Ten days ago, the Philadelphia Flyers were seven points out of the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with six teams to catch. Today they’re two points out with three teams to overcome and figure to be in a dogfight for the final playoff spot until the last day of the season.
Remind you of anything? If not, think back to three years ago. The Flyers made a furious late-season charge and qualified for the playoffs on the final day of the season before going on a run all the way to the Stanley Cup final. That was the same team that trailed the Boston Bruins 3-0 in the second round before coming back to win in seven and lost the first two games to the Chicago Blackhawks in the final before extending the series to overtime in Game 6.
Flyers coach Peter Laviolette sees at least one parallel between that team and the one that is making its charge in the last quarter of this season.
“Yeah, we’re both out of the playoffs at this point,” Laviolette said. “And we’ve got a lot of work to do. I’ll leave it at that, then wait for things to unfold in the future.”
That future is likely to unfold with a roster that is going to have to scrape and grind for every point it gets in the standings. Case in point: a guy by the name of Oliver Lauridsen, a 6-foot-6 defenseman from Denmark, played almost 17 minutes in the Flyers 5-3 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs, their fourth straight win and their fifth straight game earning at least a point.
This is a team, after all, that has been without Chris Pronger all season. Now Danny Briere is out with a concussion, and also missing are Flyer regulars Braydon Coburn, Max Talbot, Andrej Meszaros, Kurtis Foster, Tye McGinn and Zac Rinaldo. And they might have lost defenseman Kimmo Timonen, who left the Toronto game in the third period and didn’t return. Laviolette would not disclose how Timonen was hurt or the extent of his injury.
But the funny thing about these Flyers is they started winning after they lost their regulars and replaced them with the likes of Erik Gustafsson, Mike Knuble, Kent Huskins and the newly acquired Adam Hall.
When you’re missing that kind of talent, it’s a given your team is going to work its tail off. The key for the Flyers will be sustaining that level of enthusiasm and work ethic for an extended period of time. Guys who come up from the minors are often good for a spark over a short period of time, but they have trouble keeping it up, which pretty much explains why they’re minor leaguers in the first place.
“I really like the way we’re playing right now,” Laviolette said. “You could just tell guys are going to go out and work hard. It’s almost contagious. Shift after shift, nobody wants to let each other down with the work ethic right now.”
The Flyers are going to need all that and more if they are to remain in the hunt for a playoff spot. It certainly helps that Sean Couturier has picked up his game and, after a slow start, Claude Giroux is back to producing a point per game. Mercurial goalie Ilya Bryzgalov, a prime candidate for one of the Flyers compliance buyouts this summer, has been providing them with goaltending good enough to win games.
“Sean has come off a couple of really big games,” Laviolette said. “That’s probably five real strong games in a row for Sean now. Now the pucks are starting to bounce for him.”
Injured defenseman Chris Pronger was on hand for the game in Toronto Thursday night. There is almost no chance Pronger will ever play again. He has good days and bad days, but looks healthy and fit.
But Pronger said he has learned that people with post-concussion syndrome can become very good at hiding their symptoms. He hasn’t even been able to do light workouts without feeling badly.
“If you look at me, you’d never know,” he said. “I go to a dinner party and people say, ‘Wow, you look great. You must be feeling better.’ How else am I supposed to look?”
Ken Campbell is the senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com with his column. To read more from Ken and THN's other stable of experts, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Ken on Twitter at @THNKenCampbell.