No. 8 Canadiens vs. No. 1 Flyers
8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS, NBCSP
Jakub Voracek is expected to be in the lineup for the Philadelphia Flyers when they play the Montreal Canadiens in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference First Round at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto on Wednesday.
Voracek was ruled unfit to play in the Flyers’ Stanley Cup Qualifiers round-robin game against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday in Toronto, the East hub city. But Voracek practiced Monday and Tuesday and said he felt ready to play.
The Flyers entered the round-robin with the fourth-best points percentage (.645) in the Eastern Conference during the regular season but went 3-0-0 against the Boston Bruins (.714), the Lightning (.657) and the Washington Capitals (.652) to earn the No. 1 seed for the playoffs.
“The only thing on my mind at this time is … the Montreal Canadiens and what we’re going to have to do to win tonight’s game,” Flyers coach Alain Vigneault said. “It’s one game at a time, it’s about staying in the moment, it’s about preparing yourself and your team the right way. We’ve had a couple of meetings with our players. Our players are obviously a little nervous, but I think more excited than nervous. We know we’re playing against a real good opponent and we’re ready for the opportunity, for the challenge.”
The Canadiens, who had the worst points percentage (.500) of any team to play in the Stanley Cup Qualifiers, defeated the Pittsburgh Penguins in four games in their best-of-5 qualifier series.
“To me [the Flyers] have been the most balanced team I’ve seen since we’ve been here,” Canadiens coach Claude Julien said. “They’re playing with lots of confidence. … We’re going to have to play hard in all areas like we did against Pittsburgh and that’s how we intend to approach this series.”
Teams that win Game 1 are 478-219 (68.6 percent) winning a best-of-7 NHL playoff series.
Here are 3 keys for Game 1:
1. Flyers top line must contribute
Philadelphia swept the round-robin without getting a goal from its top line of Voracek (one assist), Sean Couturier (two assists) and Claude Giroux (zero points).
But for a deep playoff run, the Flyers need their best players to be their best players, especially Giroux.
“[Giroux] is the captain of our team, he’s a leader, he loves Philly,” Vigneault said Tuesday. “He wants this team to do well. He wants his legacy to be a positive one. He’s done everything that he can to let us take the steps that we’ve needed to take this year as we’ve grown as a team. Our first step in the playoffs is the Montreal Canadiens. I’m sure that he will be ready.”
2. Suzuki, Kotkaniemi need to continue strong play for Canadiens
Nick Suzuki and Jesperi Kotkaniemi centered the Canadiens’ top two lines and made huge strides in their development during the Qualifiers.
Suzuki scored two points (one goal, one assist) and Kotkaniemi scored two goals.
Kotkaniemi scored eight points (six goals, two assists) in 36 games this season and was sent to the American Hockey League on Feb. 1. But the 20-year-old has been a standout since the start of training camp.
“Just right for the get-go he was skating better,” Julien said. “He had the knee surgery over the course of last summer and he came to [September training] camp and didn’t have that step. … This break (the season pause) benefited certain players and he was one of those players that benefited from it.”
3. Get the power plays going
The man-advantage has provided no advantage for the Flyers nor the Canadiens during the postseason.
Philadelphia was 0-for-11 in the round-robin, while Montreal was 0-for-12 against the Penguins.
“Sometimes you need a lucky bounce,” Voracek said. “Sometimes you need a good pass. We are the players that had been doing it before the stoppage. Only a matter of time before we get a breakthrough here in Toronto.”
Canadiens projected lineup
Tomas Tatar — Nick Suzuki — Brendan Gallagher
Jonathan Drouin — Jesperi Kotkaniemi — Joel Armia
Paul Byron — Phillip Danault — Artturi Lehkonen
Alex Belzile — Max Domi — Dale Weise
Ben Chiarot — Shea Weber
Brett Kulak — Jeff Petry
Victor Mete — Xavier Ouellet
Scratched: Charles Hudon, Ryan Poehling, Cale Fleury, Noah Juulsen, Gustav Olofsson, Christian Folin, Cayden Primeau, Michael McNiven, Jordan Weal
Unfit to play: Jake Evans
Flyers projected lineup
Claude Giroux — Sean Couturier — Jakub Voracek
Scott Laughton — Kevin Hayes — Travis Konecny
James van Riemsdyk — Derek Grant — Nicolas Aube-Kubel
Connor Bunnaman — Nate Thompson — Tyler Pitlick
Ivan Provorov — Matt Niskanen
Travis Sanheim — Philippe Myers
Robert Hagg — Justin Braun
Scratched: Andy Andreoff, Joel Farabee, Morgan Frost, Oskar Lindblom, Mark Friedman, Shayne Gostisbehere, Andy Welinski, Egor Zamula, Alex Lyon, Kirill Ustimenko
Unfit to play: Michael Raffl
Evans skated Wednesday for the first time since leaving Game 3 against the Penguins after being hit into the boards by Pittsburgh forward Brandon Tanev. … Lindblom arrived in Toronto on Friday and is nearing the end of a seven-day quarantine before he can join the Flyers. The forward completed treatments for a rare form of bone cancer July 2 and the Flyers have not ruled him out from playing at some point during the Stanley Cup Playoffs.