With hockey back up and running at full speed, it was time for the Flyers to start fighting for playoff positioning against the three best teams in the Eastern Conference. First up on the list was the Presidents Trophy winning Boston Bruins. The Flyers should know this team from their long and storied histories together and this Bruins team is every bit as good as the Bruins teams from the 70s when the teams were vying for the Stanley Cup against the Broad Street Bullies. While the Cup wasn’t on the line this time, this round robin match up was important for determining who might have an easier opponent in the first round of the playoffs. The Bruins have been dealing with a few injuries to their star players like David Pastrnak and were also without their top goaltender Tukka Rask this game, but were still able to ice a daunting and deep lineup full of high goal scorers and excellent defenders. The game had all the makings of a great match up and it delivered on all fronts. Let’s get into it.
Travis Sanheim and Philippe Myers
I guess this pair was determined to make me eat my words that I wrote about concerning them last week? I am very happy to do so if these are the players we are going to be getting in the playoffs. This pair was downright dominant on the ice on Sunday. While the stat sheet might say that the duo only had a goal (Myers) and an assist (Sanheim), anyone who was watching the game was able to see just how good they were when they were on the ice together. Sanheim and Myers were both on the ice for all three Flyers goals and were all over the Bruins zone when the Flyers went on the attack. Let’s take a look at each player individually.
Let’s start off with the assist on the goal that opened up the scoring for the Flyers on Sunday. While Myers didn’t get the assist on this goal, he was responsible for the goal happening because he was able to keep an attempted Bruins zone exit in at the blue line and get the puck to his partner who was now coming back into the Bruins zone with some speed. While Myers was keeping the puck in the zone, Michael Raffl was able to sneak in behind the Bruins defense and get himself in great position in front of the net. With the puck still in the zone and Raffl set up near the net, Travis Sanheim was able to collect the puck from Myers and skate down the middle of the zone. Sanheim being known as an offensive defensman was able to draw three Bruins players towards him to try and block his impending shot, but instead of shooting the puck, Sanheim dished the puck down low to Michael Raffl who was all alone and able to put the puck past goaltender Jaroslav Halak. While Myers was able to put a ton of pressure on the Bruins by keeping that puck in the zone and extend a Flyers attack, the real star of this play was Travis Sanheim who was able to use his scoring threat to draw the Bruins away from Raffl. Sanheim showed off some great hockey IQ by not shooting that puck like Halak and the three other Bruins were thinking he was going to do and instead giving it to his teammate for an easy goal.
A smart hockey move to set up a goal is really nice to see, but on the other hand, scoring a goal yourself is quite a bit better. Philippe Myers had an absolute snipe from just above the top of the right circle and above the right shoulder of Halak for a beautiful goal and, more importantly, a momentum killer for the Bruins. While the Flyers lose the face off, this play is started because Jakob Voracek is able to pressure Zdeno Chara enough to give the puck up right to Myers. Myers then races up the ice on a two one on with Couturier, but instead of passing the puck back and forth like the Flyers like to do a lot, Myers just rips a beautiful wrist shot stick side above Halak who stood no chance at stopping this puck. It was nice to see the scoring ability that Myers has flashed with the Flyers and Phantoms and the placement of his shot was just perfect. While the goal was a thing a beauty, the best part about it was that it completely killed the momentum the Bruins had generated 8 seconds earlier when they scored their only goal of the game. The Bruins were thinking they were going to go into the third period only down a goal, but a great pressure by Voracek and an even better shot by Myers put that to rest and killed any hope the Bruins might have of coming back.
Best Flyer of the game: Philippe Myers
The Fourth Line
Man it feels great to have depth scoring doesn’t it? The first to two goals of the game were scored by two different players on the fourth line. That type of depth is going to be crucial for the Flyers throughout the playoffs. As I talked about earlier, Raffl got himself in a great position behind the Bruins defense and was able to open up the scoring on a nice backhand goal. About five minutes later the fourth line was at it again and this time Raffl was the set up man for another beautiful snipe by NHL veteran and recent acquisition Nate Thompson. Provorov entered the zone, dished it to Raffl, Raffl (being harassed by a Bruin) dished it to a trailing Nate Thompson, and Thompson sniped it stick side above Halak for the second goal of the game. The fourth line was buzzing all throughout the second period and that type of energy and scoring depth is great to see this time of year.
Not bad a young goaltender making his first playoff start in his NHL career. I debated for a long time on who should get the honor of being the best in this game and Hart’s performance made it really hard not to choose him. Hart was steady throughout the whole game and didn’t look intimidated by the big moment of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Going up against the best line in the NHL (Marchand, Bergeron, and Pastrnak), Hart was able to shut them down and prevent any real rebound chances for the Bruins to capitalize on. Hart was in the right spots all game long and he held strong when the Bruins pulled their goalie with about four minutes remaining in the game. If it wasn’t for Hart, the Flyers could have had a long game ahead of them and for his work, Nate Thompson said in his post game interview that Hart was the back bone of the team and even compared him to Carey Price. Like I said, not bad for a goaltender making his first playoff start.
Chris Wagner’s goal late in the second period
Turnabout is fair play and just like the Myers goal earlier, the Bruins keeping the puck in the Flyers zone after the Flyers attempted to get the puck out lead to a defensive breakdown and a Bruins goal. With about a minute and 14 seconds left in the second period, the Flyers were attempting to clear the puck out of their own zone after a battle near the boards and a Bruins shot near the net. The shot wasn’t quite in range for Hart to make a play on the puck, so it traveled along to boards to Charlie McAvoy who just dumped it in behind the Flyers net. The puck bounced right to Nordstrom who quickly passed it to Chris Wagner. Wagner was actually attempting to get the puck across the crease to a wide open Sean Kuraly, but the puck inadvertently went off of Robert Hagg’s skate and into the back of the Flyers net. This goal is a bit of bad luck with Hagg’s skate pointing right at the Flyers net and the puck bouncing right off of it and into the net and missing the intended target completely. The reason why I think this is the worst play to happen during this game is because there seemed to be a mental lapse in the players minds near the end of a second period after they had worked so hard to get a two goal lead over the Bruins. The Flyers didn’t really seem to work very hard to battle for the puck and when the puck got sent right back into their own end, they were in poor position to stop the Bruins attack. Hagg was posted right in front of the net and was all alone. There was nothing he could really do except try to get a stick or skate on the puck and hope it went into the corner or into an area where the Flyers could clear. Unfortunately it did the opposite. Even if the puck didn’t go off the skate of Hagg, the puck would have landed right on the stick of a wide open Kuraly who had a lot of net to shoot at and most likely would have scored. The Flyers just seemed like they were playing for the end of the period and got a bit to lackadaisical and content with their two to nothing lead. I think the worst part of that sequence is that it gave the Bruins some momentum in a game that they had been getting outplayed by the Flyers all period long. It’s a lot easier to comeback from a one goal deficit and giving the Bruins all that momentum right before the end of the period was sure to get them motived to come out swinging in the third. Luckily for the Flyers, eight seconds later Philippe Myers sniped a puck past Halak to restore the two goal lead, but small lapses like that can’t happen if you’re going to be fighting tooth and nail against the best teams in the NHL.
Worst Flyer of the game: Robert Hagg
This could be a sneaky devastating injury for the Flyers if it turns out Raffl is out for an extended period of time. Raffl had been all over the ice this game and had the opening goal of the game, but went into the boards awkwardly after a possible slew foot by Jeremy Lauzon. Raffl has been great as a fourth liner this year on and off the ice and losing a player like him on your fourth line could throw some wrenches into the lineup. Raffl seemed to have great chemistry with Thompson and Pitlick and now you have to throw in a rookie in Joel Farabee, who has shown a lot of potential this year in his time with the Flyers, but could throw off some in game timing. Farabee has got a lot of upside, but head coach Alain Vigneault determined that Farabee was the odd man out in favor of a line of Raffl, Thompson, and Pitlick. Reports state that the injury to Raffl isn’t as bad as it seems, but Raffl still seems like he’s going to be out for a while according to Alain Vigneault. The fourth line is now going to be in flux, so it will be interesting to see how Farabee adapts and if they can keep the same scoring upside they have shown all year.
This one might get me in trouble, as I am a full blown member of the #ChurchofHagg, but I didn’t think Hagg had a very good game on Sunday. For starters, Hagg seemed to be having trouble against the speed of the Bruins and it cost the Flyers because Hagg ended up taking a penalty for holding a Bruins player who was skating right by him. Hagg was also the person who’s skate was responsible for the lone Bruins goal of the game, even if it was a bit of bad puck luck. Hagg wasn’t in the best position to defend against the Bruins attack and it cost the Flyers a goal. Hagg and Braun just seemed to be getting pinned in their own end every time they were on the ice and Hagg ended up as a minus 1 on the night. Now don’t get me wrong. While the pair of Hagg and Braun seemed to be getting pinned in their own end, they weren’t being out muscled as Hagg laid out a few big hits on the night and didn’t make any more glaring mistakes for the rest of the game. Clearly Hagg has the trust of Vigneault who is keeping the pair of Braun and Hagg together over throwing in Shayne Ghostisbehere and breaking up the team chemistry the Flyers have built all year long. I was just simply noting that Hagg didn’t have a particularly strong game on Sunday from a statistical and observational perspective. no need to try and excommunicate me from the church.
What did you think? Agree or disagree with either of my selections? Did I exclude a game you thought should have made the list? Let me know in the comments below or on Twitter @snapp1eapp1e
Photo Credit: NHL.com