With the Flyers earning the #1 seed in the Eastern Conference (saying it cause its still hard to believe) they earned the chance to face the lowest-ranked team in the next round. When the Canadians upset the Penguins (saying it since its fun) the #12 seed in the play-in round became the Flyers opponent.
With the series set to start, it’s time we get to know the Flyers opponents who we’ll be angrily cursing at in a stream of English, French, or whatever your preferred language might be.
How They Got Here
The Flyers as we know went 3-0 in the round-robin and secured the #1 seed by downing the Boston Bruins, Washington Capitals, and finally the Tampa Bay Lightning. Beating the Lightning looks even better after watching them have to slog into a 5 overtime game to just take a 1-0 lead over the Columbus Blue Jackets.
The Canadiens came into the qualifying round seeded at #12, have barely squeaked into the expanded playoffs after finishing the regular at 31-31-9. Their task was playing a first to 3 series against the Pittsburg Penguins. They played the first 3 games close, going to OT in game one, losing game two, and stealing game 3. In-game 4 they made no mistake and shutout the Pens 2-0.
The Canadiens proved that they were a pesky hard working team, and Carey Price played like the world-class goalie he has been for the majority of his career. The Penguins were exposed as a flawed team and will likely face a reckoning in the offseason but that’s to be seen to later this year.
Forwards To Watch For
Much like the Flyers, the Canadiens didn’t have a single player who was high on the charts in terms of scoring but had 10 players who managed to contribute 21 or more points.
Thomas Tatar was their leading scorer, with 61 points while also leading the team in assists (39) and tieing Brendan Gallager with 22 goals for the team lead. Tatar’s output was also a career-high for the 29-year-old winger.
Brendan Gallager was their co-leading goal scorer and is essentially Montreal’s version of Travis Konecny. He’ll annoy the dickens out of you, slashing at you with words and his stick, then adding salt to the wound with a goal.
Max Domi didn’t come close to equalling his 72 point output in the 18-19 season, but his skill and the genetic talent for really angering people which he got from his pops, top tier villain Tie Domi will likely be on display in a full playoff series.
Round that out with guys like Philip Danuelt, Nick Suzuki, and Joel Armia and the Habs have more than a few guys who have the potential to break through on the score sheet. Plus you’ve got to keep an eye on Paul Byron, who is as good as anyone at getting a breakaway at even strength or the penalty kill. Their offensive wild card is Jonathan Druin. The 2013 overall 1st pick spent more of the season off the ice than on it, and considering his draft position is a disappointment overall, but has been pretty good in the playoffs previously. With as much talent as he has you can’t ignore him when he’s on the ice.
The Back End Brings It
The Habs defense will provide offense. If the Flyers can limit it then that’ll be one of the deciding factors in the series.
Jeff Petry had 3 points and an overtime winner against the Penguins and had 40 points on the season. He also had 12 of those on the power play. Since leaving Edmonton and settling into the Canadiens he’s been a steady contributor and will spend 23 to 24 minutes on the ice per night.
Then we have offer sheet wonder Shea Weber. Despite being 34 he’s logging big minutes and still producing. With 15 goals and 36 points, he can still shoot the puck through the net. Add in that he’s 6’4″ 230 pounds and as mean as a caged bear and you have a guy built for playoff hockey.
Then there’s Ben Chiarot. He’s 6’3 and 225 pounds and had a career season, and is going to eat as many minutes as the two players mentioned above. Fast, physical, and a former Atlanta Thrashers draft pick (more of a fun fact, miss you Trashers) he’s another guy built to wear down forwards and chip in offensively if given the chance.
A Torch Passing Matchup?
Carey Price looks like he’s on. A former Vezina and Hart trophy winner, Price will likely keep the Canadiens in most games. He’s also one of Carter Hart’s heroes.
If you want to understand how good Price is, consider that Hart molded his own game after his. Hart has impressed the majority of his time in the NHL, but the playoffs are a different animal. Goalies are incredibly cerebral creatures. Will Price have that extra motivation to outduel his younger, more trendy mirror image? Will Hart rise to the moment or be swallowed by it?
Price can be a win thief if the Habs can get him 2 or 3 goals. The Flyers have been able to rally around Hart defensively and for the most part, have allowed him to play his game. Both can commit left-handed larceny when a play breaks down and this battle should prove to be an ongoing story in the series. Hopefully, that story will be of the continuing ascent of Carter Hart, rather than Carey Price refusing to fold to the young upstart.
The Flyers are the #1 seed for a reason. A revitalized team under Alain Vigneault they’ve been a buzzsaw since February and their depth makes every offensive line a threat to score, and the top 4 on defense can affect the game in every zone. In theory, the Habs shouldn’t be able to keep up with the Flyers. Hell in a normal season they wouldn’t even be here.
They did have some tight contests in the regular season though. The Flyers snuck away with 2 out of 3 but needed overtime for both. It gave us this signature moment from Ivan Provorov.
If the Flyers run into a risk, it is underestimating their opponents or playing down to them. The Habs fought and clawed their way into the playoffs, and they won’t just lay down and count their good fortune for being there. An in-form Carey Price means scoring will be at a premium and the Flyers better be ready to survive close games rather than back and forth high scoring affairs.
The Flyers also have to figure out their powerplay. They went 1-9 in the round-robin, and they have to convert on chances against a goalie of Price’s caliber. If they continue to falter early look for changes coming on those units.
The Flyers shouldn’t lack motivation though. With Carter Hart to support, Oskar Lindblom in the bubble needing a series win or two to get back on the ice, and Vigneault looking for redemption against the Claude Julien, who knocked him off in a Cup Final, if the Flyers don’t come storming out of the gates then they are dead inside or their pregame meal was poisoned.
Carey Price will steal a game and somehow, someway, either Jordan Weal or Dale Weise will score and send the rage and anxiety of Flyers fans to 11 and break the knob off. It’ll just be once or twice though. The Flyers should take the series, and a 4-2 margin seems like a fairly conservative prediction.
It’s time for playoff hockey again, in August, in the bubble. Let’s Go Flyers.