They are the longest continuously tenured Flyers and they know there’s not much to show for their era. Four playoff appearances for The Big Three, four early exits.
The only postseason series they won was a thriller over Pittsburgh in 2012. Ilya Bryzgalov was in net. Carter Hart was in eighth grade.
Most times, Sean Couturier, Claude Giroux, and Jake Voracek didn’t stand much of a chance in the years they reached the playoffs. Maybe they could win a round, but winning four wasn’t going to happen. There was no vibe like they had while winning nine of 10 before play stopped this season. Or sweeping the round-robin to jump up to the top seed in the East.
Previously, they staggered into the playoffs, closing the season with mediocrity and taking third place in their division. Except in 2016, when they were (yawn) a wild-card team.
“Let’s be honest,” Voracek said Tuesday, “I think this is the best team since I came to Philly in 2011. That first year [2011-12], we had a pretty good team, but we are really deep this year. I think we showed it before the stoppage, and we showed it the last four games, that we are capable of beating anyone.”
Voracek practiced with the team Tuesday and it looks as if he’ll be back in the lineup for Game 1 against Montreal at 8 p.m. Wednesday in Toronto.
Coach Alain Vigneault pointed out that Giroux and Couturier had their best game of the restart Saturday against Tampa Bay, as Voracek sat out with an undisclosed injury and Joel Farabee took his place on the top line. But the coach wouldn’t think of busting up that line now, would he?
Hoping for a competitive advantage, Vigneault wouldn’t say.
In the final 15 games of the regular season, Couturier had 13 points, Giroux and Voracek 16. In the round-robin games, they managed only a pair of Couturier assists.
The Flyers might not need the top line to beat Montreal, but they will need it to get deeper.
Giroux has one goal in his last 13 playoff games (16, counting the round robin), and he is consumed by that empty trophy case. As Voracek said, the Big Three have more help this year than ever.
“With so much depth that we have as a team, there is no pressure that we have to score every game,” Voracek said. “It [allows us to] focus on all the [defensive] details a little bit more and that’s exactly what we did. Because we know if we play good defensively, that we will get our chances offensively and eventually they’re going to go in. Offensively we weren’t our best, but defensively, we played pretty well.”
Boston, Washington, and Tampa Bay scored one goal apiece on the Flyers.
That depth extends beyond the forwards. Vigneault must decide whether Robert Hagg or Shayne Gostisbehere will play with Justin Braun on the third defense pairing. Both were solid in the restart.
Vegas has noticed, too. The Flyers were 12-1 to win the Stanley Cup in July. They entered Wednesday at or near the top of the odds boards at around 6-1, depending on the house.
“I think we go into the playoffs as one of the favorites,” Voracek said. “That’s a good feeling. Hopefully we’re going to find a way to go all the way. We feel really comfortable with this group and that’s where we stand right now.”