Flyers observations

Carter Hart provides early birthday gift as Flyers beat Canadiens in Game 1 of 1st-round NHL playoff series

Carter Hart provides early birthday gift as Flyers beat Canadiens in Game 1 of 1st-round NHL playoff series

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Carter Hart will enjoy his birthday.

The young netminder delivered a big performance Wednesday night to help the Flyers earn a 2-1 win over the Canadiens in Game 1 of their best-of-seven first-round playoff series at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto.

So far, so good (in fact, really good) for Hart in his first taste of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Jakub Voracek and Joel Farabee scored goals for the top-seeded Flyers, who are off to a 4-0-0 start in the NHL's return-to-play 24-team tournament and have yet to trail once.

Over their last 14 games (10 in the regular season, four in tournament), the Flyers are 13-1-0 and have outscored the opposition 52-23 (plus-29 goal differential). The lone loss was to the Bruins, who finished the regular season with an NHL-best 100 points.

Wednesday was far from a picture-perfect performance but the Flyers did enough to grind it out, which they'll have to do at times against eighth-seeded Montreal.

• In the first chapter of the Hart-Carey Price showdown, the youngster got the better of the veteran.

Hart, who turned 22 years old at midnight, has been so steady early in games. He had to make only five saves in the opening frame but he hasn't allowed a first-period goal in his last seven games.

He was a life saver with 16 second-period saves and finished with 27 stops on 28 shots.

Through three games in the tournament, Hart is 3-0-0 with 84 saves on 87 shots. Can't ask for a better start from him. A major positive.

Price made a save on Scott Laughton that you'll see all over ESPN's SportsCenter and denied 29 shots. The Flyers know he'll be a tough out.

• After playing well following his jump to the first line in the round-robin finale with Voracek (undisclosed issue) out, Farabee stayed with Claude Giroux and Sean Couturier in Game 1.

The 20-year-old rookie winger continued his productive response to the opportunity, scoring a massive goal 16 seconds after Shea Weber tied the game at 1-1 in the second period.

Farabee went to the net, deflected Travis Sanheim's shot and then pounded home the rebound — so timely given Montreal had totally swung the momentum in its favor, putting the Flyers on their heels.

Farabee should stay on that line until he gives the Flyers a reason to not keep him there. He has three points (two goals, one assist) over three games in the 24-team tournament.

He’s been great for us," Ivan Provorov said postgame in a video interview. "It’s his first playoffs, but it doesn’t look like it. He has poise, he’s been making plays, he’s been scoring and helping us big time. I think he deserves to play on that line and he contributes a lot. He’s been going, I think he complements Coots and G really well.

• The Flyers delivered a pair of early positive signs:

The power play struck on its first opportunity after going 0 for 11 through the three-game round robin. Provorov, who led all NHL defensemen in man advantage goals during the regular season with seven, blasted a shot from the point and Voracek must have just gotten a piece of it to hand the Flyers a 1-0 advantage.

The other positive was the ingredients to the goal. The Flyers went with a double screen on Price. Impeding the Montreal netminder's vision will be critical and the Flyers hammered home that point with Couturier and Voracek disrupting.

Not only is it an effective approach but it can also frustrate Price, who does not like being bumped or obstructed.

The power play finished 1 for 3 and missed out on a chance to provide insurance in the third period. It didn't cost the Flyers.

• The second period was troubling for the Flyers. They got a taste of their own medicine. Typically, the Flyers are a team that wants to wear down the opposition with its effort and north-south style. The Flyers are not the fastest team, but the way in which they play makes them tough to play against, which was a huge initiative entering their turnaround season.

Montreal completely took it to them in the middle stanza. At one point, the Flyers were pinned in their own end and had three failed attempts to clear the puck.

Leading up to the series opener, Flyers head coach Alain Vigneault warned that Montreal seldom slows down in its pace or energy, which can sneak up on teams if you let it.

"That’s a team with real good team speed, there’s no doubt that they work extremely hard," Vigneault said in a video interview before the game. "Those two areas, watching the four games in that Pittsburgh series, caught everybody’s attention. They were extremely quick and extremely hard-working."

Fortunately for the Flyers, Hart was strong and Farabee made his heads up play, allowing the Flyers to leave the second period with a 2-1 edge.

• Vigneault gave the Game 1 nod to Shayne Gostisbehere over Robert Hagg, who was the extra defenseman. Gostisbehere truly won his spot in the lineup with impressive work during camp, the exhibition game and one round-robin game.

He wasn't as impactful against the Canadiens as he was in the 4-1 round-robin win over the Lightning and looked a little shaky in the second period, but so did the Flyers as a whole. Gostisbehere didn't play a ton later in the third period as the Flyers shortened things up.

Not sure that's enough to sit him in Game 2 but the battle for the lineup will truly be a game-to-game situation. The playoffs are a game-to-game business.

• James van Riemsdyk was on the fourth line and played 11:40.

Nate Thompson, the former Canadien who centers the fourth line, missed a wide-open net late in the third period.

Overall, the Flyers didn't receive the depth efforts they got throughout the round robin, but the club's role players weren't awful, either.

The Flyers had a so-so game in general.

• The series continues Friday with Game 2 at 3 p.m. ET on NBCSP.

For the full series schedule, click here.

The Flyers practice Thursday at 1 p.m. ET at the Ford Performance Centre.

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Flyers are making believers in round robin, pick up huge win over Capitals for East seeding

Flyers are making believers in round robin, pick up huge win over Capitals for East seeding

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The round robin looked good for the Flyers the moment the details were announced about the NHL's return-to-play 24-team tournament.

It looks really good right now.

The Flyers have pounced on their shot to rise in the Eastern Conference before the real deal begins during the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. On Thursday night, they beat the Capitals, 3-1, in their second round-robin game at Scotiabank Arena in the Eastern Conference's hub city Toronto.

Scott Laughton scored a pair of goals and Travis Sanheim registered the other as the Flyers notched another eye-opening victory.

How's the excitement level in the Delaware Valley?

Let's get into observations on the round-robin picture and the game:

• Given the Flyers could not slide any lower than their current No. 4 seed and had the chance to climb atop the Eastern Conference bracket entering the first round, their outlook appeared very attractive for the round robin, unlike like for the top-seeded Bruins, who could only fall (and they have).

So far, the Flyers have completely taken advantage of the juicy opportunity.

With the regulation win over the Capitals, they secured at least the Eastern Conference's No. 2 seed in the first round of the playoffs. The Flyers have set up a round-robin championship with the Lightning on Saturday. The winner of the game takes the No. 1 seed, the loser settles for the No. 2 seed.

Here are the current standings entering the round-robin finales:

1. Lightning — 2-0-0, four points
1. Flyers — 2-0-0, four points
3. Capitals — 0-1-1, one point
4. Bruins — 0-2-0, zero points

Update: What Flyers fans need to know for round-robin finale, 1st-round matchups

• Is there any argument to the Flyers' status as a legitimate Stanley Cup contender in this tournament?

They were proving themselves down the stretch of the regular season and they have to be making believers out of others right now.

Including the regular season and this round robin, the Flyers have gone 7-1-1 in nine combined matchups with the Capitals and Bruins.

Tough to argue that.

• Laughton, Kevin Hayes and Travis Konecny were put back together later in training camp and good thing the coaching staff made that call.

The line has been terrific, by far the club's best group of forwards so far in Toronto.

Hayes was impressive in camp with his puck-protection ability, patience and ability to slow the game down. He has completely carried that over into the tournament.

Laughton now has four goals in Toronto (three in the round robin, one in the exhibition game). Konecny had a beautiful assist on the first to give the Flyers a 1-0 lead in the opening stanza. Hayes set up Laughton's second marker, which ballooned the Flyers' lead to 3-0 in the third.

Hayes, who also set up Sanheim's 2-0 goal, has four assists and a plus-4 mark in two round-robin games. Konecny finished the game with two helpers, as well.

The line is rolling into the showdown with the Lightning.

• Because of that second line, the top line of Claude Giroux, Sean Couturier and Jakub Voracek has not had to do as much, which is a positive. The Flyers will want more offensive production from this group, no doubt about it, but the fact that this trio has combined for one assist over the first two games and the Flyers have outscored the Bruins and Capitals 7-2 is a great sign.

• The Flyers held Alex Ovechkin scoreless. The Capitals' superstar has not recorded a point in five matchups with the Flyers this season.

In Ovechkin's 15-year career, this was the first time the Flyers had ever held him to without a point in one regular season.

"You've got to know when he's on the ice," Hayes said postgame in a video interview. "I think that's a major key for our team, it's on the board every time: Know when 8's on the ice."

• Backup Brian Elliott was steady for the Flyers, needing to make only 16 saves on 17 shots. The goalie situation has played out well for the Flyers. Carter Hart is primed for the pipes Saturday.

The Flyers beat Braden Holtby for the fourth time this season.

• The decision to scratch James van Riemsdyk was difficult to comprehend.

No big deal, though, for now.

Alain Vigneault wants more from his goal-scoring winger, but coming into Thursday, the Flyers had played only one exhibition game and one round-robin contest. Not a ton of reps or a huge sample size. Demoting him to the fourth line would have been a strong message sent and then van Riemsdyk could have had the opportunity to climb if he proved worthy of it in limited minutes.

We've known the Flyers would try different looks and play some reinforcements for evaluation. Vigneault hasn't given us many reasons to doubt his decisions as he has very often pushed the right buttons throughout Year 1 in Philly. Thursday, though, the Flyers were presented with a golden chance to grab at least the No. 2 seed in the first round of the postseason. It wasn't an ideal time to sit a two-time 30-goal scorer who helps on the power play in favor of 22-year-old Connor Bunnaman, who will likely be a deeper extra during playoff series.

Credit to Vigneault, the Flyers still recorded the important win, so there was no harm done. The van Riemsdyk storyline will be worth monitoring moving forward. His spot in the lineup doesn't sound in jeopardy but where he plays will be interesting to watch.

• For Vigneault, the decisions ahead are good ones to have but they don't get any easier. The head coach said he was looking to get either Shayne Gostisbehere or Mark Friedman in the lineup for the team's round-robin finale. Both blueliners played in the exhibition game and are going to be the Flyers' seventh and eighth defensemen, respectively, to open the first round.

"I've already gotten Ghost and Mark in," Vigneault said Wednesday in a video interview. "There's a good chance that we're maybe going to use that last game to get someone else in; probably in, Ghost or Mark."

Let's see if Vigneault still does that despite the opportunity for the Flyers and how well the defensive pairs have played.

Then again, the Flyers' power play is 0 for 8 through the round robin. Perhaps Vigneault gives Gostisbehere a look to give the offensive-minded defenseman a chance to boost the second-unit man advantage. His elusiveness up at the point could be a way to provide a spark.

Here was Vigneault after the game on the upcoming defensive decisions:

I liked the way our group looked tonight, but we’ve got one more round-robin game. Definitely going to talk with my coaching staff and [general manager Chuck Fletcher] and [assistant general manager Brent Flahr] to get their input on the matter. It’s about preparing the team, it’s also about winning obviously. But there’s that fine line, we haven’t played for a long time. If you do expect your team to have a long playoff push, obviously things have to fall into place, etc., but you do need some depth.

Tonight, I was very happy with getting Joel in and Bunny in, I thought both those young men played well.

So we’ll see here what we decide. We’ve got 48 hours before I need to make that call for the benefit of the team.

• The Flyers caught a break with the absence of Capitals blueliner John Carlson (undisclosed injury), who missed his second straight round-robin game.

The James Norris Memorial Trophy finalist led all NHL defensemen in points during the regular season with 75.

• The Flyers wrap up their three-game round-robin slate Saturday when they play the second-seeded Lightning (start time TBD).

The Capitals and Bruins finish the round robin Sunday (start time TBD). The first round of the playoffs is scheduled to begin next Tuesday.

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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.

Update: Costly injury comes at interesting time, creates more decisions for Flyers

• 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).

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.

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