It’s been eight long years since the Flyers won a Stanley Cup playoff series and that number alone should make some people nervous.
But throw in the pressure of being the No. 1 seed in the East and it just ramps up the nerves level a bit more.
Flyers coach Alain Vigneault insists he’s keeping his team in the moment, which means the focus remained on Game 1 against Montreal on Wednesday night.
“The only thing on my mind at this time is not about being the No. 1 seed or having a bull’s-eye on our back,’’ Vigneault said during a midday Zoom call from Toronto. “It’s the Montreal Canadiens and what we’re going to have to do to win (Game 1). It’s one game at a time. It’s about staying in the moment. It’s about preparing yourself and your team the right way.’’
Vigneault might not have experienced any pre-game nerves but his players may have been a different story.
“Our players are obviously a little nervous, but I think more excited than nervous,’’ Vigneault said. “We know we are playing against a real good opponent. We’re ready for the opportunity and the challenge.’’
Because of the pandemic break it’s been a long season. On the plus side, it’s given Vigneault and his staff a chance to find out what this team is made of and given the fact it’s won 12 of its last 13 games (including a nine-game winning streak spanning February-March), the makings seem pretty good.
“There’s a lot of experience on our staff, three former head coaches (Vigneault and assistant coaches Mike Yeo and Michel Therrien). We planned. We used our experience. We knew that for a team to be successful, you have to grow during the season.
“Our first goal was to get into the playoffs. We felt that was a goal. Even though this team didn’t make it last year, it could grow, could improve and get to that goal. We achieved our first goal. Now we have to get our second goal. Our second goal is to win our first round. It’s going to be a tough series but we are ready for it.’’
>No need to change OT format
The Flyers coach doesn’t want a shootout deciding a Stanley Cup game. Tuesday’s five-overtime game between Tampa Bay and Columbus was tiring but exciting. He says keep it that way.
“If you’re a hockey fan yesterday, and I’ve been a part (of it). . .if my memory is right, it was back in Vancouver in ’06-’07, I think we went to four overtimes or something,’’ he said.
“Everybody here, everybody was glued to the TV. It was exciting. It was demanding. It was hockey the way I much prefer than seeing it won in a shootout.’’
>No Hart-Price rivalry
While the Carter Hart vs. Carey Price angle has some media glitz to it, Vigneault downplayed any sort of direct rivalry between the two goalies.
“I’m going to stay away from the comparisons,’’ he said. “Carter is Carter. He’s played in big games before. His skill set, the way he prepares, the way he is working on becoming the best goaltender he can be. This is not Carter against Price. This is Philly against Montreal. Everybody’s got their part to do. He’s got his part and I’m sure he’ll do it fine.’’
>Fans get a needed break with hockey
When the pandemic first hit, there were doubts the NHL could pull off a Stanley Cup playoffs. But here we are and so far, so good.
“In this global time right now, for me, Philly fans are excited to have an opportunity to maybe think something else than what’s happening in the world,’’ Vigneault said.
“I know for me being a Quebecer and being a Francophone, I think for the Quebec people right now, having the opportunity to think about something else other than the virus, wear your mask, social distancing and such. . .to be able to have sports for a few hours of the day to take your mind away from everything else is great. I said sometime in April, I felt that sports is going to be a way to get away a little bit from what’s happening. The Philly fans today, Quebec fans and Montreal Canadiens fans are going to get their first opportunity.’’
>Lineup changes still private
Vigneault is still playing his cards close to the vest when it comes to disclosing his lineup, so there was no word prior to Game 1 who would start.
Jake Voracek, who missed the Tampa Bay round-robin game with an undisclosed issue, declared himself healthy on Tuesday and was expected to play. Vigneault had a tough decision to make on defense: A healthy Shayne Gostisbehere or a steady Robert Hagg? Also, rookie Joel Farabee, who scored his first playoff goal, figured to be on somebody’s line.