In late May, the NHL outlined the return to play plan that ultimately came to fruition. That was the first we heard of the NHL’s plan for the top four teams in each conference and the opportunity to advance.
The Flyers had nothing to lose in the format. They were the fourth seed and could rise to the top seed. It was as simple as winning all three games in the Round Robin.
Of course, winning all three games of the Round Robin would come after nearly five months off from game play. Trying to flip the switch on the level of play was easier said than done. But the Flyers reeled off three straight wins, each one bigger than the next.
They survived the first period against Boston, took the lead in the second and locked it down in the third. They were very much in control of the entire game against Washington, and again, locked down a third-period lead. Against Tampa, it was a tougher test and there was a lot more of a challenge, but they stormed out to the lead and never looked back.
At no point in the Round Robin did the Flyers trail in a game. They outscored the three top teams in the conference from before the pause, 11-3, in the three games.
With three wins under their belt, they enter the first round at the top of the Eastern Conference list and get a first-round series against the surprise of the qualifiers on the Eastern Conference side, the 12-seed Montreal Canadiens.
“Definitely excited. They just played a big series. A big win. They were underdogs there. They’re a good team,” Shayne Gostisbehere said. “You can’t take anyone lightly in this league. You got to be ready at the drop of the puck. For us, it’s a good match up. It’ll be a fun series.”
Gostisbehere said the magic words there. Every team in the league can’t be taken lightly. The Flyers have the better team on paper, but so did the Pittsburgh Penguins, the team that just lost in four games to the Canadiens in a qualifying round series. Of course, the Penguins lost their only tune-up game before the series and the Flyers enter having won all four games they have played since entering the Toronto bubble.
A big reason for that is depth across the lineup. The Flyers got key contributions from players in the bottom six, from their second and third defensive pairings, from their backup goaltender all throughout the Round Robin. Now it’s time to apply that to the playoffs. Of course, that means some difficult decisions are ahead for constructing the lineups.
“Those are good decisions that a coach has to make. That’s what I expect. That good internal competition elevates everybody’s game,” Alain Vigneault said. “Everybody has to be thinking about team first. Let us make those decisions. There’s no doubt some players right now are playing well and that’s very beneficial to our team.”
Among them are Gostisbehere and Joel Farabee, two players who did not dress for the team’s first Round Robin game last Sunday, but may very well be part of the lineup going forward. Gostisbehere set up Farabee for his first playoff goal in the second period of Saturday’s win.
“Joel’s a young player, scratching the surface as far as his full potential. He gets the opportunity tonight to play with [Sean Couturier] and [Claude Giroux]. I thought that was their best line in the three,” Vigneault said. “The goal, that was a hard pass from Ghost. It takes a special skill set to be able to one-time that. Great play by Ghost, but obviously great shot by Joel.”
“It was just nice to get out there and be part of a team win,” Gostisbehere said. “It was a tall task to get that No. 1 seed. We did it. We came in here and have been strictly business. I think for us to go out there and get three big wins in a row and get that No. 1 seed, that’s huge for us.”
“You look at our lineup, we have such great depth. Ghost and I are sliding in. We have guys sliding out, coming back in,” Farabee said. “It just goes to show how good of a team we are and how deep we are.
“We are excited here. Obviously like Ghost said, it was three big wins. We’re ready to go dancing.”