FFR2 RR Gm 3: PHI 4, TB 1 - Team to Beat
Updated: Sep 9, 2020
Nic, NAK, patty whack, give the kid a goal (or two)!
Earning the approval of Jimmy Rollins and Philly fans everywhere, the Philadelphia Flyers WIN, 4-1, over the Tampa Bay Lightning, securing the number one seed in the Eastern Conference Playoffs with a win over the team that held it last year. While the Lightning can certainly attest that doesn't guarantee playoff success, it's definitely an exciting thing to have.
While there's almost no way the Flyers could have caught the Boston Bruins for first in the East (and the President's Trophy for best overall record) had the season finished as planned, there's no doubt the Flyers earned this ranking. You don't beat the Bruins (last year's East champs), the Capitals (the 2018 Cup champs) and Lightning (last year's President's winners and 2018 Conference Finalists) back-to-back by getting lucky. The Flyers played three outstanding games of hockey in a row against three outstanding opponents, earning this illustrious designation.
Unlike most games, the first period was actually the Flyers best. Maybe the first five or so minutes could've started better, with Nikita Kucherov being stopped on a breakaway by Carter Hart and then hitting the crossbar. But once again, the Flyers depth led the way. Making his first performance of the round-robin, Shayne Gostisbehere delivered a vintage performance all night. About halfway through the period, Ghost made a smart challenge at the blue-line, holding the puck in. He then turned, waited, and took a wrist shot destined for the stick of Nic Aube-Kubel, who tipped in the first goal of the game.
Oh, you thought that was it for the kid? A Kevin Shattenkirk bobble at the blue-line sprung Kubes and Coots on a 2-on-1 rush. NAK fed Couturier on the right side, who patiently waited for the passing lane to develop, then sent a sweet saucer pass right in Aube-Kubel's wheelhouse, allowing NAK to complete his first career multi-goal game. Save for a short-handed breakaway by Alex Killorn (that Carter Hart saved anyway), the first period was all Flyers, all the time. Philly outshot the Lightning TWENTY to six. They were expected to outscore Tampa 1.55-0.48, but they did one better and basically absorbed Tampa's chances to increase their own power.
Things became a little dicey early in the second, when the Lightning became the first team to crack the Flyers penalty kill since March. Tyler Johnson weaseled into the slot unmarked, and fired a one-timer past Hart to cut the lead in half. But the Flyers never panicked, killing off Tampa's other three power-plays and hanging even with the Lightning, one of the most talented and deepest teams in the league.
Eventually, they would pull even with the Bolts on the second period scoreboard, too. Once again, the Flyers forecheck wreaked havoc. Ryan McDonagh looked like he had the inside track to a lose puck in the corner, but the quick stick of elite first-line center (and Selke finalist) Sean Couturier pushed it along the boards. Waiting there was Shayne Gostisbehere, who wasted no time to rifle an impressive cross-ice bullet. Joel Farabee, standing unmarked in the far circle, wired home his first career playoff goal, restoring Philly's two-goal edge.
For once, the Flyers actually couldn't defy score effects in the third and were hemmed in pretty bad. Tampa Bay outshot them 11-4 and posted a gaudy 91.23% of the 5-on-5 expected goals (though the Flyers actually had more if you include the whole period). But Carter Hart held down the fort, as he so often does, keeping the Lightning at bay. His teammates finished the deal when Scott Laughton's long-range empty-netter bounced off the post, before a charging Tyler Pitlick cleaned it up on his backhand. Unlike the Maple Leafs and Blue Jackets, this three-goal lead help up, as the Flyers proved themselves to beat the best team in the Eastern Conference.
The best team in the Eastern Conference. Who would've believed that in September? After a pretty typical Flyers first-half of the season, Philadelphia has been one of the best teams in the NHL since mid-January. After losing five of six in another nightmare post-holiday road-trip, the Flyers finished the regular season 19-6-1, tied with Boston for tops in the league. Only they and Vegas ran the table in the round robin, and only the Flyers did so without needing overtime. They allowed just one goal in each game. They got goals from every line. Their penalty kill was phenomenal. Their underlying numbers were unmatched. They really couldn't have played any better.
This has been a long-time coming. Ever since Ron Hextall took over as general manager in 2014, the Flyers have been building up their pipeline, stockpiling prospects and avoiding handing out albatross contracts at will, something you could get away with two decades ago but became a nightmare once the salary cap was introduced in 2005. After a decade mostly full of mediocrity and the constant feeling the Flyers were always "two years away from being two years away," the retool has born fruit. Eighteen of the twenty-nine points scored by Flyers in the round robin were recorded by former Phantoms (per their Twitter), not to mention our young savior in goal.
As someone who didn't catch on to the Flyers and hockey until just before Hexy took over, this is easily the best Flyers team I have seen. They're certainly a Cup contender, no doubt about that. The road to achieving that goal is long. Just ask Pittsburgh and Edmonton if you can take any matchup for granted, or heck, go across the hallway to the Lightning dressing room and ask them. As AV said in September, it's one thing to say you're a good team (or show it for three semi-meaningful games), it's another thing to show it, especially in the playoffs. It's time. Our time.
On Tuesday (or maybe Wednesday, whatever the schedule looks like), the journey begins. Let's. Go. Flyers!
This is the first time the Flyers have been the number one seed in the East since 2000. The Flyers beat the Sabres in five and Penguins in six before Scott Stevens KO'd Eric Lindros in Game 7 of the ECF, leading to a Stanley Cup for the Devils and a Lindros trade to the Rangers that actually went through.
In the round robin, the Flyers scored the first goal in every game and never trailed. That's what controlling a hockey game looks like.
Eight different Flyers scored a goal in these playoffs. That's not a surprise considering Philly's outstanding depth. What is a surprise that each of the Flyers top-five regular season goal-scorers combined for a goose-egg. Nothing on the board for TK (24), Hayes (23), Coots (22), G (21), and JVR (19) thus far.
This game was the first time since Game 2 of the 2018 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals that two Flyers rookies scored their first career playoff goal in the same game (Patty and TK pulled it off that night in a 5-1 Flyers win). Oh, and Pitlick's goal was also his first in the playoffs.
Already without Steven Stamkos, the Lightning couldn't afford another big injury. Unfortunately, that's exactly what happened. Victor Hedman appeared to hurt his ankle, falling out of nowhere trying to make a crossover at the Tampa line in the 1st period. He left the game and never returned, slamming his stick against the concourse railing on his way out. Travis Sanheim also left with a shoulder/arm injury, but he returned to the game. Hedman did not.
The only disappointing aspect of the Flyers round-robin play was their power-play. It went a combined 0-for-8 and came closer to being scored on than scoring on Saturday. That will need to be cleaned up ASAP, especially since Montreal's PK had a strong showing against Pittsburgh (82.4%).
NBC Sports Philadelphia has been pretty creative with their caption game all season, but this one might take the cake.
Up next: playoff previews for the West, East, and one specifically for the Flyers first-round series with the Montreal Canadiens. The playoffs start on Tuesday. Stay ready.
1st - Nicolas Aube-Kubel (PHI) - 2 Goals (1, 2), 75% Corsi, 88.42% xGF
2nd - Shayne Gostisbehere (PHI) - 2 Assists (1, 2), 52.38% Corsi, 80.01% xGF
3rd - Sean Couturier (PHI) - 2 Assists (1, 2), 54.17% Corsi, 61.47% xGF
PHI - TBD vs. MTL (Series Tied 0-0)
TB - TBD vs. TOR/CBJ (Series Tied 0-0)
*Advanced Stats from Naturalstattrick.com