FFR2 RR Gm 1: PHI 4, BOS 1 - Bubble Trouble
Now THAT was worth the wait!
For the first time in a game that counts in 147 days (deep breath for emphasis), the Philadelphia Flyers WIN, 4-1, over the big, bad Boston Bruins, starting off the round-robin in fine style.
Though this win doesn't guarantee the Flyers anything in terms of seeding, it certainly puts them in a good position going forward. The Flyers entered the round robin as the four seed in the East, with nowhere to go but up (or stand pat). Sunday's win makes it far more likely they'll do the former, simply by virtue of having two points and the number one seed Bruins currently having zero.
Philadelphia ended the pause as the hottest team in the NHL, winning nine of their last ten games. Their only defeat was in their final game before the pause, when Tuukka Rask stood on his head (on his 33rd birthday, no less), blanking the Flyers in a tightly-contested 2-0 win. It marked the only time in three meetings this season the Bruins bested the Flyers, though it took a shootout for Philly to prevail in the first two meetings. And while those do still exist for the round robin games (as does 3-on-3), winning in regulation is still the optimal result.
It didn't look like a Flyers win was in the card early, however. The Bruins mostly ran the show during the opening twenty minutes, with the Flyers spending a lot of time in their own zone and being just a tick off on their passes, resulting in quite a few icings. The Bruins held a 12-6 shots on goal edge at the end of the period, despite taking two penalties to the Flyers one (though on one of their power plays, Giroux bombed a one-timer off the far post).
But that's nothing new for the 2019-20 Philadelphia Flyers. We've seen so many times this year where the team has looked off during the first period, only to kick into high gear and dominate the final forty plus minutes. Part of that lies in the team's strategy. It's no secret the Flyers have relied heavily on dump-ins and their forecheck this season, but they usually start creating more controlled entries in the second and third periods once the opponent's defensemen start cheating back and get banged up forechecking demons like Scott Laughton, Tyler Pitlick, Nicolas Aube-Kubel, and Michael Raffl.
Speaking of Michael Raffl, guessed who scored the Flyers first goal of the tournament? Patrice Bergeron tried to chop the puck up the middle to clear his own zone, but Travis Sanheim aggressively cut the puck up. Raffl, who had just finished forechecking, was able to slip behind them, then tucked a beautiful backhander just under the crossbar. Jarsolav Halak, starting in place of an ill Rask, could only wave at the perfectly placed shot, as the Flyers celebrated the first round robin goal in NHL history.
It wouldn't take them very long to double their lead, too. On the fourth line's very next shift, Ivan Provorov and his impressive flow carried the puck across the Boston line. Raffl received the puck in the slot and was immediately checked, but leaked the puck out for a charging Nate Thompson. A lot of fans (including myself) would rather Joel Farabee be in the lineup than the 35-year fourth-line center. But a nice snipe (or a bad goal, however you want to look at it) stick side on Halak makes him a lot more palatable. 2-0 Flyers!
Even though the Flyers were definitely playing better than the first, it's hard to keep the Bruins potent offense off the board forever. Granted, it's not that hard to keep their decent but not amazing fourth line off the board for sixty minutes. But the B's got lucky, as a centering pass from Chris Wagner banked off Robert Hagg's skate and in (if this was two years ago, you could sub AMac's name in that sentence and no one would blink - now do you see why Ghost should play?), cutting the Flyers lead in half...
For eight seconds. Right off the face-off, Zdeno Chara threw the puck right in Jake Voracek's skates, bouncing it to Phil Myers. You might remember earlier this year when Myers scored in three straight games, the third came in Boston on a beautiful wrist shot. Even though the Flyers were playing the Bruins, Phil proved lightning can strike twice, beating Halak top shelf to restore Philly's two goal edge. It was a massive goal, instantly taking away any momentum the Bruins could gain from Wagner's lucky bounce, proving the Flyers would not be turned away easily.
Despite leading the entire third period, which usually means backing off and letting the other team control play, the Flyers absolutely took the Bruins to task to the tune of a 71.43% Corsi and 79% Expected Goals For, even though they were on the wrong side of the penalty differential. Their two-goal lead didn't last long, but that was okay because it meant Scott Laughton sniped high-glove on a semi 2-on-1, and the ensuing three-goal lead lasted the rest of the game.
Soak it in, Flyers fans. We've got ourselves a legitimate Stanley Cup contender for the first time in about a decade, and the first time since I started paying attention to the team in 2014. The Flyers did it their way today, rolling four lines with no forward playing more than twenty minutes and only one playing under ten (NAK, at 9:44). Every defenseman played at least sixteen minutes, and only Provorov played more than twenty and a half. Carter Hart was outstanding, especially early when the Flyers were still finding their game. The Flyers have officially picked up where they left off, and what a treat that is.
During NBC's Return to Play Preview, former NHL GM Brian Burke said that teams "are afraid to play the Flyers now," which in my opinion is the biggest difference between past Flyers clubs and this one. No one feared the 2018-19 Flyers. Heck, no one feared the 2017-18 or 2015-16 teams, even though they made the playoffs and somewhat pushed their opponents. No one wants to play the Flyers right now, but if you want the Cup, you're going to have to go through us. Good luck with that, NHL. We'll be waiting. This is only the beginning.
The only down spot of this game was a third-period injury to Raffl on an awkward hit along the boards with Bruins defenseman Jeremy Lauzon. Alain Vigneault thought it might have been a slew foot post-game. Raffl was in some pain, and left the ice with assistance. Farabee could slot in well if Raffl's injury is serious, but the Flyers are certainly crossing their fingers he'll be back for Thursday.
It appears that Giroux moving back to the left is a permanent thing, based on the summer camp words from PP coach Michel Therrien and everything we've seen in practice and in games. Giroux's 250 power-play points from 2011-12 to 2018-19 ranked first in the NHL, eighteen ahead of Alex Ovechkin. This year, G was tied for 34th with 20. Moving him back to the left almost certainly means the power-play is ready for the same breakout it had down the stretch.
Though beating the Bruins is always impressive, it is worth noting they weren't at full strength today. Ondrej Kase just entered the bubble and wasn't available for the game. Brad Marchand didn't practice yesterday. And Rask, as aforementioned, was under the weather and didn't dress, though Bruce Cassidy said he should be in net for their next game.
This game also featured a matchup between two Jack Adams Finalists in Vigneault and Cassidy. Just in case you were wondering who should win the award, see the scoreboard.
With the victory, Carter Hart (21 years, 355 days) became the youngest goalie in Flyers history to win a playoff game, beating out Pete Peeters by about eight months (per NHL PR).
Thompson's goal was also his first as a Flyer - he had one assist in seven games in Philly after coming over from Montreal at the deadline (side note - thank you for beating Pittsburgh, Habs!)
Adding to the list of firsts, Phil Myers' goal marks his first point in the playoffs.
1st - Carter Hart (PHI) - .971 SV% (34/35), 1 GA on 2.71 xGA
2nd - Michael Raffl (PHI) - Goal (1), Assist (1), 64.32% xGF
3rd - Jake Voracek (PHI) - Assist (1), 69.91% xGF
PHI - 8/6 vs. WSH (0-0-0)
BOS - 8/5 vs. TB (0-0-0)