It was not always easy, but the Philadelphia Flyers survived their First Round matchup with the Montreal Canadiens and are moving on to the Second Round of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The Flyers eliminated the Canadiens on Friday night with 3-2 victory in Game 6, securing a matchup in the next round with the New York Islanders.
It continues what has been an incredible run by the Flyers since the start of January.
They were the hottest team in the league during the stretch run of the regular season, and are now 7-2 during the Return To Play and looking like a legitimate Stanley Cup contender.
They were not necessarily at their best on Friday night and needed a lot of things to go their way to close out the series. Carter Hart, their young star goalie, was outstanding in net once again, especially in the second period when the Flyers were on their heels a bit defending. They also had a little puck luck on their side to get some fluky goals behind Carey Price. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. Every championship caliber team has to win a few games like this during the playoffs.
The important thing is, quite simply, that you find a way to get those wins.
They don’t ask you how you got the wins at this time of year, they just ask if you got them.
Right now the Flyers are getting a lot of wins, and have put themselves in a great position to continue what has been an unexpectedly great 2019-20 season.
What gives them such a great chance?
Let’s start with the fact they finally seem to have the goalie they have been lacking for decades. Hart has been sensational this entire postseason and has looked like the goalie the Flyers had been hoping he would be throughout his development. If he has not exceeded expectations, he has at the very least met them. Having a young, No. 1 goalie on an entry-level contract is a game-changer for any team.
Then there is the fact the Flyers are 7-2 in the postseason and through to the Second Round despite getting almost zero goal production from their top goal scorers. So far this postseason the group of Sean Couturier, Claude Giroux, Travis Konecny, Kevin Hayes, and James van Riemsdyk (the Flyers’ top-five goal scorers during the regular season) has combined for ONE (Hayes on Friday) goal in the postseason. And the Flyers are still winning games.
It would be easy to write this off as a negative, maybe even a concern, but I am going to take it in a different direction. It is actually encouraging for the Flyers. Very encouraging. The reality that we never seem to want to acknowledge in the NHL is that star players get held without goals far more often than they score them. Your top players are not going to score goals every night, especially in the playoffs, which means you better have a third and fourth line that can score until the top players get going again. The Flyers are getting that. The depth players are picking up the slack and buying more time for the players at the top to break out. And the more games they play, the more likely it is that they will.
Then we get to the matchups.
It is not always just about how your team is playing. Sometimes it is about who your team has to play. Or doesn’t have to play. Thanks to an unusual sequence of events (the season being paused, an expanded 24-team playoff, the Flyers going unbeaten in the Round Robin to steal a No. 1 seed they would have otherwise had no chance of getting, Montreal upsetting the Penguins in the play-in round) the Flyers first two playoff opponents are going to be the 24th and 11th ranked teams in the NHL respectively.
The Islanders are not going to be a picnic by any means. They are a good team, a well coached team, and a frustrating team to play against. But the Flyers are in a position where they will not have to play Boston or Tampa Bay until the Conference Finals, and avoided consistent Eastern Conference powers Pittsburgh and Washington entirely.
Nothing is guaranteed, especially in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but that is a favorable position to be in. They have an opportunity to do something special here, and so far they have taken advantage of it.
No. 1 Philadelphia Flyers vs. No. 8 Montreal Canadiens (PHI wins 4-2)
Wednesday, Aug. 12: Flyers 2, Canadiens 1 (recap)
Friday, Aug. 14: Canadiens 5, Flyers 0 (recap)
Sunday, Aug. 16: Flyers 1, Canadiens 0 (recap)
Tuesday, Aug. 18: Flyers 2, Canadiens 0 (recap)
Wednesday, Aug. 19: Canadiens 5, Flyers 3 (recap)
Friday, Aug. 21: Flyers 3, Canadiens 2 (recap)