The Stanley Cup Playoffs were slated to start today and as the season progressed into the final 13 games, the Flyers were in all likelihood going to be a part of them. While the playoffs and the rest of the 2019-20 season for that matter have no real timetable for returning, here’s a way to fill the void a bit.
For the next few weeks, we’ll take a look back on several playoff series in Flyers history, both won and lost by the Flyers, and review them to see some of the turning points within the series and how the result could have been different. The series will be reviewed in reverse chronological order starting with some of the most recent.
We begin with the Flyers last playoff series back in 2018 against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Really a disaster from start to finish. The Penguins jump out to a 3-0 advantage and never looked back. Sidney Crosby scored the final three goals of a the 7-0 defeat in a lopsided Game 1.
Perhaps the Flyers best chance to make a game of this was in the first period. They had one power play while trailing 2-0 and another shortly after falling behind 3-0 and could not take advantage.
The Penguins finished the game outshooting the Flyers, 33-24, with Matt Murray recording a shutout.
This was a very different game for the Flyers, though it took until the final minute of the period for them to get on the board. Shayne Gostisbehere scored on the power play with 37 seconds remaining to give the Flyers their first goal and lead of the series.
Just 47 seconds into the second period, Sean Couturier got a bounce off Kris Letang for the second goal of the game for the Flyers, giving them a 2-0 lead.
A big moment came in the middle of the period as Claude Giroux coughed up the puck to Sidney Crosby and sent him away on a breakaway, but Brian Elliott made the save. Crosby had another great chance as Phil Kessel fed him on the backdoor in the final seconds of the period and he put the chance through the blue paint, slamming his stick over the crossbar in frustration.
That proved to be a huge turning point. Travis Konecny and Nolan Patrick scored goals in the first five minutes of the third period to take a 4-0 lead. Though Patrik Hornqvist answered with a goal just 17 seconds later, the Flyers capped off the 5-1 win with an empty-net goal by Andrew MacDonald.
The series returned to Philadelphia and offered the Flyers a chance to take the series lead. Instead, the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions weathered an early storm before taking control of the game.
Patrick breezed by Olli Maatta in the first two minutes of the game, getting stopped by the glove of Murray. Murray made another save on Travis Sanheim moments later off the rush, keeping the game scoreless. Midway through the period, Crosby got on the board again with a wraparound to give the Penguins the only goal of the first, but things quickly got out of hand in the second.
The Penguins struck for two quick power-play goals, the first on a feed from Kessel to Derick Brassard in the slot and the second on a one-timer from Evgeni Malkin on a 4-on-3. Just five seconds later, with the game back at 4-on-4, Brian Dumoulin scored to make it 4-0, essentially putting a fork in the game.
Sanheim scored his first playoff goal with 6:18 left in the period, but the damage had been done. The Penguins added another power-play goal from Justin Schultz in the third, capping off a 5-1 result in their favor.
More of the same for the Penguins in Game 4. An early power play allowed them to vault to the lead with Malkin scoring off a nice passing play. As the period progressed, the Flyers were starting to get the better chances, but after a flurry of chances on Murray, a counter-rush for Malkin and Kessel resulted in a goal as Kessel finished on his chance to make it 2-0.
Again, the Flyers had the better chances late in the period, including a breakaway for Konecny in the final minute of the period, but could not take advantage.
Midway through the second, the Penguins did what they had in their two wins in the series and broke the game open in short order. Letang scored on a rising shot to make it 3-0 at 8:04 and Crosby buried a puck at the side of the net less than three minutes later to make it 4-0.
By that point, the result was pretty well decided, with the Flyers best chance to even make it a game again coming when Malkin took a double-minor for high-sticking late in the period. The Penguins scored the lone goal of the third, with Riley Sheahan scoring in the final five minutes of the game to cap off the 5-0 defeat for the Flyers and put their season on the brink.
With their season on the line, the Flyers needed their top players to step up and they did. It started in the first with Claude Giroux getting the first goal of the game to give the Flyers a lead late in the first period.
In the final eight minutes of the second, the Penguins struck twice quickly to once again take control of a game. Bryan Rust tucked in a wraparound with eight minutes left in the period, then Jake Guentzel beat Michal Neuvirth through the five-hole to make it 2-1 with under four minutes to play in the period.
The Flyers could have been buried in the final minutes of the period when the Penguins got a power play, but the Flyers struck for a shorthanded goal with Valtteri Filppula getting a rebound to tie the game at two.
The third period was a chess match with the Penguins getting the bulk of the chances. Just days before this game, Sean Couturier had collided with Radko Gudas in practice and suffered a torn MCL in the process. Playing despite the injury, Couturier provided the heroics with a goal with 1:16 remaining in the third.
Just seconds later, Crosby had the tying goal on his stick and Neuvirth robbed him with the glove, preserving the lead for the Flyers. Matt Read scored into an empty net and the Flyers survived to extend the series.
Late in Game 5, Ivan Provorov suffered a separated shoulder but played in the game anyway. Couturier was also suiting up for another game while injured and the Penguins were playing without Evgeni Malkin due to injury.
Couturier started things early, scoring on a rebound at 2:15 to give the Flyers the lead. Crosby answered by jumping on a rebound off Neuvirth to tie the game at one at 6:30. Carl Hagelin gave the Penguins the lead just 47 seconds later, being left alone in front for a one-timer from in tight. The Flyers tied things back up with 4:12 left in the period with a one-timer from MacDonald.
In the second, the Flyers appeared to take control, getting an early breakaway goal from Couturier just 40 seconds into the period and Scott Laughton scoring off a rush with 7:46 remaining in the period.
At this point, things were starting to shift the Flyers way and the thought of a Game 7 back in Pittsburgh was definitely on the table. But as they had done throughout the series, the Penguins struck quickly and turned the game in their favor.
Just 1:21 after the Flyers had gained a two-goal lead, Hornqvist scored to cut it back to one. Then with under a minute to play, Guentzel scored on a deflection that leaked through Neuvirth to tie the game at four.
In the third, the injuries just started to catch up to the Flyers. Kessel stole the puck from Provorov in the opening minute and fed Guentzel on a 2-on-0 to give Pittsburgh the 5-4 lead. Despite the goal, the Flyers had their chances to even things back up, getting a 4-on-3 power play with 9:23 remaining. They could not score and shortly after the penalty expired, everything unraveled.
With Letang exiting the box, Neuvirth took control of a clear and played it around the endboards to Couturier to keep it away from Letang. Letang took Couturier’s legs out, flipping him and forcing a turnover. There was no penalty called, and the puck went into the slot for Guentzel to fire the one-timer to complete the hat trick and make it 6-4 with 7:12 remaining. Ten seconds later and right off the face-off, Guentzel cut to the net and scored again off a feed from Hornqvist to make it 7-4 and essentially put an end to the Flyers season.
Couturier capped off a five-point game with a hat trick of his own with 2:53 to play, but Rust sealed the final result with an empty-net goal to make it 8-5.
In the end, the Flyers were far too battered and couldn’t match the talent of the Penguins on paper, but they were certainly able to make things interesting in the series at times. While Games 1, 3 and 4 were ultimately never that close, the fact that the Flyers were past the halfway point of Game 6 with a two-goal lead showed that they did have the potential to at least get the series back to a winner-takes-all Game 7.
It’s interesting to look back at a series this recent and see the differences in this roster as opposed to the one today. Nolan Patrick was a rookie. Ivan Provorov and Travis Konecny were playing in their first playoff series. Three of the seven defensemen that played in the series are no longer on the team. Only eight of the 14 forwards who played in the series are also on the roster.
Among the 13 players on the roster that have survived to this season, three have missed significant playing time -- Patrick has been out for the entire year, Oskar Lindblom has been out since his December diagnosis with Ewing’s sarcoma and Gostisbehere has been in and out of the lineup both due to injury and as a healthy scratch.
What is also interesting in analyzing this series is that this was a very likely playoff matchup for the Flyers this season. The Flyers would have held home ice in the series against the Penguins should the season have ended as of the stoppage on March 12 and there was reason to believe that this year’s team had the chops to compete with the Penguins and make it a highly-competitive series.
Tomorrow, we will continue the series by looking at the Flyers playoff appearance against the Capitals from back in 2016.