For the first time since 2012 the Philadelphia Flyers have advanced to the second round of the playoffs! The Flyers won all of their round robin games and ended up with the #1 seed in the East, which matched them up with the lowest seed in the Eastern Conference (and playoffs overall) in the Montreal Canadians. The Flyers were the consensus favorite to win the series and the series ended up going six games with lots of tough, gritty, and defensive hockey being played by both teams. In the end, The Philadelphia Flyers came out on top four games to two. This series had its fair share of highs and lows with emerging superstars rising to the occasion and young players getting a taste of playoff hockey. I am here to break down the best and worst plays, players, and games of this round 1 match up, so without further ado, lets get to it!
Man it feels good to have a franchise goalie between the pipes, huh? Carter Hart was getting his first taste of NHL playoff hockey and boy did he rise to the occasion! Now it’s not to say that there weren’t ups and down with Hart this series, but I can say without a doubt that without carter Hart, the Philadelphia Flyers would be on their way out of the bubble and we would be talking about another disappointing hockey season. What Carter Hart showed in games 3 and 4 was exactly what a franchise goalie is able to do for a team and what we were all promised when we drafted him with the hopes that he would live up to our expectations of being that franchise goalie. Hart has the natural ability to be in the right position and not have to make crazy diving saves all over the ice in order to make a save, which is exactly what you need in a series where your opponent is known for shooting the puck at the net from every possibly angle every chance they get. Being strong, reliable, and in position was a big reason why Montreal had a hard time scoring in games 3 and 4 and it paid dividends because Hart was able to snag every shot he saw and recorded back to back shut outs. In fact, Hart’s back to back shut outs in games 3 and 4 set a record for the youngest Flyers goaltender to record a shut out in the playoffs in Philadelphia Flyers franchise history and Hart was also the first goaltender since 1994 to record back to back shut outs in the playoffs before the age of 23. Hart is in fact the second youngest goaltender in NHL history to record back to back shut outs in the playoffs.
With the exception of game 2, Hart was able to keep the Flyers in every game they played against the Canadians this series and even when he was scored on and rattled, he was able to show the ability to get over it and rebound for another great performance. Take game 2 for example, Hart let up 5 goals in that game and the Flyers were down from the start of the first period. Hart was leaky, didn’t have great awareness, and ended up being pulled for veteran backup Brian Elliott publicly in the middle of the game. Hart showed visible anger on his way to the locker room and ended up slamming the glass door in frustration. That is a rare sight from a player who fans know to be even keeled and show little emotion on game day. Then what happened? Hart returned two days later and was his usual self pitching a complete game shut out where the Flyers were out shot 23 to 20. Hart then returned two days later and held the Canadians to zero goals on 29 shots for his second consecutive shut out. Hart became 7th all time in Philadelphia Flyers franchise history in longest playoff shutout streaks in terms of total minutes. How about another example of Hart being able to bounce back and carry his team to victory?
In game 5 of the series, the Flyers had the chance to close things out and advance to the second round with a win. Hart let up the first goal of the game early on in the first period and proceeded to let up a total of 4 more goals in the game, even though 3 more would officially count thanks to a off sides coaches challenge. During the coaches challenge, Alain Vigneault decided he was going to pull the young goaltender from the game once again, but after a conversation with Hart on the bench, Vigneault decided Hart had the mental fortitude to go back in and reset himself to give his team a chance to win. The Flyers kept fighting back and ended up tying the game 3-3, but due to a defensive breakdown behind his net, Hart let in the game winning goal and the Flyers lost 4 to 3. The Flyers fan base was in disarray and questions started to arise of if the Flyers could finish the job. Two days later, Hart was back to being his stable self and was able to hold the Candidness fierce attack all game, including a few high danger scoring chances late in the game, and ended up getting the win and helping the Flyers advance to the second round for the first time since 2012.
Hart finished the series stopping 160 out of 171 shots on goal with a save percentage of .936. Those are the statistics of a great goaltender and includes games where he let up 5 and 4 goals respectively. Hart was able to bounce back from his bad games and was always in position to make the toughest saves when his team needed it. No the Canadians aren’t the most talented team when it comes to scoring goals, but they took the Flyers off their game and ended up controlling play in almost every game. Carter Hart needed to be ready for an onslaught of shots from every possible angle on the ice and out duel a first ballot hall of famer (and his idol) in Carey Price in order to propel his team to a round one victory…and clearly Carter Hart showed that he was up to the challenge.
Flyer of the series: Carter Hart
Ivan Provorov is definitely the workhorse of this Flyers defense and the Flyers overall with maybe the exception of Carter Hart. Provorov was all over the ice logging in about an average of 24 minutes each night and making sure the Canadians were taking shots from the outside portions of the ice. Provorov was one of the few constants throughout this series and was rarely on the wrong end of a goal against. Provorov even had the added challenge of having his season long partner absent for the entirety of the series ending game when Matt Niskanen was serving his one game suspension for breaking the jaw of Brendan Gallagher. Provorov had to spend the entire game mixing and matching with three other Flyers defensemen and was able to hold down the fort long enough for Hart to make crucial saves and send the Canadians packing out of the bubble.
Vigneault showed why the Flyers hired the veteran coach this off season who has a history of winning and is up for the Jack Adams award this year. While there can be some questions with regards to his use of certain players throughout the lineup and in certain situations, AV has shown that he has the ability to get this team to buy in and play any style that is needed to win a playoff series. The Flyers were taken aback by the style that the Canadians played in game one and it completely threw them off their game. AV got the team to tighten up and play a really strong defensive game, which is the opposite of how the had been playing up to that point in the round robin and, in the end, the Flyers were able to stifle the Canadians attack and win the series. Vigneault was even able to take the focus of the hate and ire from media and fans off his players and onto himself. Vigneault made comments about the way the Canadians used their top power play when they were up 5 to 0 that got the focus off the Flyers bad loss and onto the Canadians head coach. After game 5, Vigneault started a firestorm in Montreal after his comments about Gallagher and how Niskanen made a strong hockey play even though the jaw of Gallagher was broken. Side note…props to AV for remembering the similar incident involving Gallagher in 2014 when he broke the jaw of one of his Rangers players and using that against Gallagher in this series. These types of adjustments and mind games are all evidence of a veteran coach who knows what hes doing and knows how to win playoff hockey games and the Philadelphia Flyers are better off for it.
The Canadians Style of Play
The style in which the Canadians have played all year has it’s intricacies and nuances, but it can basically be summed up in one sentence. Move with as much speed toward the puck carrier, backcheck or forecheck as much as possible to disrupt the carrier, and then take the loose puck back toward the opposing team net. The newly rejuvenated and young Canadians implemented their tried and true style of play against the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Penguins found out how hard this system can be to play against in the qualifying round because the Canadians were all over them creating turnovers and scoring from all angles of the ice. The Flyers were coming off of a sweep of the eastern Conference teams in the round robin and were playing a run and gun style of play where all four of their lines were active and contributing to their scoring. The Flyers then quickly found out in game 1 of the series why the Penguins had so much trouble with this up and coming team and their style of play.
From the puck drop of game 1 through the final horn of game 6, the Flyers were on their heels and being relentlessly perused anytime they had the puck on their stick. The Canadians forced the Flyers to play a tighter and more defensive game than they had been used to and it threw the Flyers completely off their rhythm. Suddenly, the run and gun forechecking style of play the Flyers had used to go on that 9 game run before the pause and the round robin games was no longer viable and could spell disaster if the Flyers didn’t start being more careful with the puck. In essence, the Canadians made the Flyers feel like they had no time to make a play or move the puck up ice whenever the puck landed on their stick. This style of play messed with the Flyers so much that it caused the high scoring Flyers who scored a total of 11 goals in 3 games against the best teams in the Eastern Conference to score 11 goals in 6 games against the 24th ranked team in the playoff bubble.
The Canadians had the best Corsi percentage over the course of the regular season and were one of the best teams at maintaining possession of the puck before the season was put on hold. You could tell the Canadians excelled in these areas because it felt that throughout the entire series the Canadians had the puck and were moving to attack in the Flyers zone and when they didn’t have the puck on their stick, they were right behind the Flyer who did happen to have the puck to try and poke it away. Luckily for the Flyers, they were able to thwart the Canadians by playing a tight defensive style of hockey, made the Canadians shoot the puck from the outside areas of the ice, and kept them from getting to the slot where they could potentially do some serious damage. Unfortunately for the Flyers, it looks like they had a hard time playing their style of hockey and playing like the team that was playing so well before the pause and in the round robin games. The Flyers next opponent in the playoffs are the Islanders and they play an even more defensive and disciplinedstyle of hockey that takes what the Canadians do and ramps it up. Hopefully the Flyers can find their scoring touch again and break free from what the Canadians did to them in round one otherwise, the Canadians might have broken the Flyers in time for the Islanders to finish them off for good.
Worst Flyer of the Series: Justin Braun
This budding superstar became a house hold name for Flyers fans because he was all over the ice in the round 1 series and seemed to put in goals left and right against this team. Suzuki finished the series with 3 goals, 2 assists, and was a plus two for the series. Suzuki had a knack for getting to the front of the net and was always casing trouble by trash talking after the whistle or roughing up a few players by getting physical. Suzuki even went as far as to pat Carter Hart on the head after he scored a goal in game 5 of the series, which angered the Flyers and the entire Flyers fan base. Luckily, Derrick Grant got his revenge after the final horn of game 6. Everyone watching this series could see that Suzuki is extremely talented and is going to be a superstar in the upcoming years.
Like Nick Suzuki, Joel Armia just seemed to be all over the ice and in the right positions to score a goal or two when the Canadians were pressuring the Flyers. Armia scored two goals in game 5 when the Flyers were trying to put the Canadians away for good and had a goal in that 5 to 0 win against the Flyers in game 2 of the series. Armia was a plus 5 in the series and put up a whopping 18 shots on goal in the series. It was safe to say that both Armia and Suzuki thrived on a line together and Armia was there to take advantage of opportunities given to him by Suzuki and ones he created by himself.
Gallagher didn’t have a ton of impact in terms of scoring in this series, but he made his presence known on and off the ice. Gallagher never quite got it going in this series and only had one goal and three assists in the series. Gallagher is more known for being a tough player who isn’t afraid to drop the gloves and start chaos throughout a hockey game. Gallagher also has a tendency to talk trash and run his mouth during and after play. Where Gallagher really made his presence felt in this series was after game 5 when he and the Montreal Canadians social media team created a huge firestorm of hate for Mat Niskanen when Niskanen cross checked Gallagher in the jaw and ended up breaking it. Now let me say this right off the bat, Niskanen definitely illegally cross checked Gallagher and deserved his suspension that he received for game 6 of the series. In fact, I thought he should have been suspended for the rest of the series because breaking someones jaw, even if Gallagher inadvertently turned his head into Niskanen’s stick, is a huge mistake and shows a lack of awareness and stick control. Now where I think Gallagher and the Canadians social media team took it too far was trying to gain sympathy by slowing down the the play where Gallagher got hurt and trying to gain sympathy by playing to the hearts of the entire NHL fanbase and creating a sob story for Gallagher when Gallagher could not stop running his mouth the entire series and for the five minutes after Niskanen broke his jaw! Gallagher was literally talking and shouting for the remainder of game 5 and was trying to start verbal arguments from the bench, which either shows that his jaw wasn’t as broken as previously thought or he didn’t care about the ell being of his own body to keep talking when he should have kept his mouth shut to prevent the injury from getting worse. The Canadians made it seem like he was never going to be able to play hockey again and that Niskanen should be banned from the NHL for his vicious hit. I understand that it was an illegal play and that Niskanen made a dirty hit, but to act like there was a great injustice and that Gallagher is a sweetheart who needs the worlds sympathy is a little extreme and seems like pandering. It feels weak and the Canadians should feel ashamed for going so low as to pander for sympathy.
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