It’s finally here: it’s time for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. And for the first time since 2014, the Philadelphia Flyers will be participants in the dance following a truly unbelievable season. But the Flyers’ Cinderella season doesn’t get any easier now; they will have to face the number 1 team in all of hockey in the first round, the Washington Capitals.
The latest chapter of these two team’s rivalry will take place in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals, which will begin on either Wednesday or Thursday and can be seen on the networks of NBC. Here’s your primer on the teams’ playoff series.
Philadelphia Flyers Season Recap:
It sure was an interesting 2015-16 season in South Philadelphia. Coming into the season, virtually no expectations were placed upon the Orange and Black. An 85-point season was the team’s realistic ceiling, as the rebuilding process was sure to continue into 2016 and beyond.
However, the Flyers weren’t hearing any of this narrative. After an encouraging October, the team played about .500 hockey until the New Year, but then the Flyers caught fire and ran with it.
The team played .600 hockey after the All-Star Break and genuinely looked like a contender. While Claude Giroux (67 points), Wayne Simmonds (32 goals), Shayne Gostisbehere (16 goals, 45 points), and the goalie tandem of Steve Mason and Michal Neuvirth all enjoyed excellent seasons, the team took a step forward when it began to get secondary scoring.
Players like Brayden Schenn and Sean Couturier doubled their production, and the bottom six excelled at doing the little things, as well as even chipping in a surprising 52 goals.
But the main reason why the Flyers took off was the emergence of Gostisbehere and goaltending. Gostisbehere’s promotion coincided with the Flyers’ increase in performance, and there were numerous games where the rookie was the only reason why the Flyers earned points. The same can be said of the goaltenders. Neuvirth was having a career year until injury struck, but even after that, Mason stepped up in a big way, becoming the rock that the Flyers needed.
Washington Capitals Season Recap:
On the other hand, 2015-16 couldn’t have gone any better for the Washington Capitals. The team rolled over everyone from day one, and didn’t face much adversity at all during the year. Alex Ovechkin scored his usual 50 goals, but Evgeny Kuznetsov upped his production by a whopping 40 points, and Nicklas Backstrom, T.J. Oshie, Justin Williams, Jason Chimera, Marcus Johansson, and Andre Burakovsky all scored at least 17 goals.
This production from all over made the Capitals impossible to outscore. But their defense is just as good, and it all starts in goal. Braden Holtby’s career year (48 wins, 2.20 GAA, .922 SV%) will win him the Vezina Trophy in a landslide; he has finally grown into his own as a goaltender. His defense is also in the league’s top 5, featuring Matt Niskanen, John Carlson, Karl Alzner, and Brooks Orpik.
The Capitals had some things handed to them this season, but they still exceeded everyone’s expectations. They have a ridiculous 120 points on the season, and look unbeatable on most nights.
Philadelphia Flyers: X-Factor
Momentum and Confidence. The Flyers are nowhere near as talented as the Washington Capitals, but in their 4 games played this year, the Flyers are 2-2-0 and could easily be 3-1-0. If the Flyers play up to the competition of their rivals, then they can win this series.
Washington Capitals: X-Factor
Tuning Out the Noise. As the league’s top dog, the Capitals are going to have a lot of pressure, expectations, and talk thrown their way. If the Capitals lose in the first round, heads will roll in Washington. The Capitals can definitely beat the Flyers any day, so if they focus, play their game, and don’t give in to the pressure, they should win the series quickly.
This should be an incredibly easy prediction to make when looking at these teams, but the Flyers’ “never say die” mantra and prior success against the Capitals gives them a sporting chance. I think that this series definitely goes at least 6 games, but it will most likely be the Capitals that emerge victorious. This series may very well become one of the best 3 series in the entire Stanley Cup Playoffs.