The casual Flyers fan’s guide to the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs

The Flyers made the playoffs! We aren’t all losers! Take that, Eagles, Sixers, Phillies and Union.

For those casual Flyers fans who haven’t paid too close attention to the NHL season and are just now hopping off the Villanova bandwagon and looking for a ride, there is plenty of room on the orange and black vehicle rolling into the postseason this week. Hop on board…but know what you’re getting into first.

Flyers Schedule

The Flyers start the postseason with two games on the road; the first this Thursday, which will be televised nationally on NBCSN, and the second on Saturday night on CNBC. Local broadcast schedules have yet to be announced.

The Flyers return home for the first playoff game in Philly in quite some time on Monday, April 18, with Game 4 slated for two days later, both on NBCSN nationally. Locally, the Flyers are on CSN and are blacked out on those other channels, for at least the first five games of the series.

Washington Capitals (M1) vs. Philadelphia Flyers (WC2)

  • Thu 4/14, 7pm: PHI @ WSH | CSN (Local) / NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports (Outside Philly area)
  • Sat 4/16, 7pm: PHI @ WSH | CSN (Local) / CNBC, CBC, TVA Sports (Outside Philly area)
  • Mon 4/18, 7pm: WSH @ PHI | CSN (Local) / NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports (Outside Philly area)
  • Wed 4/20, 7pm: WSH @ PHI | CSN (Local) / NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports (Outside Philly area)
  • *Fri 4/22, TBD:  PHI @ WSH | TBD
  • *Sun 4/24, TBD:  WSH @ PHI | TBD
  • *Wed 4/27, TBD:  PHI @ WSH | TBD

Stanley Cup Playoff Seedings

Because the NHL can’t get out of its own way, the playoff seedings have become ridiculously confusing the last three years. The four divisions all get three teams in the playoffs, then two wild card teams from each conference round out the field of eight participants on that side of the bracket. The division winners each face a wild card team, while the teams that finish second and third in the four divisions have to face each other for the right to face either the division winner or the wild card.

How dumb is this rule? Tampa (97 points) and Detroit (93 points) face off in the first round after finishing second and third in the Atlantic Division, respectively. The winner of that division, Florida (103 points), has to face the 100-point New York Islanders who qualified as the first wild card after finishing fourth in the Metropolitan. The Flyers finished with 96 points, three more than Detroit, but face 120-point Washington, while Detroit gets Tampa.

The NHL is really, really stupid.

EASTERN CONFERENCE

  • Florida Panthers (A1) vs. New York Islanders (WC1)
  • Tampa Bay Lightning (A2) vs. Detroit Red Wings (A3)
  • Washington Capitals (M1) vs. Philadelphia Flyers (WC2)
  • Pittsburgh Penguins (M2) vs. New York Rangers (M3)

WESTERN CONFERENCE

  • Dallas Stars (C1) vs. Minnesota Wild (WC2)
  • St. Louis Blues (C2) vs. Chicago Blackhawks (C3)
  • Anaheim Ducks (P1) vs. Nashville Predators (WC1)
  • Los Angeles Kings (P2) vs. San Jose Sharks (P3)

Flyers Players to Watch

Claude Giroux led the Flyers in points again this season, finishing 19th in the NHL with 67 points on 22 goals and 45 assists. With 27 of his points coming on the power play, including six goals, he had just 38 even-strength points this season in 78 games, finishing the season with a plus-minus of -8. In 57 career playoff games, Giroux has 23 goals and 38 assists and is plus-15. The Flyers are going to need that Giroux to show up against the Caps.

Wayne Simmonds led the Flyers in goals with 32, adding 28 assists, but 21 of those 60 points came on the power play, as Simmonds, similar to Giroux was -7 on the season. He will need to light the lamp a lot this series, power play or otherwise.

Shayne Gostisbehere has become a fan favorite in the city the last few months after getting called up in November. Ghost has recently been tabbed “the most exciting Philly athlete to watch” right now (which honestly probably says more about Philly sports than it does his play) but it has been stellar recently, and his emergence has been a big part of why the Flyers have made the playoffs this season.

Steve Mason, though, is the most important player to watch for the Flyers. This says everything you need to know about how he’s regarded in Philly.

Michal Neuvirth came back from injury for the season finale, which has some nervous fans wondering if he should start in the playoffs. He should not, as Mason has been far more valuable than perhaps his numbers indicate. Mason has just a .918 save percentage in 54 games—Neuvirth had a .942 in 29 games—and his 2.51 goals against average ranks 26th in the league while Neuvirth ranks 10th at 2.27. Having said that, Mason ranks just below Henrik Lundqvist, who had a .920 percentage and 2.48 GAA, so maybe those stats have as much to do with how the defense plays in front of the net-minder than just who is between the pipes.

Capitals Players to Watch

Alex Ovechkin.

Stop him and you have a good chance of stopping the Capitals. Ovie led the league in goals with 50 and was second on the Caps in points behind Evgeny Kuznetsov, who finished with 77 on 20 goals and 57 assists. The Caps had three players with more points than anyone on the Flyers, as Nicklas Backstrom finished the year with 70 points on 20 goals and 50 assists.

The Capitals had just five players who finished the season with a negative plus/minus and just one—AHEM Mike Richards—who played in more than 10 games. The Flyers had one player with a plus-10 on the season, while the Caps had 11, led by Kuznetsov (plus-27), Ovechkin (plus-21) and Backstrom (plus-17).

While the Caps can outscore anyone in the Eastern Conference, the key to their success is Braden Holtby, who had a .922 save percentage and 2.20 goals against average this season in 66 games. In his playoff career, Holtby has a .936 save percentage—including .944 in 13 games last season—and a 1.92 goals against.

Still, he is human. In his last 12 regular season games, Holtby allowed four or more goals four times and had a save percentage below .900 five times.

What Vegas thinks

Per VegasInsider, the Caps are 7/2 favorites to win the Cup and 13/10 to win the Eastern Conference. The Flyers have the worst odds in the playoffs at 50/1 to win the Cup and 16/1 to win the conference.

The case for the Flyers

There isn’t a great one. The Flyers should be happy with how they played down the stretch to qualify for the playoffs, but beating the Capitals will be very difficult, as some NHL pundits were likening their regular season to the Golden State Warriors in the NBA this year.

That said, regular season success doesn’t guarantee anything in the playoffs. In each of the last two seasons the WC2 in the West—the Flyers are WC2 in the East—have beaten the top seed in the first round.

Since 2006, an 8th-seed has advanced to the second round six times.

In the last 10 seasons, only two teams have had a better point total than the 2015-16 Capitals. In 2010, the Caps finished with 121 points. In 2006 the Detroit Red Wings finished with 124 points. Both those teams lost in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The Flyers also split the season series with the Caps, each team winning one game at home and one on the road. There is hope.

The case against the Flyers

The Capitals are really, really good. The Flyers are not. It’s about that simple. It would be a success if the Flyers can extend the series to five or six games. It would be the biggest upset in years if they get out of the first round.

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