Game 3: Will Regular Season Lessons and Home Ice Advantages Prove Meaningful?

Game 3: Will Regular Season Lessons and Home Ice Advantages Prove Meaningful?

We've discussed it here before, a certain reality we'd almost rather not know… 
The NHL's regular season is little more than a really long, entertaining preseason war of attrition. If a team doesn't make the 16-slot playoffs in the NHL, it had an extremely poor chance to win a Stanley Cup. Meanwhile, the parity among teams that do make it can be staggering. Without getting into some existential debate on the relative meaningless of all things, let alone sports, we watch the regular season simply because we love hockey, our local team, and the players that make it up at any given time. So I'm not taking anything away from our time spent watching, analyzing, debating, and enjoying the 82 games that spanned from October to April. But so little of it matters once the playoffs begin. Or does it…?
You can say they're playing for home ice, for seeding, for experience as a team in understanding their strengths and weakness and those of their opponents. I increasingly feel that only the latter really means much once the second season begins. An eighth seed is up 2-0 in the Western Conference. The Flyers are up 2-0 after a pair of games in a frenzied, hostile building. Home ice often means nothing when it comes to the outcomes of games despite player proclamations to the contrary. 
With the series set to resume in Philadelphia this afternoon, can the Flyers find an advantage that the Penguins could not in Pittsburgh?  
Home ice is a reward for fans and franchises, particularly if the series goes the seven-game distance. For those fortunate enough to have a ticket into the building today, just getting dressed and driving to the Wells Fargo Center, having a few beverages with friends, sharing the playoff atmosphere with your kid for the first time, and seeing the place lit up in that glowing orange will be a transcendent experience. 
For everyone from season ticket holders to casual-fan friends of corporations with catered suites, the feel of the building during the playoffs is completely different. In the regular season, the realities of the long 41-game schedule are more apparent than we want to admit. The building feels big, at times hollow. Every seat isn't quite as filled as attendance reports might indicate on some nights. But once the playoffs begin, it's like the building has been dropped out of a huge plane, and everyone's reality outside of it is suspended amidst an adrenaline rush that lasts for a few hours. The game is the only reality that exists. The camaraderie among the orange-clad masses is more palpable. The hatred of the opponent even more so. As soon as you enter the gate, you can see, hear, and feel it. 
For 60 minutes, the chants are louder, particularly if it's a close game or one decidedly in favor of the Flyers. If they win… The chants as fans file down the stairs and elevators can give you that feeling in your ears where it's like you temporarily lose hearing. 
It really doesn't get any better. 
It's a different story if they lose… one the folks out in Pittsburgh can recount with painful detail. It's also a different story on the ice. The Penguins seemed to be playing with one perceived advantage of being on home ice—getting out to early leads and "keeping the building in the game." The Flyers were completely unfazed though, taking their first period beatings only to assume the bully role sometime in the second period. 
Today we'll watch to see if the Flyers—who were better on the road than at home in each of the past two seasons and haven't always played well in afternoon starts—can put together an effort that obviates all elements that are outside of the game itself. 
We all enjoyed Lavvy's tirade after the Flyers got off to another slow start in game 2. And, they're up 2-0 despite continuing a regular season trend everyone said would sink them if still present in the playoffs. But we wouldn't mind seeing a hot start for a change, even if this team's identity and winning formula seems to be the Comeback Kids. 
How long can they keep that up? Are the Pens strong enough to clamp down once they get a lead, or is their defense and goaltending simply unable to withstand the Flyers attack for a full 60 (or more) minutes?
Hopefully the building is a factor in a huge game 3 win. Sidney Crosby-led teams have fared well in Philly, our ill-conceived "Crosby Sucks" chants seemingly having an effect not unlike earth's yellow sun on the son of Jor-El. But lately, the Flyers haven't been affected by the Pittsburgh captain's stellar play early in games. On Friday, he scored 15 seconds in but was victimized later in the game. Are the Flyers finally in his head? I wouldn't bet on it. They may not need to be in order to win though.
To continue winning in the playoffs, the Flyers need to continue making their regular season experience meaningful. In 82 games, six of which were against Pittsburgh, the Flyers learned that no matter what the Penguins throw at them, it is surmountable. The Penguins are strong but flawed—strong enough to win a pair of games in Philly and flawed enough to be swept out. 
In the first two games of the series, we saw that over the course of the regular season, a young, untested group had become seasoned and fearless. They're playing the team heavily favored to win it all, and they're winning. Rookies are sneering in the faces of superstars. Gritty players are mocking diving in their counterparts. The passion of a coach who climbed on top of the dasher boards in anger is flowing into every forward line and defensive pairing. 
If you're headed to South Philly, enjoy one of the greatest parts of being a Philadelphia sports fan. If you've never been to a Flyers playoff game, this is your annual full-throated recommendation to change that. 
Today should be one hell of a battle. 
Photo the Igloo's remains by Ryan Lawrence of the Delco Times. 

Flyers-Blackhawks 10 observations: Have yourself a day, Ivan Provorov

Flyers-Blackhawks 10 observations: Have yourself a day, Ivan Provorov

It was the Ivan Provorov show at the Wells Fargo Center on Saturday afternoon when the Flyers took down the NHL-leading Blackhawks, 3-1 (see Instant Replay).
 
The orange and black are now on a season-best four-game winning spree and have climbed past the Capitals for fourth place in the Metropolitan Division.
 
Let’s delve into the game with 10 observations.
 
1. Remember this? When Provorov tripped over his own two skates in Chicago? It was a bit of an embarrassing moment for the 19-year-old. It resulted in an easy Blackhawks goal and, in many ways, served as Provorov’s rookie initiation as he finished a minus-5. Well, you can forget all that. The Flyers’ young, prized blueliner, who entered with one goal in 25 games, showed Chicago his true colors Saturday by ripping off two markers in 31 seconds of the second period. Good for him.
 
2. Brayden Schenn was extra demonstrative after extending the Flyers’ lead to 3-1 in the second period. Can you blame him? The 25-year-old had just one goal in his last 17 games. Schenn has been up and down the lineup, playing on all four lines and at both wing and center. He looked good here with Travis Konecny, who delivered a surgical pass to set up Schenn.
 
3. Patrick Kane had a secondary assist but that was all as the Flyers kept him mostly quiet. Kane, a four-time All-Star and last season’s Hart Memorial Trophy winner for NHL MVP, had 24 points coming in, good for seventh in the league.
 
4. Steve Mason was good in net. He’s now won three straight, a span in which he’s stopped 90 of 95 shots.
 
5. Aside from a too-many-men-on-the-ice penalty by Nick Cousins in the third period, the Flyers played with great discipline. Chicago wasn’t awarded any power plays until there was 6:31 left in the game. The Flyers forced the Blackhawks to beat them at full strength and they couldn’t.
 
6. Cousins, Chris VandeVelde and Michael Raffl all tallied an assist apiece. The Flyers outshot Chicago, 30-27, and had just seven giveaways.
 
7. The Blackhawks’ opening goal was a nice one. Artem Anisimov adeptly eluded a sliding Provorov in front of the crease and fed Artemi Panarin for a one-timer. Mason had no chance. Panarin, as you may know, beat out Shayne Gostisbehere for last season’s Calder Memorial Trophy given to the NHL’s top rookie. The 25-year-old has nine goals and 22 points this season.
 
8. Unexpectedly, Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford underwent an appendectomy at a Philadelphia hospital Saturday, putting Chicago in bind. Second-string netminder Scott Darling received the start, but the Blackhawks needed an emergency backup. Enter the pride of Temple, Eric Semborski, a 23-year-old from Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania, who played club hockey for the Owls. Chicago inked him to an amateur tryout, essentially for one day. He was seen in warmups wearing a Temple mask, which sported “Philly Proud” and “Temple Tuff.”
 
 9. Chicago came in 13-3-2 since Oct. 28. However, the Blackhawks overall are 6-6-1 on the road compared to 10-1-2 at home. The Flyers did catch a break as Chicago was without Crawford and three-time All-Star Jonathan Toews (back). Still, a really good win for the Flyers against a team that was atop the NHL.
 
10. Wondering if there were any “woo” chants in the first home game since Jakub Voracek blasted fans for it? Well, only a select few had the audacity to try it but the woos never gained steam. Fans are past it.

Instant Replay: Flyers 3, Blackhawks 1

Instant Replay: Flyers 3, Blackhawks 1

BOX SCORE

The Flyers now have a legitimate win streak going.
 
They defeated the Chicago Blackhawks, 3-1, in a Saturday afternoon matinee at the Wells Fargo Center for their fourth straight victory (see 10 observations).
 
It’s the longest win streak of the season for Dave Hakstol’s club.
 
Rookie defenseman Ivan Provorov scored twice in the second period just 31 seconds apart to erase a 1-0 deficit and put the Flyers ahead. The Flyers scored three goals on their first four shots that period.
 
Chicago has now lost 13 consecutive regular-season games in Philadelphia. The Hawks last won here in 1996-97, when the building opened as CoreStates Center.

Steve Mason (26 Saves) made his third straight start in goal for the Flyers, while Scott Darling was a late sub in goal for Chicago given Corey Crawford’s emergency appendectomy surgery. 
 
Notable goals
Artemi Panarin’s one-timer from the left circle in the first period saw all five Flyers on the opposite side of the ice. 
 
Twice is nice
Provorov’s first goal was high shot above the left circle. His second goal came from the high slot low toward the left post on Darling.
 
What-a-pass
Travis Konecny threaded a puck between two Blackhawks to Brayden Schenn’s stick to set up the Flyers' third goal in the second period.
 
Inconclusive
In an effort to help Mason, Provorov had his glove hand over the puck in the Flyers' net and cleared it out. Replays were inconclusive. All you could see is Provorov moving his glove hand and the puck squirting out … but from where? It should have been a goal, but if the video doesn’t show the puck in the net, even if logic suggests otherwise, it’s not a goal. 
 
Goalie report
Mason didn’t face the kind of shot challenges that Darling did, but he did a very good job of slowing things down and forcing faceoffs by covering up shots in the paint rather than attempt to keep pucks alive.
 
Power play
The Flyers had their pickings on their first opportunity and the Hawks’ lowly 30th-ranked PK units did nothing but rely on Darling to make saves.
 
Penalty kill
Chicago didn’t have a full power play. It got an abbreviated one in the third period, when the Flyers were called for too many men on the ice during a power play, which is rather incongruous when you think about it.
 
Father and sons
The Flyers' annual event began Saturday, as players’ fathers watched the game here at the Wells Fargo Center. The fathers will travel with the team to Nashville for Sunday’s game as well.
 
Scratches
Defenseman Nick Schultz (healthy) and Radko Gudas (ill); forwards Boyd Gordon (back spasms), Sean Couturier (left knee) and Scott Laughton (healthy); goalie Michal Neuvirth (left knee).
 
Up next
This is a back-to-back situation for the Flyers. They leave after the game for Nashville, where they will meet the Predators on Sunday at a rare playing time of 6 p.m.