PITTSBURGH – One aspect of the Flyers’ performance against the Penguins to keep an eye on is the play of their rookies.
Kids like Travis Sanheim, Oskar Lindblom and Robert Hagg not only haven’t played a full regular season of hockey but will be touching Stanley Cup playoff ice for the first time.
Throw in Nolan Patrick, who has been here throughout the year but also is seeing his first NHL postseason action, and you have a lot of inexperience.
In the heat of the action against a veteran Pittsburgh team, it will be interesting to see how these youngsters react.
And don’t forget, this is the first playoff series for second-year men Travis Konecny and Ivan Provorov as well.
The Flyers have played a bunch of tight, one-goal and post-regulation games (most overtime/shootout games in the NHL with 14) during the season. Did these contests “toughen’’ up the Flyers’ freshmen?
“It seems like the tagline is ‘meaningful hockey’ down the stretch,’’ coach Dave Hakstol said. “Call it what you want. We’ve been in a lot of tight games and we’ve been in a situation where we’ve really had to earn our way right from early in the season.
“There are always ups and downs to a team’s play. In reality, when you have to earn your way and your margin of error is pretty short all the way along, I think it tests you. Sometimes you pass the test, sometimes you fail the test. It tests you and it pushes you to get better.’’
Will Weal be dealing?
It doesn’t look like Jordan Weal will be playing in Game 1. But Weal was one of the most effective Flyers against Pittsburgh this season.
Hakstol was asked if Weal might see action along the way.
“He’s a big part of our team, whether he’s going to be in or out in Game 1 of this series,’’ Hakstol said. “I have a pretty good sense that every player on our roster is going to have to have a positive effect on this series.
“He’s a guy we have confidence in. He’s got a track record against this particular team. You always factor those particular things in. Regardless, he’s definitely someone we trust.’’
Long playoff drought
No need to remind the Flyers they haven’t won a playoff series in six years. But who’s counting?
What would it mean to get past the Penguins in the first round? What that experience be like.
“Well, it’s not even about experience anymore,’’ Hakstol said. “It’s about an opportunity. We talk about it all the time throughout the year. To take advantage of your opportunities, you have to earn your way.
“This is a series where I don’t think we’re going to be picked by a lot of people to win the series. But that being said, I think there’s a sense of purpose here. There’s a real knowledge that as a team we have to go out individually and collectively and earn our way. That’s where our focus is at with the job at hand here.’’
Claude Giroux remembers quite well recent playoff losses to the Rangers and Washington and believes something can be learned from those experiences.
“I think we’re a different team now,’’ he said. “We’re a more mature team. The first game is going to be a lot of running around, it’s always like that the first game, the first few shifts.
“For us, it’s just keeping our composure.’’
And that means guarding against odd-man rushes involving Sid Crosby and Evgeny Malkin.
“They have special players there,’’ Giroux pointed out, “that make special plays. For us, it’s to make sure we minimize those chances. We’re going to need everyone to be on the same page here.’’