After a four-month sports hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I am happy to say that hockey is nearly back. The NHL recently came out with their return-to-play schedules, which includes a qualifying round. The top four teams in the Eastern Conference will play each other in order to determine the order of the first round. Those four squads who will duke it out include the Philadelphia Flyers as well as the Boston Bruins, Washington Capitals, and Tampa Bay Lightning.
In preparation for the upcoming games, I will be doing a review covering each of the opponents in depth the Flyers will be playing. First up to open the Stanley Cup qualifying round against the Orange and Black are the Original Six Boston Bruins.
2019-20 Regular Season Review
The Bruins, during this past regular season, were one of the most dominant teams. In fact, when the season shut down in March, they were on course to win the Presidents’ Trophy as the top regular-season team in the whole league. In addition, Boston is the only group who finished the campaign with 100 or more points.
When it came to production, the Bruins were stacked all throughout their lineup. The two leading the pack though were offensive juggernaut wingers David Pastrnak and Brad Marchand, who both were in the top-10 scorers of the regular season (four and six, respectively). Pastrnak tallied 48 goals and 47 assists for 95 points in 70 games, while Marchand posted 87 points in 70 games (28 goals and 59 assists).
The B’s also have a solid supporting cast consisting of players like Patrice Bergeron (who recorded his sixth season of at least 30 goals with 31 this year), David Krejci (13 goals and 30 assists for 43 points), Charlie Coyle (16 goals and 21 assists for 37 points), and Jake DeBrusk (19 goals and 16 assists for 35 points) among others.
Tuukka Rask was among the best goalies in the NHL throughout the year as well. He was in the top 10 (seventh to be specific) in wins with 26. Andrei Vasilevskiy (Lightning), Connor Hellebuyck (Winnipeg Jets), Jordan Binnington (St. Louis Blues), Frederik Andersen (Toronto Maple Leafs), Carey Price (Montreal Canadiens), and Marc-Andre Fleury (Vegas Golden Knights) are the goaltenders with more victories. Rask is also No. 1 in the league in goals-against-average with a 2.12 GAA.
His save-percentage finished at .929, .01 shy of the leader Anton Khudobin of the Dallas Stars. Rask was also second in shutouts with five (Hellebuyck led the league with six). He was a brick wall for the B’s the entire time and was the backbone for the team defensively.
The defense itself was stellar as well. Led by veteran captain Zdeno Chara and younger guys like Torey Krug and Charlie McAvoy, they were able to add another level to the offensive capabilities for the team as a whole. Krug specifically led the 2019-20 season in points with 49 (nine goals and 40 assists) in 61 contests. That was good for fourth on the team in scoring. McAvoy netted five goals and 27 assists for 32 points. Other defensive talents such as Matt Grzelcyk, Brandon Carlo, Chara, and John Moore also provide stability on the blueline for the team.
Besides the roster buildup though, the Boston hockey club has another tool in their arsenal: revenge.
Last Year’s Cup Disappointment
The Bruins have a chip on their shoulders if, for any reason, the fact that they just lost out on the Stanley Cup last year to the Blues. It hurts to not win a Stanley Cup in the final round of the tournament, but they lost it at home in a Game 7. The heartbreak was real.
The hunger no doubt has grown as a result of falling short the year prior, and the Flyers are going to be facing a determined roster proving to right the wrong they were dealt. Most of that roster is still intact from that playoff run in 2019, and on top of that, key faces from the 2011 Cup victory and 2013 Cup Final appearance are still on the roster (Marchand, Bergeron, Krejci, Chara, and Rask). They are going to come out guns blazing, especially with the anticipation of suiting up after being off from the coronavirus.
Some Previous Playoff Bouts
When people think of the Flyers matching up with Boston, the 1974 Stanley Cup Final has to be talked about. Philadelphia was victorious on that run, capturing their first Cup in franchise history. They were able to surpass the challenges of B’s players such as Hockey Hall of Famers Bobby Orr, Johnny Bucyk, Phil Esposito, and other teammates such as Derek Sanderson and Terry O’Reilly to claim that first championship.
The Flyers had their own stacked lineup including the likes of Hockey Hall of Famer Bobby Clarke, Bill Barber, Rick MacLeish, Ross Lonsberry, Dave Schultz, and Tom Bladon among others. They were able to defeat Boston in six games, and officially reached the top of the mountain less than a decade into their existence as a hockey club.
One of the more memorable playoff series with the Bruins goes back to the 2010 playoffs. Down in the series three games to none, a lot of the league counted out the Flyers, thinking Boston would either finish the sweep or win one of the next couple games and sent the Flyers out to the golf courses for the summer. Comebacks of that magnitude are not commonplace, and sometimes being in a hole like that can take a mental toll on players. The 2010 Flyers were different, though.
Led by head coach Peter Laviolette, goalie Michael Leighton, and an offense including the likes of Simon Gagne, Danny Briere, Scott Hartnell, and Ville Leino, among others, the Flyers battled back to tie and eventually win the series. Not only did they come back from three games down, but they also came back from a three-goal deficit to the Bruins in that famous Game 7. It shocked the hockey world, and the B’s were left scratching their heads. As Flyer fans know, the team fell in the 2010 Stanley Cup Final to the Chicago Blackhawks, and that was the last time the franchise was in that position.
Flyers Game Plan
All three teams the Flyers match up against in this qualifying round are going to be difficult to contain. However, the Flyers were able to keep up with the Bruins throughout their three matchups during the regular season.
Philadelphia won the first two matches in extra time, while Boston skated away with a shutout win 2-0 in the last game before the season was shut down. In that first contest, the Flyers beat Boston in a shootout 3-2. Travis Konecny and Philippe Myers lit the lamp for the Orange and Black, while Danton Heinen and Marchand tallied the goals for the B’s. Joel Farabee notched the shootout winner, and the Flyers improved their point streak to six (5-0-1).
The second head-to-head affair occurred back in January. The Flyers won a close contest at Wells Fargo Center 6-5 against the B’s in a shootout. The Philadelphia goals were accrued by Sean Couturier (who had a three-point night), Travis Sanheim, Connor Bunnaman, and Kevin Hayes. Boston accumulated their goals from Anders Bjork, Coyle, Krejci, and Pastrnak. Konecny got the shootout winner for the Flyers.
Related: NHL’s 10 Most Impressive Streaks
In the third game, the two goals from the Bruins came from Bergeron and Grzelcyk. Rask stopped all 36 shots he faced in the victory. The matchups have all been close this season, and I don’t doubt it’ll be the same case for their qualifying round game.
The Bruins have talent all throughout their lineup. There is no one strength that their roster has. The offense has a couple stars on it, and they have a complementary supporting cast that helps get the job done. They have one of the best goalies in the world, and their defense is younger but has the skill to made them a lethal force.
Flyers head coach Alain Vigneault, who was recently named a finalist for the Jack Adams Award as best coach in the season, has put an excellent staff together who has helped mentor and prosper Philadelphia’s young defensive core. They are going to have a tough time containing guys like Marchand, Bergeron, and Pastrnak; but they managed well during the regular season matches.
The Flyers need to solve Rask as well. The statistics have been on his side throughout the entire campaign. He has been a brick wall for the Bruins and is top in pretty much every goaltending category. The Flyers will have to do their best to figure the man out.
Overall, it is good to have hockey back, and we will see how the Flyers fare in their opening game when they take on the Bruins in August.