So your favorite hockey team just went on an incredible two month run of hockey to pull themselves from the irrelevant part of the NHL standings, into the playoff race, and then into a first round playoff matchup against the best team in hockey. Now what?
Oh, right. The journey isn't over. It continues tonight in D.C., where the Philadelphia Flyers and Washington Capitals face off in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference First Round. It's been 715 days between playoff games for the Flyers.
There's no doubt that this is going to be a tough series. Sure, the Capitals have been coasting for just about as long as the Flyers have been playing their tails off -- but don't forget that they've been coasting because they earned the right to do so. Washington is a deep team with two legit first lines, an elite power play and the likely winner of the Vezina Trophy in net. They would be a test for any team, let alone a team like the Flyers that, at least on paper, struggles to match Washington's depth.
In order to win this series, the Flyers are going to have to get favorable matchups against Alex Ovechkin -- preferably Sean Couturier, who has had success against Ovi in other games this season -- and they're going to need to shut down the Capitals on special teams. They'll need elite goaltending from Steve Mason -- which, frankly, they have received for most of the year -- and they'll probably need a good dose of luck, too.
But they can do that. That's exactly what they've done for the last 25, 30 or 40 games. They are a team with no clear weakness right now, and they are playing like one of the best teams in hockey. So what if over the course of a full season they weren't the best team in a hockey? All that matters is now, and right now this is a very good Flyers team.
The one thing that cannot be overlooked in this series is the emotional element. And you have to think the Flyers have the edge in this department. They've been playing for months knowing that they were doing so with their ailing owner watching from California, and now that Ed Snider has passed away, there's going to be a lot of emotion on the Flyers side. They've spent the last two or three months proving that they can harness that energy into something that's positive, and there's no reason to expect that it will do anything but charge their game here in the playoffs.
And on the Capitals side ... well, we all know about their history of playoff failure. They are the President's Trophy winners and are quite worthy of that this season, but all it takes is one bad game or one bad goal for the doubters to come out. It's just the same old Washington Capitals, they'll say. It's not hard to imagine a scenario where it all unravels for that team, just given the enormous pressure they have to win and win now. Might I remind you that Ovechkin has never even played in the conference finals?
The Flyers have no such pressure. They are playing in honor of a legend and a friend. But nobody is going to think any less of them if they lose this series. We should fully expect them to play loose and fun and ... well, in a series between teams that enter the series pretty evenly matched, it could be the difference.
We'll have lineups and much more on today's Game 1 later in the morning.
|2016 Eastern Conference Round 1 :: Game 1|
|Thursday, April 14, 2016 :: 7 p.m. ET|
|Verizon Center :: Washington, District of Columbia, USA|
|Get the Washington perspective at Japers' Rink|
|How to Watch / Listen In Philly|
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