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Who are the Flyers, really?

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BSH Radio companion piece

NHL: NOV 05 Hurricanes at Flyers Photo by Kyle Ross/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Hey, if you haven’t listened to the episode with which this article is supposed to accompany, check it out right here:

In order to keep Broad Street Hockey Radio in touch with the fanbase, from time to time I like to solicit questions from the listeners. From this, most of the time, we receive questions that align with what we’re going to talk about anyway. But now and then there’s a question that the whole group really likes to get into.

That happened on Wednesday night’s show, with this tweet.

The answers went as follows:

Kelly: Season opener in Prague against the Chicago Blackhawks. The Flyers won 4-3.

Steph: The come-from-behind 7-4 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Charlie: Shootout win against the Devils in Newark last Friday (11/1).

Me: The most recent game, a 4-1 win over the Carolina Hurricanes.

Honestly, I was shocked we all picked wins. But I thought everybody had solid reasons for why the game they chose was the one that best represented who this team actually is.

Kelly mentioned the first game of 2018-19 because the Flyers definitely out-played a much worse team, but didn’t dominate them on the scoreboard. Through two periods the Flyers were outshooting the ‘Hawks 28-18, but only lead 3-2. Philly notched an insurance goal midway through the third, but that didn’t stop Chicago from making the game more interesting than it needed to be. On a day the orange and black accounted for 57% of the total shot attempts, won 62% of the faceoffs, and, most importantly, have a roster made up of players not looking forward to collecting social security checks each month, it was inexplicably still tight at the end.

It was a weird travel game, the Flyers deserved to win and did, but there’s no reason Chicago should’ve had a shot.

Charlie put forth last Friday’s shootout win against New Jersey, and had many of the same reasons Kelly did. The Flyers are better than the Devils, they eventually got the two points, but they had to grind out the game, overcoming deficits of 1-0 (of course Wayne Simmonds got his first of the year against his old team), and 3-2 to force OT and then ride Carter Hart through the shootout.

Steph went with a game I almost completely forgot about already, the October 26 victory over the Blue Jackets. And, really, what’s more Flyers than scoring the first goal only to be trailing 4-2 early in the third, and then ripping off five unanswered goals, turning a potentially ugly situation against a not-very-good team into a laugher the other way? This f’n team, man...

I went with this Tuesday’s home win against the ‘Canes because it showed this version of the Flyers can win in a variety of ways, and just may be more poised and mentally tough than they’ve been in years passed.

Sure, Sean Couturier opened the scoring just three-and-a-half minutes in with a power play goal, and Carolina didn’t tie it up until more than six minutes into the second, but the Flyers started slow everywhere but the scoreboard.

It’s tough to even say the Flyers “started slow,” actually. It was more Carolina asserting their dominance than anything Philly was doing wrong.

The shot total was 19-15 Carolina through 40 minutes, but Rod Brind’Amour’s squad was dominating possession, and simply looked like a better, faster team than the Flyers. But instead of letting the lack of momentum snowball into a blowout, like they did in Pittsburgh, the orange and black actually competed.

By working to kill three penalties, block 13 shots, and limit a high-volume offense to as many one-and-done chances as possible, the Flyers allowed Hart to do his thing, stopping 33 of 34, setting up a huge third period.

I chose this game because while it had a familiar script- slow start, opponent looks faster and is dictating play. But in this version, the Broad Street inhabitants continued to compete and then made the most of their chances, scoring three times in the third to run away with the game.

This game also shows the Flyers can beat better teams. The other three games mentioned here show Philadelphia is good enough to beat teams we all believe them to be better than. Jersey, Columbus, the ‘Hawks... none of those teams are very good. The Carolina win demonstrated the key difference between this year’s version of the club and previous ones- the goaltender, and his impact on everybody else.

Hart kept his team alive through a few onslaughts, giving them a chance to win just one period, the third, and earn two points. The confidence Hart’s ability gives his teammates allows them all to focus more on their jobs than making up for a goalie who they just know is going to let them down, and that creates opportunities to score three unanswered goals in an otherwise tight game.

The netminder and the skaters in front of him fed off of each other, and that just isn’t something we’ve seen consistently out of this group in the past.

Now, is this game a recipe for success? Obviously not.

But do we think the Philadelphia Flyers are Cup contenders? I don’t. Not at this very moment, definitely not. But I think the Carolina Hurricanes are. And that’s the difference I see.

Looking back at the first round eliminations that have defined Claude Giroux’s captaincy, the Flyers were never the better team. In 2013-14 the Flyguys and Rangers alternated victories, the Rags had a home game 7 and won it. The 2015-16 series with the Caps was basically over when Couturier went down after 12 shifts, and even before that, it was a matchup between the 120-point Presidents’ Trophy winners and a second wild card team.

The Penguins series in 2018 was a 2v3 matchup between rivals separated by two points in the standings, but really, the Flyers got there on the strength of 14 loser points and an MVP-caliber season out of their captain. They had a shot, sure, but Pittsburgh, looking for a three-peat, was just better.

Now, upsets can happen. They’re fairly prominent in hockey. But this team has just never seemed capable of pulling one off.

Until now.

I don’t want to make too big a thing of game number 14 on the year, a mid-week contest in early November between divisional opponents that the home team won. That’s predictable.

But that game felt different to me. It was a glimpse into what this team could become. Yes, they’re going to have a decent year simply because they’re better than the bad teams. But this win over the Hurricanes showed that the Flyers can, with Carter Hart playing his best, overcome adversity, hang with teams better than them, and actually pull off an upset.

Every fan has been looking for signs that 2019-20 was a new season, that it could play out differently than the movie we’ve been watching on repeat for the better part of a decade. Well, on Tuesday night at the Wells Fargo Center, I got the message that this team very well could grow into something special.

They’re not there yet, and ultimately I’d like for them to be the better team that others are hoping to upset. Obviously.

But for a group with a new coach, still searching for an identity, trying out newcomers in the bottom-six seemingly every other game, still figuring out the defensive rotation, and crossing fingers hoping that the 21-year-old goalie is as good as we think he is, that win meant a lot.

All right, you’ve read my further explanation, and (hopefully) listened to everyone else’s thoughts on which game we each believe defines who the 2019-20 Flyers are, so share yours with us. Let us know the game you believe best demonstrates this team’s character and potential. Who are the “real” Flyers?

Put it in the comments. And seriously, if you haven’t listened to the show yet, what the hell are you waiting for?