Flyers coach Alain Vigneault says the round-robin tournament is important, but stressed his main concern is getting his players ready for the next step – the start of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Still, the round-robin offers the Flyers a delectable chance to advance from their No. 4 seeding in the Eastern Conference, and, theoretically, have more advantageous matchups down the road.
The Flyers will face Boston on Sunday afternoon in a round-robin opener, and will also meet Washington (Thursday) and Tampa Bay (next Saturday) to determine their conference seeding.
“For us, it’s about getting our game where it needs to be, and winning hockey games does that,” said defenseman Travis Sanheim, who had two goals over three games against Boston in the regular season. “…We’re going to treat it like it’s playoff hockey.”
“Obviously, the higher the seed we are, the better position we’re going to put ourselves in,” captain Claude Giroux said after Friday’s practice in Toronto. “But I think mostly it’s finding your game, and whatever seed you’re in, hopefully when the playoffs start, you have your game where you want to be as a team and also personally.”
Defenseman Phil Myers said “you want to be ready to go when the playoffs come” and if you win the round-robin games “it’ll put us in home-ice advantage for the playoffs, as well.”
This year, of course, the Flyers (41-21-7) won’t play any postseason games at the Wells Fargo Center, where they were dominant. For Eastern Conference teams, the round-robin and the first three playoff rounds (after the play-in series) will be in Toronto. The conference finals and Stanley Cup Finals are in Edmonton.
The home-ice advantage does, however, give teams the last line change, which could be critical.
Vigneault said success in the round robin and the playoffs isn’t just about being ready physically.
“A big, big part of this is the mental focus, the mental strength that the players bring,” Vigneault said. “A lot of it has to do with the preparation they need to do. And the will -- the will to put yourself in the right frame of mind and play your best. Bringing your ‘B’ game at this time is not going to work. You have to bring your best hockey.
“We’ve obviously got a seeding phase to go through,” Vigneault added. “In those three games, we’re going to need to be good. We’re going to need to play hard, we’re going to need to have a real smart and strong work ethic. And I believe this group has learned that, has learned about playing the right way and executing and bringing the right work ethic to games, so I’m very confident with this group.”
On Sunday, Boston (44-14-12), currently the top-seed in the East and the team that had the NHL’s best regular-season record, will be designated as the host and will have the final line change. The Bruins could be missing star winger Brad Marchand, who was injured in their 4-1 exhibition loss Thursday to Columbus.
Vigneault said he doesn’t prepare for the Bruins any differently if Marchand (28 goals, 87 points in 70 games) isn’t in the lineup. He said the Bruins are talented, battle-tested, and have strong leadership. “They’ve gone through some wars and lost key players [this season] and they’ve just kept on playing” and winning, he said. “I expect them to bring a real good game to the table.”