Rather than have his team skate off the hangover from Friday’s 5-0 debacle-like loss to the Montreal Canadiens, Flyers coach Alain Vigneault elected to give his players a day off on Saturday.
Perhaps they spent the free time wondering what they have to do to slow down the speeding train that blew past them at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto, tying the best-of-seven series at 1-1.
When play resumes Sunday (8 p.m.), the Flyers have to come out with a lot more energy than they exuded in Game 2. The Canadiens jumped on top barely a minute into the game and never looked back.
The Flyers were already embarrassed when Montreal interim coach Kirk Muller sent his No. 1 power play unit over the boards in the closing minutes.
No doubt during Saturday’s team meeting, Vigneault made it clear the Flyers should not take that insult lying down.
If there’s a pride factor involved here, the Flyers are expected to demonstrate their displeasure on the ice surface.
But this is not about exacting revenge, it’s about regaining some of the momentum they put together after Wednesday’s 2-1 win in Game 1.
After the game, Matt Niskanen said he was confident the Flyers could bounce back from the embarrassing loss.
“The guys in the room,’’ said Niskanen, who won a Stanley Cup with Washington in 2018. “I like our group. We believe in our abilities. We got guys that are hungry for success. We had a bit of a blunder today. We’ll learn from it quickly. Get excited and our energy up for the next game. I know we’ll play better.’’
Flyers TV analyst Bill Clement said Philadelphia might have underestimated the Canadiens but they have their attention now.
“I think Montreal played the way they did against Pittsburgh (a 3-1 victory in the best-of-five qualifying round),’’ Clement said. “They’re an aggressive, fast, hungry, underdog, us-against-the-world team with great goaltending (Carey Price) and at least three great defensemen (Shea Weber, Jeff Petry and Ben Chiarot) that are showing the world they can play big minutes.
“Just like Pittsburgh might have underestimated Montreal, the Flyers should have learned from Game 1 that they might have had a tiger by the tail.’’
Don’t forget, in a normal year, Montreal would not even have made the playoffs. They were the lowest seed (12th) in this once-in-a-lifetime 24-team format due to the pandemic.
“The Flyers didn’t appear to have learned about (Montreal’s hunger and speed) in Game 1,’’ Clement said. “And now they know whether they were the 24th overall team or 12th in the tournament, this is a clean slate.’’
Vigneault’s defense will have to pay particular attention to speedy forwards Tomas Tatar and Jesperi Kotkaniemi, both with two-goal games.
“I think the Flyers overestimated their own talent and skill,’’ Clement said. “They have to play a far better blue-collar, fast-paced game. Get out of trouble, avoid pressure. . .I think the Flyers have underestimated Montreal so far.’’
There are intangibles here as well. No doubt the Canadiens had sort of a “Win One for the Gipper’’ mentality – that is, they were playing for their fallen coach, Claude Julien, who underwent heart surgery on Friday and is out for the playoffs.
“I don’t think Claude Julien’s departure really hurt them,’’ Clement said. “He’s a wonderful man, a highly respected guy. And so they lose their leader, right?
“Look, they were already underdogs, now they’ve lost their general. So now they’re thinking they’re going to show the world even more.’’
>Lineup changes possible?
During a mid-afternoon Zoom call from Toronto on Saturday, Vigneault didn’t rule out the possibility of lineup changes for the crucial third game of the series on Sunday.
One possibility is the return of Michael Raffl, who’s been out since suffering a lower-body injury in the Pittsburgh pre-season game.
Also, Vigneault would not release any details regarding the status of Travis Konecny, who left late in Game 2 with an undisclosed issue.
Is the coach considering some major changes? There could be some big decisions to make.
“That’s why they pay me the big bucks,’’ Vigneault said with a chuckle. “At the end of the day, that was our first really tough game (a 5-0 loss) of the last 16 or 17.
“Do you make some minor changes? Some major changes? You show faith in the group that brought you to the dance and played well down the stretch? Tune in tomorrow and find out.’’
Raffl did take part in warm-ups prior to Game 2, so it looks like he’s getting close to coming back. He’s a big part of the penalty kill and did have a goal and an assist in the Penguins exhibition game before getting hurt.
“I can’t comment on TK’s availability,’’ Vigneault said. “Michael being in the warm-up yesterday, that’s a positive sign.’’