Flyers say winning top seed remains high priority

Matt Niskanen

While the top seed in the East might sound rather glamorous, there really isn’t much advantage to winning home-ice advantage.

Unless of course one believes the last line change in the upcoming playoffs is a big deal.

When the Flyers take on the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday in the round-robin tournament finale, it won’t be like they’re trying to secure the odd game at the roaring Wells Fargo Center in a best-of-seven series.

That said, a win over the powerhouse Florida team certainly would do wonders for their confidence.

Coach Alain Vigneault continues to insist there’s a balance between wanting to win and making sure he has his most efficient 18 skaters and one goalie primed for that first real playoff game, whichever opponent they might face.

Considering the Flyers came into this competition as the No. 4 seed (with nothing to lose), the perspective might have changed a bit.

“We’ve won our first two (Boston, Washington), tomorrow the winner of us and Tampa will be the No. 1 seed,’’ Vigneault acknowledged in a Zoom call from Toronto on Friday. “That means you will have last change throughout our conference competition, which is a fairly important thing.

“It’s definitely a game that both teams are trying to win.’’

Even with a loss to Tampa, the Flyers would still hold the No. 2 seed throughout the Eastern Conference competition.

Goaltender Carter Hart got his feet wet as far as playoffs go in the win over Boston, so some of the nerves, if any, should be gone.

Hart is such a fierce competitor, he sounds like he doesn’t want to concede anything.

“For sure, we want to get the top seed and finish first in the conference,’’ Hart said. “We just have to prepare as always; they’re a good team (which went 2-0 against the Flyers this season). They have a lot of skill on their team, guys who can make some plays.’’

Tampa won the Presidents’ Trophy for the 2018-19 season (highest point total in regular season) and was considered by many to be a strong contender for the Stanley Cup.

Then the Lightning ran into a buzzsaw by the name of the Columbus Blue Jackets and were sent packing in a stunning four-game sweep.

So there could be an element of chasing redemption for the Bolts, who finished just behind Boston in the Atlantic Division standings this season.

Tampa Bay likes to jump on teams early, something of which Hart is mindful.

“They have skill but we just have to go out and play our game,’’ he said. “We have guys who have skill as well..”

>Players say 16-team playoff enough

Hart and Matt Niskanen concur it was OK to invite 24 teams to the tournament this season because of the pandemic but there are so many games to be played it just isn’t practical to keep doing this year-in, year-out.

“My personal opinion, no (for 24),’’ Niskanen said. “It’s fine for the extreme circumstances. They did the best they could out of a crappy situation. But if everything else was normal, I like the normal year.’’

Besides, adding an extra round just increases the risk of injury.

>Ice not so nice in the summertime

The ice at Scotiabank Arena has been criticized for being a bit choppy but what would do expect when you play hockey in early August with the thermometer pushing 90?

Niskanen downplayed the situation, comparing the conditions to what you would find in a regular playoff scenario in April and May.

“It’s fine to skate on,’’ he said. “The puck seems to be bouncing a bit. You’ve seen even the highest skill players have it (the puck) bounce over there sticks at times. That happens a lot in the playoffs anyway.’’





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About Wayne Fish 2070 Articles
Wayne Fish has been covering the Flyers since 1976, a stint which includes 18 Stanley Cup Finals, four Winter Olympics and numerous other international events.

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