A promising Flyers season that started in Europe and was halted March 12 by the coronavirus outbreak is on the verge of resuming.
“Anytime, Anywhere” is the Flyers’ slogan for the strange season’s restart, and for them, it begins at 3 p.m. Sunday on neutral ice in Toronto.
After 145 days and nearly five months without playing a real game, the Flyers and Boston Bruins will meet in an opener of the four-team Eastern Conference round-robin tournament.
“You saw the intensity of the first couple games today,” said Flyers center Nate Thompson, referring to Saturday’s play-in matchups, “and I think every guy wants to get back to that intensity and playing high-level games. This is what it’s all about. It’s playoff hockey.”
“You can practice as much as you want, but nothing really emulates a game,” added center Kevin Hayes, who was also on a Zoom call with reporters after Saturday’s practice in Toronto. “I know all the guys are really excited.”
Goalie Carter Hart, who will get the call Sunday, said “emotions will be high,” but that his preparation and mindset for the first postseason game of his young NHL career “remains the same.”
Coincidentally, the Flyers and Bruins played their last game against each other, a 2-0 Boston win at the Wells Fargo Center on March 10, ending the Flyers’ nine-game winning streak. The Flyers went 2-1 against the Bruins this season, winning a pair of shootouts.
In addition to Boston, the Flyers will face Washington (Thursday) and Tampa Bay (Saturday) in the three-game round-robin tourney, which will determine the top four seedings in the East.
Boston, which has the slogan “Still Hungry,” is trying to go on a long playoff run and erase the memories of a Game 7 home loss to St. Louis in last year’s Stanley Cup Final.
“I think those next three games are really important for us to keep pushing,” defenseman Matt Niskanen said the other day. “Obviously, we want to do well because there is some incentive to get a better seed. The most important thing is make sure our game’s at the best possible level for Game 1. I think we’re going to have to continue to get better. ... If we want to get where we want to go, it’s going to take a couple weeks probably until we are reaching our potential.”
The Flyers are seeded fourth, but will finish anywhere No. 1 through No. 4 when the round-robin tourney ends.
If they remain No. 4, they would next face fifth-seeded Pittsburgh in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals, provided the Penguins defeat heavy underdog Montreal in their best-of-five play-in series.
Based on the regular season, the Flyers have a good chance to advance in the seeding tournament. They had the best record among the round-robin teams in head-to-head games against each other.
The Flyers went 5-3-1 against the three opponents. In those matchups, the Flyers had a .611 points percentage, followed by the Capitals (.600), Lightning (.563), and Bruins (.500).
Overall, the Flyers won nine of their last 10 games before the long break, getting balanced scoring, quality defensive work, strong special teams play, and terrific goaltending.
“I think we’re confident whoever’s on the ice, line-matching and that kind of stuff,” captain Claude Giroux said. “We’re pretty comfortable with everybody in the lineup. When you feel like that, you’re confidence goes higher. You focus on your own job and it makes your job a lot easier.”
If two teams are tied in points after the round-robin tourney is completed, the winner will be determined by points percentage during the regular season. Boston had the best overall points percentage at .714, followed by Tampa (.657), Washington (.652), and the Flyers (.645).