By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
The East's road to the 2020 Stanley Cup Final will go through Philadelphia.
In Toronto, anyway.
Squaring off with the Lightning with the No. 1 seed at stake on Saturday, the Flyers jumped out to a 2-0 edge behind a pair of first-period goals from Nicolas Kube-Aubel and never looked back in a 4-1 victory over Tampa Bay.
???? Nicolas Aube-Kubel - 2nd tonight2-0 #AnytimeAnywhere pic.twitter.com/UjWbrBdm47
The Flyers' Carter Hart remained magnificent in this one, too, with stops on 23-of-24 shots faced, giving him a ridiculous .966 save percentage after denying all but two of the 59 shots thrown his way over two round-robin games.
With the victory, the Flyers finished the round-robin a perfect 3-0-0 (six points). It is the first time that the Flyers have been the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference playoff picture since 2000. (In case you're wondering, they lost in the third round that spring, falling to the eventual Cup champion New Jersey Devils in seven games.)
The win also secured a first-round date with the Montreal Canadiens for the Flyers. Philadelphia went 2-1-0 against the Canadiens in 2019-20, but were outscored 9-8. This will be the first postseason meeting between these two since their third-round series in 2010, a series won by the Flyers in five games.
The Bolts, meanwhile, finished the round-robin as the East's No. 2 seed by way of their 2-1-0 (four points) record. But their first loss of the tourney wasn't their biggest of the loss, as the team lost Norris-winning defenseman Victor Hedman to an apparent lower-body injury following a defensive-zone tumble in the first period.
GoBolts Victor Hedman goes down awkwardly here.Slow to get up. pic.twitter.com/RPNp7wdS7f
Hedman, who was visibly upset as he left the ice, did not return to the Tampa bench at any point, and speaking with reporters after the game, Lightning coach Jon Cooper did not have an update on Hedman's status moving forward.
The 6-foot-6 Hedman recorded 11 goals and 55 points (third-most among all defensemen) in 66 games for the Lightning this year, and his 24:04 per night finished the regular season as tops among all Lightning skaters and 15th in the NHL.
The Lightning, mind you, are already without captain Steven Stamkos. And they played Saturday's contest without Hedman's d-partner, Jan Ruuta (undisclosed), effectively leaving the Bolts down their top defensive pairing.
"It's a little frustrating because we feel like we're going in the right direction and to lose some of the star power we have,'' Cooper said after the loss. "We've got to circle the wagons."
Locked into the No. 2 seed, the Lightning will play the winner of Sunday's Game 5 between the Blue Jackets and Maple Leafs.
Ty Anderson is a writer and columnist for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Yell at him on Twitter: @_TyAnderson.