For the first time in 721 days, playoff hockey will take place at the Wells Fargo Center this afternoon. And in the only current series that doesn’t have a clear leader — of the seven first-round series that have played at least two games, six of them (all but Flyers/Pens) currently stand at 2-0 — both teams come into Philadelphia for this one with a chance to grab control of the series, and both have some reason to feel confident in doing so.
The Flyers have only needed two games to make this series already feel like a bit of a rollercoaster, with Wednesday’s brutal 7-0 Game 1 loss quickly being followed up by their bounce-back effort on Friday night en route to a 5-1 road win that knotted the series up. As I mentioned on Saturday, the Flyers’ Game 2 win shouldn’t have been that surprising to anyone, since this team’s M.O. this season has largely been to surprise us when no one believes they have anything left in them, and disappoint us as soon as we’ve all bought back in. Which makes today’s game fascinating, because I’m not sure anyone can say with certainty just how confident they are in this team right now.
There are so many questions to be asked. Let’s go through a few of them here.
- Is any kind of lineup change coming this time around? Given that Dave Hakstol doubled down on the lineup that took that 7-0 beatdown in Game 1, the guess here is that there won’t be any changes made after a 5-1 road win in Game 2, but we’ll see closer to game time.
- Will the matchup game change or be differently defined with the Flyers now at home and having last change? The last time these two teams played in Philadelphia, back in early March, Hakstol essentially chased a matchup of the Valtteri Filppula line against Sidney Crosby’s line, to fairly predictable and disastrous results. The three games that the teams have played since then, all in Pittsburgh, have been somewhat more straight-up in terms of the matchup game. But Hakstol has watched these two teams play a lot lately, and he may have some thoughts on what he thinks the best matchups for his team really are. We’ll likely find out pretty quickly on this one.
- Was Brian Elliott’s solid game on Friday night a sign that he’s figured things out, or should we remain uneasy about him in net? Elliott settled in after a first period in which he kept the Penguins off the scoreboard but no one was quite sure how. His play in the second and third periods seemed much-improved, and it’s tough to complain with 34 saves on 35 shots. Still, despite the good game, Pittsburgh did leave a few wide-open chances on the ice on Friday that could’ve gone poorly if not for some fortunate Flyers bounces, and it’ll be up to Elliott to stay in control and give them fewer of those.
- Can the Nolan Patrick/Jakub Voracek line wake up a bit at even strength? Different guys in the lineup have had their ups and downs, but that matchup (Oskar Lindblom/Patrick/Voracek against Evgeni Malkin’s group) is the one that the Flyers have struggled with the most through two games. The trio was on the ice for just two Flyers shot attempts at 5-on-5 in Game 2, and if you spend that much time playing defense against Evgeni Malkin, the dam’s going to break open at some point. Patrick did manage to get his first ever playoff goal on the power play on Friday. Now he needs to carry that over to even strength.
- Can the penalty kill remain steady? One goal allowed in just over 15 minutes of penalty kill time has to be considered a raging success for the Flyers, whose penalty kill struggles have been unmistakable this season. It’s almost staggering how good the Flyers’ PK has been so far in this series — in 15:07 of PK time (the third-most of any team with two games played, via Natural Stat Trick), they’ve allowed the Penguins just five shots on goal (second-fewest of any team). The Flyers have done an excellent job standing up Penguins zone entries while a man down, and they’ll need to keep doing that, because keeping the Pens’ power play from going off would be a huge boost to the Flyers’ chances to win.
- Will there be any shenanigans after a chippy Game 2 that saw both teams (and their respective fanbases) screaming at one another? Claude Giroux and Andrew MacDonald both have received some flack for perceived “dirty hits” in Game 2, while Patric Hornqvist has managed to infuriate Flyers players and fans by similarly being an asshole. It seems hard to believe that we won’t get through this game without a few incidences of pushing and shoving (after all, it’s six years to the day from this game), and while that’s all fun and good, the Flyers do need to control themselves a bit and make sure they aren’t putting themselves down a man in doing so.
All that, plus more. Biggest game of the season so far, boys. Go get it.
Today’s game begins at 3:00 p.m. ET and can be:
- Seen on TV locally and nationally in the US via NBC (or via stream on the NBC Sports App)
- Heard on radio locally via 97.5 The Fanatic
- Heard on radio in Pittsburgh via 105.9 The X
- Heard on radio nationally in the US via Sirius XM
- Seen on TV in Canada via CBC and TVA Sports
Projected Flyers lineup:
Giroux - Couturier - Raffl
Lindblom - Patrick - Voracek
Konecny - Filppula - Simmonds
Laughton - Lehtera - Read
Provorov - Gostisbehere
MacDonald - Sanheim
Manning - Gudas