PHILADELPHIA – First, Philadelphia was compared to those old Broad Street Bullies. Now, the Flyers are fighting the idea they can’t beat the Penguins.
“We like a little bit of adversity,” said centre Danny Briere. “It makes us play well.”
The Flyers have some again as the underdogs in the Eastern Conference finals against Pittsburgh. After all, the No. 2 seed Penguins have Evgeni Malkin, Marian Hossa, Sidney Crosby and the home-ice advantage. They needed all of nine games to advance out of the first two rounds – one more than the minimum.
If the Penguins need a reminder of how little regular season totals and nifty stats meant against Philadelphia so far in the playoffs, they should ask Washington and Montreal.
Alex Ovechkin won the scoring title. Montreal was tops in the Eastern Conference.
Big reasons why Ovechkin and Washington, and then the Canadiens, were favoured against the Flyers. All those regular season accolades were nice, yet the fantastic feats meant little against Philadelphia in the playoffs.
The Caps quickly trailed 3-1 before they were bounced in the first round and the sixth-seeded Flyers needed only five games to eliminate Montreal.
The top seeds are 0-for-2 so far against the Flyers. Does anyone in Philly’s locker room hear 0-for-3?
“We did it for two rounds,” Briere said. “We’re not going to stop now.”
Ed Snider, the Flyers’ patriarch and chairman, made a rare visit to the team’s practice facility in Voorhees, N.J. on Monday to congratulate each player for advancing to the conference finals. He wasn’t surprised the Flyers have come this far a year after posting the worst record in the NHL because every game down the stretch for the franchise was like a mini Game 7. A mid-season slump briefly knocked the Flyers out of the top eight in the post-season standings and they didn’t qualify until the penultimate game of the season.
“We’ve been in the playoffs now longer than you would normally think because of what we had to go through to get in,” Snider said. “Every game was a must-win game toward the end of the season. That’s when these guys came together and did it.”
Maybe that “win-or-else” mode got Philadelphia ready for the playoffs, but the Caps didn’t exactly slink into the post-season. They closed on a seven-game winning streak and had victories in 11 of their last 12 games.
Plus, they had Ovechkin, the likely MVP.
Before the Caps knew it, the Flyers went up 3-1. Three games later, Washington was sent packing.
Montreal needed seven games to beat Boston in the first round, then won Game 1 against Philadelphia before its season was ended with losses in the next four games.
Not bad for a Flyers team expected to be out of the post-season by now.
“It’s still the same way for us,” Briere said. “Even after Montreal won, we saw some quotes and some players felt it should have been 4-1 for them. I was a little disappointed with some of the quotes that I saw. You win in five games and, at some point, I’m sure you have to do something well.”
Briere’s been a crucial player as any for the Flyers. He has eight goals and a team-high 14 points; R.J Umberger scored eight goals against Montreal; and goalie Martin Biron has played stellar games in each series.
Top defenceman Kimmo Timonen shut down Ovechkin and paired with Braydon Coburn to silence Montreal. Now they have to try do it again against Crosby and Malkin, who both have a comparable skill set to Ovechkin.
“I think that Malkin right now is the best player out of those three,” Timonen said. “Ovechkin is a little different player than Crosby and Malkin. I think Ovechkin is more a goal scorer than playmaker and these two guys are playmakers and can obviously score, too. They are really skilled and really good playmakers. Out of those two guys, I think Malkin has a little bit of the edge right now.”
The Penguins have the edge, too, and that’s fine with the Flyers. They’re used to their role by now.
“We believe we can move on to the next round,” Briere said. “That’s all I want to think about now.”