Loose, confident, and defying the odds The team is on a roll and finally playing up to its slogan.

Posted: April 25, 2010

Admit it. You didn't see this coming. You didn't, in your wildest dreams, think the Flyers would dispose of the Devils in five playoff games.

I didn't.

Not after the Flyers lost their top two goalies to injuries earlier this season.

Not after they had a monthlong stumble after the Olympic break.

Not after an erratic regular season, one that ended in a shoot-out that determined whether they would reach the playoffs.

But, to their credit, here they are. Getting ready to play in the Eastern Conference semifinals. Getting ready to show they can replace guys who combined for 50 regular-season goals (get well soon, Jeff Carter and Simon Gagne) with two guys who combined for eight goals (welcome aboard, Ville Leino and David Laliberte). Getting ready to shock the hockey world and win their first Stanley Cup since 1975.

OK, maybe their Cup dreams are a little outlandish. Maybe you can't win a Cup with a journeyman goalie who is your third option, and with two left wingers (Scott Hartnell and James van Riemsdyk) who have combined for six goals in their last 78 games.

Don't tell that to this team. They are confident and they are oblivious to the naysayers.

Good for them.

Outsiders call the foot injuries that have sidelined Carter and Gagne devastating. The Flyers snicker. They point out that they can withstand the injuries because they don't rely on one or two scorers, that their success revolves around the team concept.

That theory may have been laughable in the roller-coaster ride of a regular season. Not now. Not after all four lines and all three defensive pairings contributed mightily in the rout of New Jersey.

That theory also would have been laughable when Brian Boucher looked as if he was nearing the end of his career as he allowed nearly four goals a game during a late-season, seven-game stretch.

Boucher, naturally, has turned into the second coming of Bernie Parent in the last 10 games, including five in the playoffs. Did we mention that he entered the weekend with the best goals-against average (1.59) and the second-best save percentage (.940) among goalies in this year's playoffs?

Boucher's early playoff run brings to mind the unexpected spurt by Cam Ward, the unsung goalie who carried Carolina - yes, a team coached by Peter Laviolette - to the 2006 Stanley Cup.

Ward had a lousy regular season (3.68 GAA, .882 save percentage) that year and was brilliant in the playoffs (2.14 GAA, .920 save percentage).

Likewise, Boucher did not have good regular-season numbers this year: a 9-18-3 record with a 2.76 goals-against average and an .899 save percentage. In his last 10 games, however, his reflexes have suddenly, inexplicably, returned.

He is the third goalie to perform admirably for the Flyers this season.

Ray Emery was good (16-11-1, 2.64 GAA) before suffering a season-ending hip injury. Michael Leighton, a retread who was plucked off the waiver wire in December, was very good (16-5-2, 2.48 GAA) as he rescued the Flyers' season before being sidelined by a high ankle sprain. He could return in this series.

The common thread among the three goalies? Goalie coach Jeff Reese, who quietly helped each regain his footing.

Reese prepared Boucher for his most important saves of the season - two shoot-out stops in the last game of the regular season. If the Flyers didn't beat the Rangers in that April 10 shoot-out, they would not have qualified for the playoffs.

Claude Giroux also credited Reese for giving him advice before depositing the Flyers' biggest goal of the season - the shoot-out score that went five-hole against Henrik Lundqvist - in that 2-1 win.

It was one of three "must" victories the Flyers registered in their last four regular-season games. The seventh-seeded Flyers carried the momentum into the opening round against second-seeded New Jersey.

"We've been in playoff mode for a long time," Laviolette said the other day, "and it prepared us for this."

It did, but it's difficult to tell what was more important to their dismantling of the Devils. Some point to the carryover of their late-season mini-charge.

Something else may be more telling. Since that win over the Rangers, the Flyers are much looser in the locker room, much more confident on the ice. By sneaking into the playoffs, a weight was lifted, and they seem united in their cause.

Led by the fearless winger Ian Laperriere, they are putting their bodies on the line for each other - they had an 85-56 edge in blocked shots against the disinterested Devils in the quarterfinals - and they are playing up to their "Relentless" slogan.

The slogan took some verbal shots (I'm guilty) during the season. This was a team, after all, that was inconsistent from week to week. Heck, sometimes from period to period.

But that's in the past. The regular season, the Flyers are showing, was just a dress rehearsal with little meaning. The real show started 11 nights ago, and the Flyers, so far, are not blinded by the spotlight.

They're basking in it.

Contact staff writer Sam Carchidi at 215-854-5181 or scarchidi@phillynews.com.

Read Sam Carchidi's Flyers blog, Broad Street Bull, at www.philly.com/flyers and follow his reports on Twitter at www.twitter.com/broadstbull.

Blog response of the week

Subject: Bashing the Flyers.

Posted 8:51 a.m.

04/23/2010

keith7470

The Flyers deserved the bashing. They also deserve our praise for playing great team hockey. They probably won't win the next series, but that is what we thought going into this one. It gives reason to hope for the future of this team. A month ago there was little to none.

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