(Photo by Mark Blinch/NHLI via Getty Images)
The Flyers are heading into an elimination game tonight. It’s Game 5, Isles v Flyers from the bubble in Toronto, but it might as well be Game 7, and that is exactly how Alain Vigneault and the Flyers should be approaching it. I’ll be the first to tell you I did not want to have to face the Isles during the Playoffs. Flyers couldn’t beat them this year, losing in Hakstol era fashion to them in at least one game, coming all the way back to be scored on from the point with a minute to play. To preview this one, lets take a look at what the Flyers can do to stave off elimination in the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs
First and foremost, the Flyers have got to play a high energy, high scoring game. The Flyers core needs to play the majority of this game (while Nate Thompson hasn’t been super bad, I DO NOT want to see him out there more then he needs to be). The guys who are goal scorers need to score. The guys who set up those goals need to set them up. The Flyers have to find ways to get into the dangerous areas of the ice and put pucks on the net (preferably in them). The Isles have outscored the Flyers 13-7 this series, which is kind of surprising. Up until this series, the Flyers have been able to hold their opponents back from scoring while producing, with a goal differential of +36. The Flyers have to find a way to do this against the Isles. There was a lot of promise in this area during Game 4, but the Isles were able to capitalize on poor defensive play (probably because the Flyer Defensemen were playing up on the forecheck to score goals. The Top 6 guys on this team have to show up tonight. They’ve been absent from the goal sheet thus far, and if they continue to be, the Flyers will be absent from Toronto.
Secondly, play physical with the Isles. This could be it. The Isles are a heavy and physical team. They take away opportunities for the Flyers by playing physical hockey, and taking away clean entries for them. Skaters have to find a way to play a high energy, heavy forechecking game tonight. I know this team likes to get the puck in deep and swarm the zone, which isn’t a terrible game plan against the Isles, but you can’t get pinned to the boards with the puck for the last 20 seconds of Game 5 down a point like they did on Sunday. Work the zone, and trap the Isles in their D-zone as much as possible tonight.
Thirdly, continue to protect the goalie. The Flyers had two severe breakdowns that led directly to goals in Game 4. I can contribute that to the defensemen playing with a more offensive focus there, you always have to be thinking about the puck getting away from the forecheck and the other team getting it. If you are pinching too much, they will be waiting for that opportunity, and burn you. Have to find ways to prevent this while also playing a heavy forechecking game. The Isles have scored a majority of the time in this series by capitalizing on outworking the Flyers in their offensive zone, and then burning them down the ice. While we’re talking about goalies, Carter Hart needs to start every remaining game (if we’re lucky enough to play on after tonight). While Hart did not have the best performance in Game 3, I believe in this kid and he would have been playing to turn that around in a Game 4. We so often call Hart a huge difference maker in that he can steal victories when the team may not deserve them. AV should have given him that chance in Game 4. I expect that he plays tonight and that he plays with something to prove after Game 3.
Lastly, let’s all try and enjoy this game tonight no matter the outcome. This team has overcome so much in this strange hockey season. They have outperformed my expectations thus far. I was hopeful they could at least win a series, which they did. While right now in the midst of it, I am disappointed with how this series has gone, it is a huge step in the right direction for the future of this team. I think the Flyers are set up to be a top 5 hockey team in this league for years to come. This is certainly not going to be their last trip to the playoffs, and irregardless of what happens tonight, we can all be excited about that.