VOORHEES, N.J. – Jeff Carter walks by a framed photo of the Philadelphia Flyers’ 1975 championship parade every day before practice.
It’s a black-and-white snapshot of an era when two million fans packed the streets to celebrate the second of Philadelphia’s back-to-back Stanley Cup championships. But the picture is a melancholy reminder that their “Broad Street Bullies” heyday as the dominant team in the NHL was 35 years ago.
Carter and the rest of the Eastern Conference champion Flyers hope to add a little colour with a new picture on the walls at their practice rink—and a championship banner raised high above home ice.
“It’s something that you kind of throw in the back of your mind that it’s something to work toward, for sure,” Carter said.
The Flyers are four wins away from being the guests of honour at another downtown parade. The Flyers took Tuesday off but used it to reflect on a stunning post-season run that has them in the Stanley Cup finals for the first time in 13 years. It’s no surprise they expect to beat the Chicago Blackhawks when the Stanley Cup finals open Saturday in Chicago.
Their run has been as exciting as any in team history: From a shootout win in the regular-season finale to clinch the seventh seed, to beating New Jersey and all-time wins leader Martin Brodeur, a colossal comeback from a 3-0 series deficit to stun Boston, and eliminating the just-as-surprising Montreal Canadiens to reach the finals.
“We’re a team that’s built for the big games,” forward Danny Briere said.
Briere is near the top of a list of Flyers veterans who wondered if they’d ever get their chance at hoisting the Cup.
Briere lost in three straight Eastern Conference finals (two with Buffalo, once with Philly) over a 13-year career. Ian Laperriere was 0 for 17 years. Kimmo Timonen was a captain and an all-star in eight years with Nashville without ever playing in the finals, then was traded to the Flyers in 2007.
“Every summer you think, is this going to be my year,” Timonen said. “Is it ever going to be? Twelve years is a long time. This might be my only chance, so I’m looking forward to it.”
Simon Gagne, only 30, is considered an old-timer in the Flyers’ locker room. He intends to seek out young players like 22-year-old Claude Giroux and 21-year-old James van Reimsdyk and pass along some advice:
Don’t waste this opportunity or take the finals for granted because it may not come around again.
Gagne knows better than most, playing on a Flyers team that squandered a 3-1 Eastern Conference finals lead to New Jersey in 2000.
“When I was 19, I didn’t really think about it,” Gagne said. “Who knows, it might be the only chance for those guys, too.”
Gagne has been around Philadelphia long enough to understand how much Flyers fans love and appreciate their favourite teams from the past. Gagne was part of three Flyers’ losses in the conference finals (2000, 2004, 2008) and a member of the worst team in Flyers history in 2006-07. They set team records for most losses (22-48-12) and fewest points (56).
Look at the orange-and-black now.
Orange-and-black-and blue has been more appropriate in this post-season.
Gagne returned from a broken toe to win Game 4 with an overtime goal against Boston. Carter scored two goals in Monday’s Game 5 clincher against Montreal—after breaking his right foot last month. Ian Laperriere was thought out for the post-season with a brain contusion and mild concussion after he was hit by a puck blocking a shot.
When the Flyers lost goalie Brian Boucher in the semifinals with a sprained MCL in his left knee, Michael Leighton filled in with three shutouts against Montreal.
“When everything was on the line, we seemed to be able to get the best out of everybody,” Briere said. “It’s hard to explain, I don’t know why it’s like that. I wish we could play the same way for 82 games and every single game in the playoffs, but we all know that’s impossible.”
On the morning of April 11, the Flyers seemed headed toward an early vacation. It wasn’t until Boucher stopped New York Rangers forward Olli Jokinen in the final round of the shootout that the Flyers earned a place in the post-season.
“Game 82 was probably the most pressure-filled game of the season so far,” coach Peter Laviolette said.
Yes, that included Games 4-7 against Boston when a loss would have ended their season.
It’s been a team effort to get this far, and it needs to continue if the Flyers hope to have Lord Stanley’s Cup in their hands.
“I can’t imagine how the big trophy feels,” Laperriere said.