The biggest question going into the Eastern Conference round-robin was who would take the top seed. It was the Philadelphia Flyers goaltending that stepped up as the Flyers flexed their depth in net and were rewarded with the first seed in the East.
Eastern Conference Round Robin
Philadelphia Flyers Goaltending Shines
Flyers starter Carter Hart earned wins over the Boston Bruins and the Tampa Bay Lightning. Hart stopped 35 shots in the win over the Bruins and 24 in the victory over the Lightning. The Flyers starter showed no signs of rust after the long layoff. Hart may be turning 22 this week, but he played like a veteran in his first playoff-like atmosphere.
He now gets a shot at his idol in Carey Price of the Montreal Canadiens. It’s the future of Team Canada in goal against the past/present of the Olympic squad. Hart gave up one goal in each of the two games he played in. He’d won seven straight starts before losing to Boston in the last game before the pause. His save percentage in a 6-1 February was .929 and gave up 14 goals in 416:30 of game action.
However, Brian Elliott also showed that he could come in if Hart does get injured. Hart was dealing with back problems prior to going into the bubble. Elliott has been a consistent performer against the Washington Capitals over his career and that showed again. He only needed 16 saves in the 3-1 win over Washington, but Elliott defeated the Capitals in both meetings in the regular season.
The Flyers also flexed their depth with two-goal games from Scott Laughton and Nicolas Aube-Kubel. That depth, Alain Vigneault‘s coaching, and goaltending have the Philadelphia Flyers poised for a deep run in the Eastern Conference.
Tampa Bay Gets Shot at Revenge
The Lightning just missed out on the top seed in the East after losing to the Flyers. It could be a costly loss as Victor Hedman left the game with an apparent injury. Tampa Bay head coach Jon Cooper told the media they would have to “circle to wagons” after losing their top blueliner. The Lightning were also without Steven Stamkos and Jan Rutta that game.
It wasn’t a doom-and-gloom for Tampa as Brayden Point, Tyler Johnson, and Nikita Kucherov looked pretty fast at times. Point’s speed was on display during the exhibition game against the Florida Panthers. Goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy was good in the first two games and really wasn’t at fault for the three goals against the Flyers.
Tampa Bay now focuses on its grudge match against the Columbus Blue Jackets. Last season was supposed to be a big chance for the Lightning to win their first Stanley Cup since 2004. However, the Blue Jackets stunned the Lightning in four straight. Tampa is extremely motivated, but has to be wary of a Columbus team that stifled the Toronto Maple Leafs potent attack. One hopes Tampa gets Stamkos, Rutta, and Hedman back at some point because it’s all hands on deck.
Washington Capitals End Strong
Washington finally looked like a contender as it topped Boston, 2-1, in the final round-robin game. The Capitals had production issues from their top six in the three round-robin games. Only three of the Caps’ five goals came from their first two lines. Things were better in the final game as T.J. Oshie and Tom Wilson got goals in the final game. However, there needs to be more goals. Players like Travis Boyd and Richard Panik aren’t meant to carry the offence. The Capitals didn’t have a multiple goal scorer in the round-robin.
Alex Ovechkin is the type of player that can come alive, but no goals in the opening three games won’t sit well with him. Nicklas Backstrom was a game-time decision against Boston, but he was also held scoreless. Another concern is John Carlson has not played at all in Toronto, but he should be ready for the New York Islanders.
Washington will do battle against the New York Islanders and former coach Barry Trotz, who led the Capitals to the cup in 2018. This season’s matchup was even as Washington and New York split the series 2-2 and both teams netted 14 goals. The Isles looked solid on defence against the Florida Panthers in the qualifying round and could be primed for an upset.
Boston Bruins Sleepwalk Through Round Robin
Torrey Krug admitted the Bruins were looking for motivation in the round-robin. Boston now faces a big slap of reality against the Carolina Hurricanes. The Bruins face the only team to pull off a sweep in the qualifying round. Carolina dispatched the New York Rangers in three straight games and looked like a team that can be a thorn in Boston’s side.
Boston did show promise in the second game against Tampa Bay, the Lightning winning in a shootout. One major red flag was Boston’s lack of a power-play goal in the three games. Boston went scoreless in all nine attempts while they went nearly 25-percent successful in the regular season. Bruins’ head coach Bruce Cassidy has been tinkering with the extra man units by having Charlie Coyle play in Jake DeBrusk‘s spot. The Bruins did win the Stanley Cup in 2011 despite issues scoring with the extra man.
However, burying the Bruins is a risky proposition. Boston did win the President’s Trophy for being the league’s top team. They were the only club to reach 100 points in the shortened season. Boston also beat Carolina in the Eastern Conference Finals last season. The Bruins are a team that can turn it on and be dangerous at a moment’s notice. The Hurricanes haven’t played since August 4 and it’s a tough to gauge if a team will lose momentum after a long layoff.