Inside the Flyers: Will the bored Flyers wake up in time to go on a run for the Stanley Cup?

Posted: April 10, 2011

Based on my exploding e-mail inbox, there are numerous theories as to why the Flyers faded down the stretch.

Some of them:

They missed Chris Pronger's leadership, on and off the ice. After Pronger broke his right hand last month, the Flyers won just five of their next 15 games heading into Saturday night.

Acquiring Kris Versteeg disrupted the team's chemistry. Entering Saturday, the Flyers had won just 10 of 26 games (10-9-7) after getting Versteeg from Toronto in February.

Coach Peter Laviolette put too much pressure on them when he went on the radio Feb. 12 and said it was Stanley Cup or bust for his team. The Flyers headed into the weekend 10-10-7 since that proclamation.

We interrupt these theories for a different one:

The Flyers became bored.

They charged out of the gate intent on showing the hockey world that last year's trek to the Stanley Cup Finals wasn't a fluke. They accomplished that and, for a while, had the NHL's best record.

Fans began making June parade plans.

For most of the season, the Flyers used the motivation provided by that strange loss to Chicago in Game 6 of the Finals and held the top spot in the Eastern Conference.

But then human nature interrupted their Unfinished Business Tour. They became complacent and disinterested - and couldn't wait for the playoffs to arrive.

The leadership wasn't strong enough to prevent a tailspin - six wins in 20 games entering Saturday's matchup with the New York Islanders - and the Flyers tumbled out of the East's top spot.

Now the question is: How will their late-season malaise affect them when the real season begins? And just how important is it to carry momentum into the playoffs?

As they did this season, the Flyers stumbled down the stretch last year, winning just four of their last 12 games.

But an asterisk must be placed on that finish because the last game - a shootout win over the New York Rangers that enabled them to sneak into the playoffs - took the proverbial boulder off their collective shoulders.

From there, the pressure was off. They were playing with house money. What followed was their best stretch of gritty, clutch hockey in their wacky season.

A few days ago, Laviolette downplayed how a team finishes the regular season and how it affects its playoff performance. He said there are just as many cases of teams finishing strongly and flopping in the playoffs as there are for the reverse happening.

It's understandable that Laviolette feels that way. His 2006 Carolina Hurricanes struggled down the stretch, winning just nine of their final 20 games (9-8-3).

Despite that fade at the finish - they lost four of their last five games - the 'Canes captured the Stanley Cup.

Of the last 10 champions, however, only Carolina in 2006 and New Jersey in 2000 had more losses than wins in the last 20 regular-season games. Most eventual champions had dominating records in their final 20 games, headed by Pittsburgh in 2009 (15-2-3).

In case you were curious, the Flyers' two Stanley Cup champions were spectacular in their last 20 games en route to winning titles. The 1974 champs went 15-2-3 in their final 20 regular-season games, while the 1975 team went 16-2-2 - and were unbeaten in their final 14 games (12-0-2). They then won their first seven playoff games, stretching their unbeaten streak to 21.

Here are the last 10 Stanley Cup champions and how they fared in their final 20 games:

2010: Chicago - 11-6-3.

2009: Pittsburgh - 15-2-3.

2008: Detroit - 12-6-2.

2007: Anaheim - 13-3-4.

2006: Carolina - 9-8-3.

2005: Lockout - no champion.

The last two numbers represent ties and OT losses.

 2004: Tampa Bay - 13-5-1-1

2003: New Jersey: 9-4-5-2.

2002: Detroit - 8-6-4-2.

2001: Colorado - 13-4-1-2.

2000: New Jersey: 9-10-1-0.

What does all this history tell us?

That it's hard to just turn on the proverbial switch when the grueling playoffs arrive, making the Flyers a long shot to end their long Stanley Cup drought.

That said, there is reason for optimism. Based on how Laviolette's 2006 Carolina team overcame an awful finish to win the championship, the Flyers at least have the right coach to beat the odds.

They also have a team that is much stronger defensively than last year's Cup finalist. The defense - provided Pronger returns and resembles his old self - and the blossoming of young players such as Claude Giroux and James van Riemsdyk are among the reasons the Flyers are better than last season and a formidable playoff threat.

Even if they looked like Stanley Cup pretenders during the last two months.


Contact staff writer Sam Carchidi at scarchidi@phillynews.com. Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/BroadStBull.

 

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