Now, the real games begin. While it was certainly enjoyable to have hockey back, the Flyers were playing three games that didn’t carry the same stakes as a playoff series. In every game and every series from here on out, there is something at stake. Playoff lives are on the line.
Some things do change with the Flyers and other Round Robin teams entering the playoffs. Things go back to the typical seven-game series format, a much higher mountain to climb for some of the lower-seed teams that made it this far after winning a five-game series.
With all of this in mind, the Flyers face the Montreal Canadiens in the first round, and there’s certainly plenty of storylines to look at in this series. Here are five to watch for:
1. Carter Hart vs. Carey Price
How can you not start here? The Flyers appear to finally have a goaltender in Carter Hart. On the other side of the ice is a netminder who has been regarded as the best in the NHL, a goalie whom Carter Hart idolized growing up and still does. Carey Price is in the opposing net. And the factor of him helping the Canadiens steal a game or two in a playoff series is very real.
It’s great theater that Hart’s first playoff series comes against his hero. Hart himself has drawn comparisons to Price over the years. And how about this: both of them have birthdays this week. Hart turns 22 on Thursday. Price turns 33 on Sunday.
Both goalies are perhaps the biggest x-factors to the team’s success. Hart needs to be the solid netminder he was throughout the season and into the Round Robin. Price needs to be on his game for the Canadiens to even have a shot in a series.
It’s a classic battle of superstar veteran against rising star and it’s time to see if the kid can advance past the experienced netminder at the other end of the ice.
2. A 2010 Rematch
It’s been 10 years since the Flyers faced the Montreal Canadiens in a playoff series and Flyers fans don’t need to be reminded how that went. The Flyers had just completed an epic comeback against the Boston Bruins. The Montreal Canadiens were very much the team they are right now, an eighth-seed that shocked the hockey world by winning two series and reaching the conference finals.
Then, they faced the Flyers. The Flyers won Game 1, 6-0. They won Game 2, 3-0. While Montreal got the better of the Flyers in Game 3, they were shut out again in Game 4.
That set the stage for Game 5, a game that is remembered for the play by Mike Richards, scoring a shorthanded goal after Jaroslav Halak and Roman Hamrlik collided. The Flyers tied the score at one with that goal, then scored the next two to take a 3-1 lead before finishing off a 4-2 win that sent them to the Stanley Cup Final.
Some things are different this time around. The Flyers are not the upstart seventh-seed team that just completed a huge comeback. They are now the top seed in the East. There are greater expectations this time around and this is far from the conference finals just yet. But it does harken back to that series and what was on the line the last time these two teams played a playoff series against one another.
3. Shea Weber’s Return to Form
It wasn’t long ago that Shea Weber’s career was left for dead. He was traded to the Canadiens in a deal that shocked the hockey world, sending P.K. Subban to the Nashville Predators in 2016.
After a solid first season with the Canadiens in the 2016-17 season, Weber played just 26 games the following year due to injury and 58 the following year. The Canadiens were starting to experience life without him. But this season, Weber played in 65 games of 71 games and had his highest goal and point totals since the trade.
He’s been a perennial All-Star for most of his career and regarded as one of the best in the game at his position, but now he is not only showing the ability remains, but also his leadership reigns. As he prepares to turn 35 on Friday, he will be another player with a heavy desire to lead the Canadiens to another upset victory.
4. Favorites in a Series?
The Flyers are going to be favorites in a playoff series. It’s probably been eight years since that sentence was even a thought.
For several years, the Flyers have entered playoff series against teams that very clearly have been favored over them and poised to make deep playoff runs. The Flyers are in this position now, as the team expected to not only win a series, but to potentially make a deep run.
It’s a new place for the Flyers to be. They have very few players on the roster that were on the team at the time of the 2010 playoff run and lack the playoff experience of the other teams that were in the Round Robin. This would be their first chance to show that they are capable of handling the pressures of a playoff series and fuel the possibility of a playoff run.
5. A Few Familiar Faces
There are certainly some connections between the two teams. It wasn’t long before the pause that the Flyers acquired Nate Thompson from the Canadiens and the Canadiens have former Flyers Dale Weise and Jordan Weal on the roster. Defenseman Christian Folin is also on the Montreal playoff roster.
There was a time when Weal was considered to be one of the Flyers rising prospects and generated a lot of buzz with the team. Weise was Ron Hextall’s first big free-agent signing and arguably one of his worst decisions as GM. Folin was strictly a depth piece that played in Philadelphia for less than a season.
On the Flyers bench, both head coach Alain Vigneault and assistant coach Michel Therrien are former head coaches of the Canadiens. Therrien served two stints as Montreal head coach.
The connections are plentiful and they make for good stories, but they really don’t have an impact on the series in the grand scheme of things.