Gostisbehere said at second intermission. "The kid is giving us something right now. He's giving us some energy, a jolt, something this team desperately needed."

The Hextall-Hakstol era ended Monday when the head coach was fired three weeks after the general manager who brought him here suffered the same fate.

It happened sooner than anyone saw coming, shockingly 31 games into this season.

And you can't help but wonder how much pressure played in finishing it off.

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