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Round-Robin Rivals: Season Series Rewind

by Bill Meltzer @BillMeltzer / philadelphiaflyers.com

The outcome of a regular season series between two teams is a notoriously unreliable predictor of what will happen if the same clubs meet again in the postseason. While there is worthwhile information to be gleaned from seeing how well or poorly certain strategic matchups played out in each game, it's largely a snapshot in time. 

Regular season meetings are as much a snapshot in time during the campaign as they are During the postseason, many of the factors that potentially affected regular season outcomes may no longer be relevant. This includes things such as "fatigue factor" advantages or disadvantages and the sheer timing of the previous meetings (key absences from the respective lineups, catching a certain opponent during one of their hottest stretches of the season, etc.). This year in particular, with the NHL having been in pause mode for four-and-a-half months, it's a very different situation for every team.

Nonetheless, there is something to be said for a team having confidence that it can handle the matchups against a particular opponent. In the NHL's round-robin seeding games, which are all one-off meetings played under regular season rules (3-on-3 overtime, shootout finale if necessary), there is almost a late stretch-drive dynamic to each meeting. Every club is playing for seeding and not yet for their playoff lives. 

Here is a look at how the Flyers fared against each of their three round-robin opponents: the Boston Bruins, the Washington Capitals and Tampa Bay Lighting.

FLYERS VS. BRUINS 

The Flyers went 2-1-0 against the President's Trophy winners this season. Both wins -- one on the road, one at home -- came via shootout. Of all the things the Bruins excelled at this season, the shootout was definitely not one. The Bruins went 0-7 in shootouts . A Flyers home loss, which came in what proved to be the final game the Flyers played before the stoppage for the COVID-19 pandemic, was a hard-fought, low-scoring game.

NOV. 10 @ BOS: 3-2 shootout win

Heading into the game, the Flyers had a pronounced fatigue-factor disadvantage. Boston had played only once in the four previous nights. One night after an emotional and high-energy 3-2 shootout win in Toronto, this match was Philly's third game in four nights and fourth game in six.

Carter Hart delivered. Despite Boston tallying a pair of third period goals -- he had little chance of stopping either -- Hart was the Flyers best player. He stopped 15 of 17 third period shots, including a David Pastrnak penalty shot at 15:04, two tough tests on a late regulation penalty kill, a deflected rising shot through traffic and then turned back Charlie Coyle, Brad Marchand and Pastrnak again in the shootout.

All totaled, Hart stopped 26 of 28 shots in regulation and OT plus 3 of 3 in the skills competition to nail down a second point.

Travis Konecny and Phil Myers scored first period goals for the Flyers. Sean Couturier assisted on both. Oskar Lindblom got the primary assist on the first and Konecny had the primary (11th) on the latter.

Danton Heinen scored early in the third period for Boston. Marchand tied the game with 7:38 left in regulation. Coyle and Zdeno Chara assisted on the first. With a keep at the point to start the game-tying sequence, Matt Grzelcyk got the lone assist on the second.

Jaroslav Halak got the start in goal. He kept his team in the game while they were being outplayed in the opening 40 minutes, with no denial bigger than one of Giroux with a 3-0 lead on his stick. Overall, Halak stopped 27 of 29 shots in regulation and OT and then went 1-for-2 in the shootout.

JAN 13 @ PHI: 6-5 shootout win

In this improbable victory, the Flyers overcame a 5-2 deficit to eventually win by shootout, 6-5. Showing his unusual maturity for such a young netminder, Hart slammed the door when needed over the latter part of the game to enable his team to claw back into the game.

At least in the first and second periods, this game was the polar opposite of the tight-checking content Philly played in a 1-0 loss to Tampa Bay two nights earlier.

Anders Björk and David Krejci (power play) gave Boston a 2-0 lead in the first period. Kevin Hayes (power play) got it back before the end of the period.

In the second period, there was a parade of goals and breakdowns on both sides, and it ended like it started: with Boston leading by one. Goals by Pastrnak, Coyle (and Krejci (2nd of game) were answered by Travis Sanheim, Couturier and Connor Bunnaman (1st in NHL).

Sanheim struck again, this time at 4-on-4, to force overtime. After a frenetic, and action-packed OT, nearly won by Ivan Provorov just before the buzzer, the game went to a shootout.

After four scoreless shootout rounds, Konecny scored. Brad Marchand then fumbled the puck at the center ice dot, grazing it with the heel of his stick but never controlling it. The puck moved maybe an inch or two from the dot, thereby losing his attempt to end the game.

MAR 10 @ PHI: 2-0 loss

The Flyers saw a nine-game winning streak come to an end in this hard-fought battle. After 38-plus minutes of Flyers-controlled scoreless hockey, Boston defenseman Matt Grzelczyk scored a power play goal for a 1-0 Bruins lead. Patrice Bergeron added insurance with 5:20 left in the third period.

Hart took a rare loss on home ice. He stopped 27 of 29 shots. Tuukka Rask was outstanding at the other end, earning a 36-save shutout.

In the first period, the Flyers came out with good pace, and set a physical tone across their early shifts. The process was strong, but there was no payoff in the opening 20 minutes. Good work by Shayne Gostisbehere created the game's first power play. Rask made an excellent glove save to rob Travis Konecny point-blank off a feed from Jakub Voracek. 

The Flyers had each of the game's first two power plays but were unable to score against the NHL's 3rd-ranked PK. First period shots were 12-8 in the Flyers' favor. Attempts were 22-14 Flyers.

Apart from one mishandled puck that nearly proved costly, Hart was sharp in the first period. He made a tough save before the buzzer as Boston had 10 seconds of power play time to end the first period. The Bruins took 1:50 of carryover time into the second period.

The Flyers had three separate shorthanded 2-on-1 chances, including back-to-back ones on the same early second period kill. Rask made a tough save on Kevin Hayes on the second. The other two did not make connections.

Philly continued to press hard in the second period, building a 12-6 shot edge. With Justin Braun in the penalty box for interference, Grzelcyk's point shot through heavy traffic found the net at 18:39 for a Boston power play goal.

Leading up to the goal, the Flyers had a glorious chance to score on a shorthanded 2-on-1 rush; their third such opportunity of the second period. Scott Laughton passed up an open shot, and the play was broken up. The Bruins moved the other way and got set up, hemming the Flyers in their zone. Finally, Grzelczyk's shot through a layered screen broke the scoreless deadlock late in the second period.

Boston did an excellent close-out job in the third period, outplaying the Flyers over most of the final 20 minutes. Hart came up with several good saves to keep the deficit at 1-0.

Rask then stepped up to make a 10-bell pad save on Ivan Provorov from the slot. Finally, with 5:20 left in the third period, Bergeron's shot from well above the circles over the middle was accidentally deflected by Travis Sanheim and beat Hart up high. With Hart pulled for an extra attacker, the Flyers had a couple of good looks at the net but hit the post on one and Rask denied the other.

FLYERS VS. CAPITALS

The Flyers fared very well against Washington during the regular season, going 3-0-1. Perhaps most notably, Philly managed to keep Alex Ovechkin off the scoreboard throughout the four meetings this season. The first two games could have swung either way. The latter two were blowout wins for Philadelphia.

NOV. 13 @ PHI: 2-1 shootout loss

 A 35-save performance by Carter Hart and a third-period power play goal by Claude Giroux enabled the Flyers to earn a point from this game.

 After being outshot 16-5 in the first period, the Flyers outshot the Capitals 26-20 over the rest of the game. The Caps, who entered the game with a 13-2-4 record and a 12-game point streak (10-0-2), had not previously been held to fewer than three regulation goals since the third game of the season.

Braden Holtby was also outstanding in net for Washington (27 saves on 28 shots in regulation, 3 more in OT, 2-for-3 in the shootout), but Hart's heroics were the big story. That said, after being outshot 16-5 in the first period, the Flyers outshot the Capitals 26-20 over the rest of the game.

Head coach Vigneault, looking for a spark, juggled every forward line except the Sean Couturier line after the first period. Tyler Pitlick moved to a line with Giroux and James van Riemsyk. Andy Andreoff was with Kevin Hayes and Jakub Voracek. Joel Farabee played with Michael Raffl (who centered the line) and Carsen Twarynski. Vigneault juggled some lines again and shortened the bench by the third period. Raffl was with Giroux and Voracek. Joel Farabee was moved down and skated only one third period shift.

In the shootout, the Caps scored twice (T.J. Oshie and Evgeny Kuznetsov), while the Flyers scored once (Giroux). Brendan Leipsic scored the lone regulation goal for Washington.

JAN. 8 @ PHI: 3-2 win

Tied 2-2 at the first intermission, a shorthanded goal by Kevin Hayes with 2:01 remaining in the second period proved to be the difference maker in this hard-fought game. 

Hart made 26 saves to earn the win, including 20 stops over the final two periods. Travis Konecny and Robert Hägg also scored for the Flyers. This win, coming right on the heels of a dismal 1-4-1 road trip after Christmas, was the jump-off point for the Flyers' surge of the last seven weeks of the season prior to the stoppage.

FEB. 8 @ WSH: 7-2 win

All eyes were on Alex Ovechkin at the start of the night, as he was red-hot offensively and needed two goals to reach 700 in his storied career. Instead, Claude Giroux stole the show with a goal and two assists to reach the 800-point mark in his NHL career. 

The game was tied 1-1 at the first intermission before the Flyers exploded for three goals in the second period and three more in the final frame. Sean Couturier scored twice. Ovechkin was again held off the scoresheet. Brian Elliott made 25 saves.

MAR 4 @ WSH: 5-2 win

The Flyers went to the first intermission trailing 1-0 on a goal by Washington center Lars Eller. In the second period, goals by Travis Konecny, Kevin Hayes and Tyler Pitlick built a 3-1 lead for the Flyers before Garnet Hathaway got one back late in the frame. In the third period, Philadelphia pulled away on goals by Ivan Provorov and Scott Laughton.

Brian Elliott earned his second road win of the season over the Capitals, making 25 saves on 27 shots. Braden Holtby took the loss, stopping 24 of 29 shots.

The turning point was the Konecny goal. He took a page from Danny Briere's old playbook of scoring a goal that counted very shortly after he had one disallowed. Konecny's power play rebound goal off a Provorov shot tied the game at 1-1 and opened the floodgates for the Flyers.

Also of note: James van Riemsdyk was injured (hand) in the first period and did not return to the game. He ended up missing the remaining games until the league pause. He is now fully recovered.

FLYERS VS. LIGHTNING

The Flyers were in Tampa to take on the Lightning on March 12; the same day the NHL paused the season. The game was postponed and subsequently canceled. Overall the Flyers went 0-2-0 against the Bolts this season. Both games could have swung in either team's favor. 

Tampa, one season after running away with the President's Trophy only to get swept by Columbus in the first round of the playoffs, underachieved for much of the first half of the 2019-20 campaign before they got scorching hot. The season series with the Flyers came after the Lightning started to put everything together before a late dip (3-6-1 over their final 10 games) before the pause.

JAN. 11 @ PHI: 1-0 loss

Coming to Philadelphia, the Lightning were riding a nine-game winning streak and victories in 10 of their previous 11 games, including a 4-0 blanking of the Arizona Coyotes in the game immediately before playing the Flyers.

In a tight-checking game throughout, a single bounce of the puck determined the outcome as the Philadelphia Flyers fell, 1-0. It was the Flyers' third regulation home loss of the season.

The game was scoreless until 7:27 of the second period. On a goal scored immediately after exiting the penalty box, Pat Maroon scored the game's only goal on a puck that ended up at his feet in prime scoring range. Flyers defenseman Matt Niskanen swatted at the puck and it simply ended up at the goal-scorer's feet, who fired a shot that beat Carter Hart down low.

Hart stopped 27 of 28 shots for Philly. He was the more severely tested of the two goalies, primarily in the second period. Andrei Vasilevskiy earned a 23-save shutout. Most of his saves were routine, although he came with a huge stop in close on Travis Sanheim in the third period to keep his team ahead by a goal.

For much of the game, the Lightning made it very tough for the Flyers to generate a forecheck. Philly had trouble getting pucks behind the defense and getting their F1 in to pressure. Simultaneously, the Flyers struggled to create speed through the neutral zone and get controlled entries, either.

The Flyers' special teams were a mixed bag. The penalty kill was excellent, going 4-for-4 with three first period kills including a stellar four-minute kill of a Travis Konecny high-sticking double minor.

FEB.15 @ TB: 5-3 Loss

The Flyers fell into a 2-0 deficit in the first period, which became 3-0 early in the second period. The Bolts carried a 3-1 lead into the third period, and then extended it to 4-1. The Flyers got back within a goal and had several chances to knot the score, but could find the net again. A late empty-netter sealed the two goal margin of victory for Tampa.

Alex Killorn, Cedric Paquette, Carter Verhaeghe, Brayden Point, and Nikita Kucherov (empty net) scored for Tampa Bay. Steven Stamkos had two assists and Victor Hedman picked up his 40th assist of the season.

In a losing cause, Ivan Provorov (power play), James van Riemsdyk (power play) and Claude Giroux scored for the Flyers. Both Provorov and Giroux had two-point games.

The Flyers were significantly outplayed in the first period, and then outplayed Tampa overall in the final 40 minutes but the hole was a little too deep to dig out from successfully.

Carter Hart was not awful in goal in this game but was outplayed by Andrei Vasilevskiy. The Lightning goalie turned back 30 of 33 shots. Although he was beaten twice in the third period on 15 Flyers' shots, Vasilevskiy was excellent in making sure that Philly never found an equalizer.

Hart (19 saves on 23 shots) would have liked to have back Killorn's flat-angle second effort goal that opened the scoring after Provorov blocked an initial shot. The puck went off the goalie's shoulder and into the net.

The Paquette goal was a defensive breakdown by the Flyers. Provorov turned the puck over behind the net and Tyler Johnson found Paquette all alone at the doorstep. The third goal, scored by Verhaege, was an odd-man rush goal off a poor line change by the Flyers. With Hart moving across and not yet set, Verhaege flipped the puck over him high to the short side.

Provorov's power play goal came from center point with defender Hedman having lost his stick. Giroux and Sean Couturier earned the assists.

At 12:34 of the third period, the Lightning scored on a quick counter. Point, took a pass from Stamkos, and then froze Provorov momentarily by faking a shot. He then moved to the circle just above and outside the upper hash mark and sniped a shot high to the long side.

JVR made it 4-2 at 15:31 of the third period on a simple re-direct in front of a Niskanen point shot. Travis Sanheim got the secondary assist. At 16:15, the Flyers got back within 4-3. A Provorov point shot hit the post and Giroux potted the rebound. Out-of-position referee T.J. Luxmore ruled no-goal but a video review showed the puck completely crossed the goal line (which was of little doubt even at live speed, because it was laying behind the goalie inside the net). Travis Konecny got the secondary assist.

Philly threatened with a heavy late push but never quite drew even. Kucherov scored into an empty net with 22 seconds left in the game. Stamkos and Hedman got the assists.

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