Flyers Won’t Take Canadiens Lightly, a January Game is Why
Perhaps one of the most common fears shared by the Flyers faithful when it comes to their upcoming playoff series with the Montreal Canadiens is the fear of overlooking an opponent and playing down to the competition. After all, the Canadiens just defeated the Pittsburgh Penguins in four games and the Flyers have had a tendency in years past to play very strong games against top teams in the conference -- even when they didn’t have the best roster on paper -- only to crumble to the lesser teams in the conference that they needed to defeat to secure playoff positioning. It was a big reason the Flyers had on-again, off-again playoff showings.
Now, the Flyers are locked in as the top seed in the Eastern Conference in the playoffs. They will face the 12-seed Montreal Canadiens -- the last team in the East to make it, the final team of the 24 by points percentage to make it, a team that quite frankly should not even be here and now is because they defeated the seventh-ranked team in points percentage.
One look at the Penguins shows you the capability of any team in the league. It doesn’t matter where a team ranked in the standings, they are dangerous. The Flyers have to stay focused on their own game and stay motivated.
And that’s why the Flyers won’t take this Canadiens team lightly.
Back in January, the Flyers overcame a 1-4-1 road trip by beating the Washington Capitals, Boston Bruins and St. Louis Blues in a span of eight days. They also suffered a hard-fought 1-0 loss to the red-hot Tampa Bay Lightning in that time. At the time of each of those three wins, the Capitals, Bruins and Blues were all the top team in the NHL.
One night after their overtime win against the Blues, the Montreal Canadiens were on the schedule. It was a home game at Wells Fargo Center, a place where the Flyers had a 15-3-4 record at the time. They were in the second wildcard spot and tied for third in the division at the time as well.
The Canadiens had a 20-21-7 record at the time and were nine points out of a playoff spot and ranked 13th of 16 teams in the conference. By all accounts, this should have been a win on paper.
A goal by Tomas Tatar with 55 seconds left in the first period evened the score just 18 seconds after Joel Farabee gave the Flyers the lead. Two goals in 11 seconds in the first three minutes of the second period by Ilya Kovalchuk (who now plays for the Washington Capitals) and Artturi Lehkonen gave Montreal a 3-1 lead. Kovalchuk scored his second of the game in the third while Carey Price made 40 saves in the win. Sounds like a classic formula for a Montreal win.
After the game, several Flyers admitted that getting up for this game and matching the emotion of playing the top teams in the NHL was a challenge in trying to avoid a letdown in a game you need to take. Alain Vigneault wasn’t buying it.
“You know that word that starts with b?” Vigneault said that night. “No. These are big games. There is nothing separating teams. And tonight, it’s a few plays. I understand emotionally, but points are the same. This game is worth 2. Last game was worth 2. You have to get up for it. You have to get yourself ready. It is going to be a battle.”
That answer is why the Flyers won’t take this series for granted. Montreal just showed it against Pittsburgh. It’s not two points that is on the line now, it’s a game in a playoff series. Every game lost is one closer to being out of the playoffs.
“Their games were obviously a little more important than our games, but we were the fourth seed and jumped up to the first seed,” Kevin Hayes said. “I think we took our games pretty serious. Obviously, they played the same team every single night and we didn’t. I don’t think it should be a problem for our group.”
The Flyers played three games against the Canadiens in the regular season. Two of them required overtime before the Flyers came away with the win. The other game was the one in January.
“We had in my recollection some really challenging games against Montreal. They are a good, quick team,” Vigneault said. “They just beat a team that obviously have got a couple of superstars, a team that finished one point behind us. We’re expecting a real tough opponent, a real tough series. We’re preparing ourselves accordingly at this time.”
“They’re a team that works. They work extremely hard. They’re fast. They play a high-speed game,” Nate Thompson said. “You have Carey Price on the back end there as their backbone. They’re the real deal. They beat Pittsburgh for a reason. They have a good team. We have to make sure we’re ready.”
While the Flyers have been battle-tested against the Canadiens this season, but also have grown closer as a team and have only gotten stronger as the year went on. It’s because of the belief they have in the system and the amount of preparation and dedication that Vigneault and the coaching staff have put on this team.
Every game matters. Hard work within the game matters. They are not afraid to take someone out of a game or demote a player if someone else is doing the job better. That has gone a long way in helping them secure the top seed.
With a long playoff run now in their sights, that same mentality is required for playoff hockey. On any night, you can stumble and fall behind in a series, whether you are facing a Top-3 seed or a 12-seed. The Flyers had their wake-up call against teams like that on rare occasion in the last half of the regular season and it certainly seems like they are not taking it for granted now.
“There’s a lot of respect obviously on both sides, but it’s time to play. It’s time to bring it,” Vigneault said. “That’s what both the Flyers and Montreal are going to try to do.”