Three games, three surprising victories, one first-overall seed.
The NHL’s return-to-play plan has been a fruitful set-up for the Philadelphia Flyers, who swept their three round-robin games against the Boston Bruins, Washington Capitals, and Tampa Bay Lightning to snag the No. 1 overall seed ahead of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals.
With it, they’ll face the Montreal Canadiens — formerly the 12th seed in the East’s expanded playoffs — after they upset the Pittsburgh Penguins in four games during their qualifying series.
“We’re excited here,” Flyers forward Joel Farabee said following his goal and assist effort in a 4-1 victory over the Lightning on Saturday. “Those were three big wins. We’re ready to go dancing.”
Both Farabee and defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere had to work their way into the lineup amongst a deep Flyers roster that has received contributions from every corner.
It’s the kind of problem that head coach Alain Vigneault is thrilled to have.
“Those are good decisions that coach has to make,” Vigneault said. “That’s what I expect — a good internal competition that elevates everyone’s game. Everyone has to be thinking about ‘team-first.'”
For Gostisbehere, who added a pair of assists on Saturday, it was a triumphant return to the lineup after dealing with injury issues that saw him undergo two knee surgeries in seven months.
“It was definitely nice to contribute and nice to get out there and be part of a team win,” Gostisbehere said. “It was a tall task to get that No. 1 seed and we did it and we came in here strictly business.”
Now the Flyers must prepare for a Canadiens team that gave them plenty of trouble during the regular season. While Philadelphia took two-of-three matchups during the regular season, they both came in overtime before dropping a 4-1 decision in January.
“They just played a big series with a big win. They were underdogs there and they’re a good team,” Gostisbehere said. “You can’t take anyone lightly in this league and you have to be ready at the drop of the puck. For us, it’s a good matchup and it’ll be a fun series.”
It’s an unprecedented postseason that the Flyers are taking full advantage of, one that is continuing to see opposers speak up after the likes of the Penguins and Edmonton Oilers — who feature two of the NHL’s most popular players in Sidney Crosby and Connor McDavid — were eliminated during the qualifying round.
“There’s no sense in me going in length about how this was laid out. It was laid out at the end of the day, I think the NHL did a great job in a short amount of time to put all this together,” Vigneault said. “Getting players and coaches and fans the opportunity to watch some hockey and see some hockey.”
“The format is what it is and it was laid out in a difficult time for the world. We’re trying to play hockey. We’re lucky. We’re able to go out and do what we love to do.”