PHILADELPHIA – The Philadelphia Flyers turned the worst start in team history all the way into another playoff berth.
They want to keep the turnaround rolling to June.
Four years after their last appearance in the Stanley Cup finals, the pressure in Philadelphia only grows on a franchise that hasn’t won a championship since 1975.
The Flyers fired coach Peter Laviolette after a 0-3 start. Coach Craig Berube needed time to get adjusted and the Flyers’ 1-7 record was the worst eight-game start in franchise history. But they finished 42-30-10 for 94 points.
Led by captain Claude Giroux, the Flyers put a season that seemed destined for the draft lottery well behind them as they prepare for the New York Rangers. The teams split four games this season, with three games decided by two goals or fewer.
“We can’t be worrying about the Rangers too much,” Giroux said. “I think we have to worry about what we do, how we play and how we play as a team. I think that’s what we’re looking for.”
If the Flyers are going to have any chance of knocking off the Rangers, they need goalie Steve Mason not only playing as well as he did in the heart of winter, but healthy.
Mason sat out the season finale after getting bowled over late in the second period on Saturday when Pittsburgh’s Jayson Megna failed to put on the brakes while streaking to the net. Mason won 33 games, had four shutouts and stopped 92 per cent of his shots in his first full season in Philadelphia.
Berube hoped Mason would be ready for Game 1 Thursday in New York.
“All I know is that he’s doing better,” Berube said.
Mason has played in only one career playoff series—all of four games—but the Rangers have a huge edge in net behind Henrik Lundqvist.
The Flyers caught a break Monday when forward Scott Hartnell dodged a suspension and was fined only $5,000 for spearing Carolina Hurricanes defenceman Brett Bellemore.
It was the kind of careless play that wasn’t necessary in any game, much less in Sunday’s meaningless season finale. Berube wasn’t pleased and knows the Flyers need to play smarter hockey to have any chance at beating the Rangers.
“You have to keep your emotions in check and you can’t become a loose cannon out there,” he said. “You have to play the right way. You have to be intense, but you have to be smart.”
The Flyers would love to steal at least one win at Madison Square Garden because the Rangers emerged as one of the top road teams in the league.
They led the Eastern Conference with 25 road victories and surely won’t be intimidated about playing in front of the rowdy orange-and-black faithful at the Wells Fargo Center when the series shifts next week to Philadelphia.
The Flyers lost both games this season at MSG. The Rangers have eight straight wins overall against the Flyers at the Garden.
“We’ve just got to come back to playing simple hockey, get some dirty goals and I think we’re maybe due to get a win over there,” Flyers centre Sean Couturier said. “It’s going to be an exciting playoffs and hopefully we can go get at least a couple of games over there.”
Giroux, Hartnell, Kimmo Timonen and Braydon Coburn are the only players left from the 2010 team, a gritty bunch that clinched a playoff berth on the season’s last day and rode that bid all the way to Game 6 of the Stanley Cup finals before losing to Chicago.
They can only hope they have enough talent and luck to make a similar deep run, only with a different result in the finals.
“Someone told me in November that we had a 4 per cent chance to make the playoffs,” Timonen said. “So that’s a pretty good comeback for the team.
“But if you look at our lineup and players, we really have a good lineup. I knew if we started playing as a team and everybody is doing their job, we’re a great team. That’s why I’m not really surprised we turned the page and were able to get into the playoffs.”