There was only one thing wrong with the Flyers’ 6-3 opening-night win over visiting Pittsburgh, coach Alain Vigneault said: Fans weren’t in the Wells Fargo Center to salute cancer survivor Oskar Lindblom.
“He didn’t get a chance to play in front of Flyers fans giving him the great [ovation] and love that he deserves for coming back after battling cancer,” Vigneault said after the victory Wednesday at the virtually empty arena. “It would have been phenomenal to have this place full of fans for when he stepped on the ice in the starting lineup.”
Aside from one family of a front-line worker, the Wells Fargo Center will not have any fans in the building because of COVID-19 regulations for the time being. The Flyers are hopeful of having fans later in the season as the vaccine becomes more available.
Lindblom and Nolan Patrick each scored goals Wednesday. It was Lindblom’s first regular-season game since Dec. 7, 2019 (he played in two playoff games last year), and Patrick, who missed last season because of a migraine disorder, made his first appearance in 650 days.
“I thought it was incredible to have both of those young men back,” Vigneault, whose team hosts the Penguins again Friday, said Thursday after practice in Voorhees. “Both coming back from a long time away from the game and away from their teammates. It was great to see Nolan on the ice and he played a strong game. And there is no doubt that seeing Oskar and seeing those blocked shots that he had ... One blocked shot in the first that led to a two-on-one. One great blocked shot in the second that took away a scoring opportunity. Paying the price.”
Vigneault talked about Lindblom’s inspiring comeback after the win, but added Thursday, “I could have easily said how it would have been great to have the fans in there and showing both those young men the appreciation for them being back. We’ve got great fans. It would have been a great night, but obviously with COVID, we can’t have anyone in the building.”
Now cancer-free, Lindblom said he played just an “OK game” in the opener. His goal, which was originally credited to Travis Konecny but changed two hours after the game, deflected off his helmet and into the net.
“It doesn’t matter who scores, but it is nice to get one,” he said, smiling. “It wasn’t a highlight goal, but I’ll take it.”
Lindblom played 14 minutes, 39 seconds and had a goal, three hits and a team-high three blocked shots, but he thought his overall game was mediocre.
“I know I can do a lot better than that, but it is the first game of the season and I think as a team we can do better, too,” he said. “We just have to keep going here.”
As for Patrick, he played 14:06 and had a goal and won 57% of his 14 faceoffs.
“Obviously, it was really exciting to be back after being out for so long,” Patrick said. “It doesn’t really compare to my first NHL game, but like I said, really excited to get back and being around the team again and being back out there.”
The Flyers were excited to have him back. Patrick was the No. 2 overall selection in the 2017 draft and his potential is limitless.
Center Kevin Hayes called him an elite player, and Konecny gave him a big hug and welcomed him back before the game.
“Haysey was a guy who helped me out a lot throughout my injury and tough times, and obviously TK as well,” Patrick said. “The whole team has supported me a lot.”
In Vigneault’s first season with the Flyers last year, Patrick wasn’t around the team too much. But the veteran coach senses the third-year center’s growing confidence this season.