Right from the start of Training Camp 2.0, the Flyers downplayed the round-robin tournament’s results and said their focus was on getting prepared for this week’s Stanley Cup playoffs.
Consider them ready.
They blitzed through the round-robin tournament with three straight “upset” wins, including Saturday night’s 4-1 triumph over Tampa Bay in Toronto, and climbed from No. 4 to No. 1 in the seedings.
Rookie right winger Nic Aube-Kubel scored a pair of goals for the surging Flyers, who will face surprising Montreal in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals, with Game 1′s date still unannounced.
“This is a dream since I’m a little kid to play in the playoffs, and I’m excited for the next game,” Aube-Kubel said.
In the regular season, the Flyers went 2-1 against the Canadiens (both wins were in overtime), who shocked Pittsburgh, three games to one, in the play-in round.
As a tuneup to facing Montreal’s outstanding goaltender, Carey Price, the Flyers defeated Andrei Vasilevskiy, one of three finalists for the Vezina Trophy, awarded to the league’s best goalie.
The Flyers, victors in 12 of their last 13 games, ended a seven-game losing streak to Tampa since a win over the Bolts on Dec. 29, 2017. They beat the top three seeds in the round-robin tournament at Scotiabank Arena.
“A lot of guys got to Philadelphia early and we had a great camp,” Aube-Kubel said when asked how the Flyers were able to continue their momentum after nearly a five-month break.
Tyler Johnson, left all alone in front, converted Alex Killorn’s pass into a power-play goal with 14:39 left in the second, getting the Lightning to within 2-1. The Flyers’ penalty kill had been 8 for 8 in the tourney before Johnson beat Carter Hart (23 saves).
But rookie Joel Farabee (two points) scored from the right circle as he one-timed a cross-ice pass from revived defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere (two assists) to give the Flyers a 3-1 cushion with 5:38 remaining in the second. Sean Couturier (two assists) made a clever poke-check to get the puck to Gostisbehere.
Farabee, 20, was superb as he went to the top line and replaced Jake Voracek, who was sidelined by an illness or injury.
“We’re excited here. Like coach said, those are three big wins and we’re ready to go dancing,” said Farabee, whose team never trailed in the tournament and outscored their three higher-seeded opponents, 11-3.
Tyler Pitlick made it 4-1 with an empty-net goal late in the game.
“If you look at tonight’s game, probably the difference was Carter making those two breakaway saves early on,” coach Alain Vigneault said.
Tampa controlled the third period as it outshot the Flyers, 11-4.
“We bent a little bit, but we didn’t break, a lot of it thanks to Carter,” Vigneault said. “That’s an elite team and they pressed (us).”
The Flyers dominated the first period, building momentum after Hart stopped Nikita Kucherov on a breakaway by making a five-hole save with 13:05 left in the session. They got two goals from the blossoming Aube-Kubel and outshot the Lightning, 20-6, as they built a 2-0 first-period lead.
Gostisbehere, who has shown much more mobility after returning from knee surgery, took a point shot that Aube-Kubel deftly deflected past Vasilevskiy with 12:20 to go in the first.
A little over six minutes later, Aube-Kubel finished a two-on-one with Couturier to make it 2-0. That gave the 24-year-old right winger the first two-goal game of his young career.
“The team result is what makes me confident,” Aube-Kubel said after firing a game-high six shots and blocking three in 14:16 of ice time.
Aube-Kubel, known for his physical play, has emerged as a key player since being recalled from the AHL’s Phantoms during the season.
“There’s a young man who figured out what it would take for him to be able to play at this level,” Vigneault said. “I mean, he’s a strong kid, a powerful skater, and if he plays high-percentage, he can be a very effective player. He’s strong on his one-on-one battles, and when he goes to the net, he goes hard and is tough to stop.
“He had the opportunity and he grabbed it.”
With the Flyers on a power play later in the first, a Travis Konecny turnover led to Killorn’s breakaway, but he was turned aside by Hart, who was dialed in like he was in Game 1 of the round-robin tournament, a 4-1 win over NHL-best Boston in which he made 34 saves.
Tampa suffered a major loss when Victor Hedman, one of the NHL’s elite defensemen, fell to the ice with an apparent injury to his right ankle midway through the first period and did not return to the game. Hedman slammed the railing with his stick as he walked to the locker room.
In the first minute of the second period, the Flyers lost one of their top defensemen as Travis Sanheim went to the locker room with an apparent hand injury. Sanheim (eight blocked shots) returned midway through the period.
The win gave the Flyers the top seed for the 11th time in franchise history and the first time since the 1999-2000 season, when they reached the conference finals and lost to New Jersey, four games to three.
The Flyers lost both games against Tampa in the regular season, dropping a pair of close games. But they are now peaking at the right time. They won nine of their last 10 when the season was stopped by the coronavirus on March 12, and they haven’t skipped a beat since the restart.