This weekend officially kicked off the 2020 race to the Stanley Cup. After months of waiting and uncertainty, we are now shifting gears to hockey nearly around the clock and thats a dream in itself.
Before the Flyers embark on their playoff journey, NBC Sports Philadelphia's Brooke Destra, Katie Emmer, Joe Fordyce and Jordan Hall give their predictions for the team and who wins it all.
I have waited my whole life to feel this confident about a Flyers team. If youve been watching throughout the season, especially following the NHL All-Star break, you could tell that this team was destined for more than another year of disappointment.
This goes back to the offseason when general manager Chuck Fletcher made some roster additions. He didnt need to go out and get a big-time free agent, but rather evaluated the needs of the current roster and found a way to complement it. Without the addition of Kevin Hayes, Sean Couturier wouldnt have been able to flourish as the 1C he is. Without Matt Niskanen, Ivan Provorov wouldnt have been able to get guidance from a true veteran defenseman and find his game that is wise beyond his years once more. No additions would have led to another season of falling short of expectations and now the bar is set for the ultimate test the Stanley Cup.
When we first evaluated the teams potential before the beginning of the season, I believed winning a single playoff round would have been enough for fans. It would showcase growth and promise for seasons to come. Yeah, thats not the mentality anymore.
This is it. This is the year the Flyers win it all. Claude Giroux will finally get to raise that beautiful Stanley Cup over his head and the drought in Philadelphia will be over after 45 years of waiting. The cards have been dealt in the Flyers favor and they have the power to control their fate. I see the Flyers winning in six games against the Golden Knights.
This isnt optimism anymore, this is certainty.
This Flyers team certainly has a different vibe than years past. From its solid depth at forward to its drastically improved special teams, to having arguably the strongest goaltending duo in the NHL it has a healthy chance of taking a deep playoff run in 2020.
That being said, its still tough to predict where the Flyers end up ... after all, this is the Stanley Cup Playoffs were talking about. Its such an equal playing field. With healthy rosters returning that wouldnt have been the case originally and the lack of ice time for players throughout the pause for the majority of four months or more, itll certainly be interesting who comes out of the gates the strongest.
Im optimistic about the Flyers chances. Why not have fun and say they pass the Penguins in the first round in six? Then Ill say they go on to beat out the Capitals in seven and the Lightning in six to make it all the way to the Final to face the Avalanche, where theyll win in seven and Giroux (and the city of Philadelphia) will finally get that Stanley Cup theyve been waiting 45 years for.
Another bold prediction? Kevin Hayes goes off in the playoffs and wins the Conn Smythe.
The Flyers will benefit from playing three games in the round robin, where they can only improve their seeding. They cant finish lower than fourth but can get as high as the top seed entering the playoffs. Im going to go out on a limb and make a prediction that we will see a different Shayne Gostisbehere when the games resume. During the regular season, we saw a version of Gostisbehere that appeared to have no confidence on the ice. For Ghost, confidence is key and maybe more than any player Ive ever seen.
In the scrimmage with the Penguins, Ghost looked like a different player. On the final play that won the game, Ghost took what was there. He reversed the puck back to Scott Laughton to play give- and-go with Travis Konecny that led to the winning shot from Laughton. When Ghost lacks confidence, he may try to force a play on the other side of the ice. It was good to see his assertive play on the ice and Im betting on a resurgence from Gostisbehere.
In the Stanley Cup Final, Im going to say the Tampa Bay Lightning will beat the Colorado Avalanche. The Lightning have some revenge to exact after a first-round exit last season, despite having the best record. With their roster of scorers that seems to never end, their lethal power play and Andrei Vasilevsky between the pipes, the Lightning are well positioned to win the Cup. The Avalanche have had the best road record in the NHL and the top goal differential in the Western Conference, so I see them making it through the Edmonton bubble but eventually falling to the Lightning.
There's definitely a feel to these Flyers. It's a fun, likeable, hard-working, well-coached group with plenty of ingredients. Sometimes in sports, you can sense when a team has something brewing.
The 2019-20 club has a conceivable shot at a playoff run, which should be exciting for a fan base that has been patient over the previous seven seasons, a stretch in which it has seen stagnancy, three playoff berths and no series victories.
The Flyers are in a promising spot and a lot of people deserve credit. It's no longer just about the future.
With that being said, my concerns about their Cup chances arise because of a possible second-round matchup against either the Lightning or Bruins, and then maybe having to beat one of those clubs in the East Final. It's not an easy road.
A big step forward and productive Flyers season ends in a long second-round series after a first-round victory.
For the Stanley Cup Final, I'm going to stick with what I had at the beginning of the season: Lightning over the Blues.
As for a bold prediction, how about Travis Sanheim leading Flyers defensemen in scoring for the tournament? That's bold enough, right?
Sports Uncovered is on all podcast platforms: click here to subscribe now!
Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.