The four-team round-robin tournament is offering the Flyers a unique ability to climb in the Eastern Conference seedings.
Which is just what they have done.
They defeated Washington, 3-1, at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto on Thursday and assured themselves of at least the No. 2 seeding. They can get the No. 1 seed if they beat Tampa Bay, which is also 2-0 in the round-robin tournament, on Saturday.
Not bad for a team that entered as the conference’s No. 4 seed. That was before they upset NHL-best Boston and outplayed the Metropolitan Division champion Capitals.
The Flyers, who have won 11 of their last 12 games, got two goals from Scott Laughton (three points) and three assists from Kevin Hayes as they continued their dominance over the Caps.
The “No. 2″ line of Laughton, Hayes, and Travis Konecny combined for two goals, eight points, and a plus-8 rating.
“They’re certainly, without a doubt, our best line at this moment,” coach Alain Vigneault said after another workmanlike victory. “I think offensively and defensively, this was their best night. They were in on the forecheck, which created some real good looks, and they were able to capitalize.”
The Flyers are now 8-0 in games in which Hayes has centered Laughton and Konecny.
“Since we got back from the quarantine, we talked about playing with each other and playing the right way defensively,” said Hayes, who has a total of four assists and a plus-4 rating in the two tournament games.
“I thought tonight, even though we had a ton of offense, we did everything right defensively, which allowed us to [get scoring chances]. When you play with T.K. and Laughts, it’s easy out there when things are going well.”
Brian Elliott made 16 saves -- including a key stop on a late Washington power play -- and benefited from a suffocating defensive effort that allowed just 17 shots.
“There were a lot of times, they were trying to find seams and our guys were taking them away with their sticks, with their skates‚” Elliott said. “They’re a team that looks for that extra pass, and I thought we did a really good job of coming back and getting in the right spots.”
As a result, the Flyers will play in a winner-take-the-top-seed game Saturday.
“We were in one of the better spots coming in; we had nothing to lose,” said Konecny, aware that the Flyers, unlike the other teams, could not drop in the conference seedings.
No matter whom they face in the playoffs, Konecny said, ”if you have plans of a long run and dreams of winning the Cup, you have to get through everybody.”
The Flyers went 3-0-1 against Washington in the regular season, outscoring the Caps, 16-7. The pattern continued.
The Flyers’ power-play struggled (0-for-6), but they were strong at even strength and on the penalty kill (4-for-4).
Hayes was one of the main reasons.
Besides his outstanding work while his team was shorthanded, Hayes made two highlight-reel plays on the Flyers’ first two goals. He later set up Laughton to give the Flyers a 3-0 lead with 11:23 left in regulation.
Twelve seconds later, Travis Boyd cut it to 3-1 with a deflected goal.
With about 8:30 left in the second period and the teams playing four-on-four, Hayes ragged the puck around defenders in the Washington defensive end, putting on a stickhandling clinic that caused the Capitals to chase him and allowed defenseman Travis Sanheim to sneak deep into the zone. Hayes found Sanheim in front and he beat Braden Holtby with a slick move and put the Flyers ahead, 2-0.
Late in the second, Elliott made two difficult saves, including one on Jakub Vrana’s breakaway.
The Flyers had taken a 1-0 lead on a textbook play by their No. 2 line.
Hayes, forechecking behind the goal line, intercepted a pass by former Flyer Radko Gudas and, from near the boards on the right, whipped a pass to Konecny. The feisty right winger made a slick spin-around feed from the left circle to Laughton, who scored from the slot with 6:57 left in the opening period.
The coming-of-age Laughton also had a goal in the Flyers’ 4-1 round-robin win Sunday over Boston.
“There’s no doubt that Scotty Laughton is putting himself in the right position to be effective,” Vigneault said.
“The guys are confident in each other,” Laughton said of the entire team. “We have a lot of guys who work really, really hard, so it’s easy to try to execute when you have guys moving their feet and staying over top of teams and making it hard on them. We have to keep pushing forward here.”
The Flyers outshot the Caps, 21-17, and won 66.7% of the faceoffs. They were outhit, 42-23. Their power play is 0-for-8 in the two round-robin games, but their penalty kill (7-for-7) and even-strength play has been impressive.