Yesterday the NHL officially announced that the 2019-20 regular season was over, and if everything goes according to plan, when the NHL returns we will jump straight into the playoffs. While they’ll be a different breed of playoffs from what we’ve seen, they’ll be the playoffs nonetheless. This year continued a trend of “miss the playoffs, make the playoffs” for the Flyers, but it’s safe to say this is the most optimistic we’ve been about our boys in quite some time. So, how’d we get here?
The season began with plenty of question marks but optimism nonetheless. Carter Hart was the starting goalie after all, and we opened the season in the Czech Republic against the Chicago Blackhawks. The Flyers won their season opener in fairly dominating fashion over the Hawks, and followed with a 4-0 shutout in the home opener vs. New Jersey featuring one of the defining moments of the month: Hart’s glove save on Taylor Hall
Quite possibly the most exciting moment of the opening month however was a late October night vs. the Columbus Blue Jackets. Columbus had just gone up 4-2 early in the third and it looked like they were in store for a loss still trailing by two halfway into the period. Then, Shayne Gostisbehere scored his first of the year, followed by the game-tying goal from James van Riemsdyk less than two minutes later. Again, in less than two minutes, with the Flyers down a man, Kevin Hayes officially welcomed himself to South Philly.
Even now in late May, this goal still stands out to me as one of the best of the season, and one of the most important ones.
The month of November was the first glimpse we really got as to how good this team could be. Catapulted by two four-game winning streaks, the Flyers jumped to third in the Metropolitan Division by the month’s end. In the midst of those winning streaks were thrilling shootout and overtime wins. The first of those came vs. Montreal, where Carey Price stood on his head all night until Sean Couturier sneaked this wrister by him in overtime.
The very next game it was Couturier again in the shootout as he put a series of dazzling moves on Frederik Andersen who was still in a state of shock after Claude Giroux whistled a slapper past him on the shot before.
Then came one of the better goals we’ve seen in recent memory from this team, and once again the Habs were on the receiving end. Ivan Provorov started a rush from behind his own net less than 30 seconds into the overtime period, faked a back pass to Oskar Lindblom, rushed up ice, walked Max Domi so hard to this day he doesn’t know what hit him, and sniped one top shelf on Price. This goal will never get old.
The fact that the Flyers managed a winning record in the month of December doesn’t seem real. This was the month where they and we all found out about Oskar Lindblom’s cancer diagnosis. The games immediately afterwards were brutal, and it seemed like anyone and everyone was getting injured, it was a moment where you really couldn’t have blamed them if they went into an extended skid.
But instead, this team rallied and put together a four game winning streak towards the end of the month, including a throttling of the New York Rangers in the Black Friday game, and a beautiful overtime winner from Hayes vs. Anaheim. Despite that surge, the Flyers still found themselves in fifth place in the Metro on New Year’s Day.
The Flyers more or less treaded water in the month of January, but that doesn’t mean there weren’t some season defining wins. Back-to-back wins vs. the defending Stanley Cup champions in the St. Louis Blues and their counterparts in the 2019 Final, the Boston Bruins. Now, speaking of that Bruins game, something special happened in that game right? Like a really weird play? Possibly in the shootout involving one of the Bruins best players?
Gotta say folks, that shit is never going to get old. That’s not even a play just Flyers fans enjoy, that’s a play every hockey fan who is not a Bruins fan enjoys. The following game Jakub Voracek scored this beauty of an overtime goal after the Flyers squandered a 3-1 lead late in the third.
On February 1, the Flyers sat fifth still in the Metro, and 12 points behind the division leading Capitals, The month was going to need to be a big one if this team had playoff hopes, and boy oh boy, did they ever rise to the occasion.
This was the month where all of us started to believe, maybe this team is different than what we’ve seen the past five or so years. Funnily enough, it didn’t start that way. After two wins to open the month, they had one of their worst losses of the season in an embarrassing 5-0 defeat at the hand of the Devils. The following game however, they faced the division leading Capitals and took all their frustrations out, handing the Caps a 7-2 ass whooping.
After a bit of “win one, lose one” following that, this team found their footing for good, and made their claim to be one of the best teams in the league. It started with a home-and-home with Columbus, where the Flyers took the first leg by a 5-1 tally. The next game in Columbus, they faced a 3-1 hole with only about five minutes remaining. In the span of a minute and 26 seconds, the Flyers had tied the game sending it to overtime ensuring at the very least a point. But this team wasn’t going to settle for just the point, Hollywood Hayes, come on down.
The four second shot of Hayes doing the championship belt celebration, and Travis Konecny chirping the ever living hell out of the Blue Jackets, is peak 2019-20 Flyers. After that win, the Flyers sat third in the Metro just five points out of first place which seemed like an impossible sight just a month earlier. But the best part is, these guys weren’t done yet.
Wins against Winnipeg and San Jose followed, before arguably the most important four game stretch of the season. A home-and-home with the Rangers, Capitals, and Carolina Hurricanes. Prior to the Sharks game, the Flyers had picked up two new depth players for the stretch drive, in Derek Grant and Nate Thompson. One of those guys proved to be a huge piece during this stretch.
It began with a 5-2 win over the Rangers at home behind a four point night from Voracek, which closed out the month of February. At the end of the month, the Flyers had jumped to second in the division, just three points behind the Capitals. Just a month prior, the playoffs were still relatively in question, now, the orange and black had a division title in their sights.
In the second half of the home-and-home, the Flyers dominated the Rangers at Madison Square Garden (a train station), and Grant was right in the middle of it with a two point effort. The Flyers now had a date with the Capitals and had an opportunity to be just one point out of first with a win. Not only would they win, they would do so in convincing fashion with another 5-2 victory. It was a chippy game featuring two fights — both involving Tom Wilson which is shocking — but one that really showed how good this team was at the time.
Grant picked up another two points and looked to be the perfect depth player for this team. They followed it up with a 4-1 win over Carolina the next night, and just like that the Flyers on March 5, were tied for first place. They would beat the Sabres two nights later and that would be the last Flyers win of the season, culminating a nine-game winning streak. They’d lose their next and what turned out to be the final game of the regular season to the Bruins.
The Flyers ended up just one point behind the Capitals for first in the Metro, but now have a chance to play to be the top seed under the proposed plan from the NHL once hockey returns.
This season has been exciting, frustrating, heartbreaking, and so many other emotions that I can’t even put into words. We’ve seen this team battle through so much adversity with their 2017 second overall pick Nolan Patrick not even playing a single game, a new head coach, numerous injuries, and one of their own going through cancer treatments. That was all before the world stopped due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
There’s no guarantee everything is going to work out perfectly, and hockey actually will return. Hell, there aren’t even set in stone dates really for any of this, but there’s something, there’s a glimmer of hope this season isn’t lost, and that all of the hell this team has gone through wasn’t for nothing. So here’s hoping this isn’t the last recap on the 2019-20 Flyers season.