Carter Hart and the Philadelphia Flyers made their official return to meaningful hockey today. Their first challenge was the league-best Boston Bruins in game one of the Eastern Conference round-robin. The Flyers were victorious in their exhibition game against the Pittsburgh Penguins, which secured momentum heading into the round-robin. Boston did not share the same fortune, losing to the Columbus Blue Jackets. Would these two trends continue?
An exhibition game allowed players new to the postseason to shake off some rust. This unique playoff format proved to be a blessing [in terms of] playoff experience for Carter Hart as he had the opportunity to enter into meaningful hockey already warmed up. Today, Hart proved that he was prepared for the postseason. He’s my player of the game against the Boston Bruins.
Heading into the first period, the consensus was that this game was going to remain close. The Philadelphia Flyers and the Boston Bruins did not budge on the scoreboard. Both teams excelled on the powerplay, remaining perfect through the entire game. Scott Laughton zoomed around the ice throughout the entire game, picking up where he left off against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Early on, the Bruins were accumulating shots on Carter Hart, but Hart made every save and did not give up rebounds.
On the Philly Sports Network live stream, our writers asked who would score the first goal. Everyone picked the Philadelphia Flyers to score first, but no one said it would be Michael Raffl; he played a high quality period, recording two points. The fourth line was the hero line in this game, especially with the addition of a Nate Thompson goal. However, Defenseman Philippe Myers netted the last of three in the second period just eight seconds after the Boston Bruins scored their first. The Flyers led after two periods, 3-1.
It was during the final period of play that the Philadelphia Flyers were officially living rent-free in the Boston Bruins’ mind. Scott Laughton kept his high-motor humming and scored an insurance goal. The offensive player of the game, Michael Raffl, was then hit into the boards by Jeremy Lauzon, similarly to Matthew Tkachuk’s hit on Mark Scheifele. That opened the floodgates to a chippy atmosphere between Laughton and Lauzon. Both were sent back to the locker rooms as the Flyers closed out a victory, 4-1.
Physical Flyers soar into Playoff Hockey
No one bought into Bruce Cassidy’s quote that this first round-robin game wouldn’t be a physical one. It was never a surprise that the Philadelphia Flyers were going to go “all-out,” as Brian Elliott put it. The Bruins were down from the first puck drop as they were never able to match the intensity that Philadelphia brought on the forecheck or defense. That explains Jeremy Lauzon’s cheap shot on Michael Raffl.
Hitting the knee of an opposing player into the boards is not intense or physical hockey. It is a sure sign that an opposing team is under your skin and is outplaying you. In today’s game of mental chess, the Philadelphia Flyers claimed “checkmate.”
Debut Playoff Goaltending
Michael Raffl is not my player of the game only because I was even more impressed by Carter Hart’s playoff debut. To secure his first postseason victory, Hart closed down the Boston Bruins for the final four minutes of the game. During those final minutes, the Philadelphia Flyers were shorthanded in 5-on-4 hockey and Boston having an empty net. He was able to track the puck and not give up rebounds. Today’s game was confirmation that Hart is the franchise goaltender for the Flyers organization.
He made 34 saves on 35 shots. For a playoff debut, that’s good for a 97.1% save percentage. The Philadelphia Flyers have already improved their playoff seeding while the Boston Bruins are no longer the top seed in the Eastern Conference.
Next Man Up
The buzz-phrase for this game is “fourth line brilliance.” Michael Raffl and Nate Thompson contributed to half of the Philadelphia Flyers scoring plays. Thompson recorded the game-winning goal and Raffl kicked off today’s festivities. The bitter-end to a glorious performance from the Flyers fourth-line was Jeremy Lauzon’s hit to Raffl’s leg in the third period. Philadelphia’s depth will be put to the test on Thursday against the Washington Capitals.
More than likely, the next player to be called up with be Joel Farabee. Similar to Carter Hart, Farabee will make his NHL playoff debut. Michael Raffl didn’t seem to be in excruciating pain, so he may likely return at the end of the round-robin. Farabee averages just under eleven minutes of ice time against the Washington Capitals. Raffl was on the scoring sheet three out of four games against the Capitals in 2019-2020.
Photo Credit: Alex Mcintyre