PITTSBURGH – While much of the media attention regarding the Flyers’ defense centers on the pairing of Shayne Gostisbehere and Ivan Provorov, the fact of the matter is a team is only as good as its least ballyhooed link.
In the case of Philadelphia’s best-of-seven first-round series against the Penguins, that would be the third pairing of Brandon Manning and Radko Gudas.
While this twosome has received more than its fair share of criticism (too slow, sometimes too physical), the fact of the matter is the tandem finished a combined plus-1 with nine goals.
So while Flyers fans might cringe at the prospect of these two gentlemen trying to fend off the Crosbys, Malkins and Kessels, the backliners say playing smart hockey might be enough to turn the trick.
“It’s a great opportunity,’’ Manning said at the Flyers’ Wednesday morning skate at PPG Paints Arena. “Everything gets ramped up in the playoffs.
“You kind of wait to see how the refs are going to call the series. The extra stuff behind the play. . .once you get a gauge on that – it’s going to be a tough series and if you go out of your way to make hits, you have to pick your spots closely.’’
Manning registered seven goals this season and has become a bit of an offensive force with some timely rushes.
It’s all about knowing when to join the rush and when to hold back, especially against a speedy team like the Penguins.
“In the playoffs, if you’re caught out of position, you’re going to be exposed a lot more,’’ Manning said. “A seven-game series can go pretty quick, so if you’re giving up too many of those opportunities, it could cost you right away.’’
First win important
The Flyers came up empty in four games against the Penguins during the regular season.
Sean Couturier pointed out that it was going to be important for the Flyers to get one of these two games in Pittsburgh to break the Penguins’ momentum against the Philadelphia crew.
“They kind of had our number this year,’’ Couturier admitted. “But I don’t think we’ve played our best hockey against them either.
“We want to show what we’re made of. Maybe put a little doubt in their heads.’’
Energy from the kids
Coach Dave Hakstol confirmed that his rookies – such as Nolan Patrick, Oskar Lindblom and Travis Sanheim – along with playoff first-timers like Ivan Provorov and Travis Konecny, add a unique energy to the locker room.
“We’re not going to ask them to change their contributions to the team,’’ Hakstol said. “Like everyone else, they have to do their job well.
“This is their first experience. They’re going to have to be quick on the learning curve. They’ve handled everything well throughout the year. They have pretty good poise, on and off the ice.
“The personality of the young guys, it’s typical of young guys. They continually help lighten the mood. That’s a two-way street. They have an effect on our older players, but maybe more importantly, the role of our group of leaders on the young guys. . .just stabilizing them, giving them confidence, making them feel like they can have a positive impact night in night out. That’s a huge effect they’re had on the young guys.’’
Tokarski called up
The Flyers called up goalie Dustin Tokarski from the Phantoms late Wednesday afternoon. Both Brian Elliott and Petr Mrazek were reported healthy, so it’s believed Tokarski was called up to be a No. 3 goaltender in case Elliott was injured during the game.