Sudden-death overtime playoff hockey offers can’t miss watching.
But when a potential season-deciding Game 7 arrives, it’s practically sudden-death from the opening whistle and a close game makes it all that much more intense.
Going into Saturday night’s for-all-the-marbles Game 7 against the Islanders, Flyers coach Alain Vigneault said it’s only natural for his players to feel a bit on edge.
No doubt the excitement level is building.
“I would say if you’re not a little bit nervous, it’s not normal,’’ Vigneault said in a Zoom call from Toronto. “Game 7, with what’s at stake, what’s on the line, (it’s natural) to be nervous, to be anxious, to have those butterflies.
“That’s where you have to have that inner talk with yourself, about what needs to be done. It should be a lot of fun.’’
>Message stays the same
Vigneault indicated the pre-game message before Saturday night’s match would be the same as it was before Games 5 and 6, namely because the Flyers were still in win-or-else mode.
“We don’t win, our season’s over,’’ Vigneault said. “So it’s pretty much the same approach. We really don’t talk that much about winning or losing – it’s more about the process, what needs to be done on the ice in certain areas against certain players.’’
There really isn’t time to dwell on whether the next destination is Edmonton for the conference finals or Philadelphia for the offseason.
“We try and make sure our players are focused in the right areas and doing the right things,’’ Vigneault said. “Usually if you do that and you back that up with a hundred percent of what you have, it makes for a great game.’’
>Different environment, same approach
Despite the fact the Flyers have been “on the road’’ since July, a lot of the day-to-day regimen of preparing for hockey games remains the same as it does under normal circumstances.
“Hockey-wise, I have to say it’s not a lot of difference,’’ Vigneault said. “Obviously, the bubble (in Toronto) there’s different surroundings.
“But three series have gone to Game 7. A lot of people questioned if players would want to play at this time of the year, would want to be here. Look at the hockey you’re getting. Everybody’s laying it on the line. These are wonderful athletes, very dedicated young men, the Flyers want to win and we’re going to give it our best shot.’’
>Provorov strives for perfection
Defenseman Ivan Provorov played a combined total of 57 minutes in the Games 5 and 6 overtime battles and came out of it none the worse for wear.
Would you expect less from a player whose streak of 315 consecutive regular-season games is tied for third on the Flyers’ all-time list?
Vigneault lauded Provorov’s “strive for perfection.’’
“I would say he’s one of the most tenable young men I’ve had the opportunity to coach,’’ said Vigneault, who’s been a head/assistant coach in the NHL for some 20 years. “As far as his training regimen, the time he puts in on the game, whether it be on or off the ice, the skill work he does on his own.
“There’s a young man who is really trying as hard as he can to become the best player he can be. He wants responsibility, he wants to be out there all the key moments against all the top players. As a coach, that’s what you want from players. . .you want them to strive to be the best that they can be.’’
>Praise for the ‘Aces’
As challenging as it’s been for the Flyers’ regulars to co-exist in the Toronto “bubble’’ for six weeks, imagine how difficult it is for the spare players known as “Aces’’ to stay sharp, stay in shape and remain upbeat.
Asked about a favorite memory or two from this whole experience, Vigneault mentioned these reserves, including guys like Connor Bunnaman, Mark Friedman, Alex Lyon and, yes, even Shayne Gostisbehere.
“The players from every team who are not playing, that are called the ‘Aces,’ staying in this environment I have so much respect for all the kids from all the teams,’’ Vigneault said. “This has been almost two months now.
“The Philly players have been outstanding. Yes, they’re using this time to work on their skills, work on their conditioning. But it’s not the same type of environment that you would have at home, with your personal trainer, your family, friends. It’s mentally challenging.’’
Don’t think for a moment Flyers management isn’t keeping an eye on these young players to see if they’re maintaining a positive attitude. In a way, it’s a bit of a character check.
“For these young men, to be around, to be positive, support their teammates who are getting a chance to play, I have a lot of respect,’’ Vigneault said. “I really appreciate all the work those guys have done. I hope they want this to continue to Edmonton.’’
>Hayes key contributor vs. Islanders
While goaltender Carter Hart and defenseman Ivan Provorov might be considered the best two performers for the Flyers in their series against the Islanders, don’t leave out Kevin Hayes on the short list of most valuable players.
Hayes has been everywhere in all situations. With the loss of injured Sean Couturier, his work has increased even more.
“There’s no doubt Hayes has elevated his offensive game,’’ Vigneault said. “His line has gotten some great looks. He’s been able to finish in playoff hockey, where it’s hard to put points on the board.’’F