Eyebrows were raised when left winger Claude Giroux, the face of the Flyers but goal-less in the postseason, was dropped to the third line Tuesday afternoon and Michael Raffl took his spot on the top unit.
Raffl usually plays on the fourth line.
Like most decisions made by Alain Vigneault in his first year as Flyers coach, the move worked. Naturally, Raffl scored the game’s first goal early in the first period, sparking a hard-earned 2-0 win over Montreal.
“I thought that would give us maybe a little more balance throughout our four lines,” Vigneault said after the Flyers took a three-games-to-one lead over the Canadiens in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals. “It gave us a couple good faceoff lines.”
Raffl rifled a perfectly placed blast that beat Carey Price in the left corner of the net.
“I had lots of time because [Sean Couturier] was pushing their D back a little bit, so I put everything into it,” Raffl said.
Vigneault altered all four lines. James van Riemsdyk, who has been unproductive in the postseason, and Nic Aube Kubel were taken out of the lineup. Aube-Kubel appeared to injure a foot blocking a shot late in Game 3.
Rookie wingers Joel Farabee (second line) and Connor Bunnaman (fourth line) entered the lineup and gave the Flyers more speed. In addition to the Giroux and Raffl moves, winger Scott Laughton went from the second to third unit, which was still centered by Derek Grant.
Vigneault downplayed the moves.
“At the end of the day, it’s a little more about the execution, the will, and the compete,” he said.
Giroux won 10 of 14 faceoffs (71%) and fired five shots (two on net), though he did bypass two shots and instead made a pass on a pair of good scoring chances.
Besides his goal, Raffl added some grit (two hits, two blocks) to the top line.
The Flyers are the first team in NHL history to lead a best-of-seven series after four games while scoring only five goals, per the league.
The Flyers are 6-1 in the postseason despite not getting any goals from their top-five regular-season scorers.