Sam Donnellon: This is when NHL teams' resilience is tested

Posted: April 27, 2012

RESILIENCE: The word bounces around this time of the year as if it were, well, a puck. Survivors of this brutal game of hockey knockout invariably mention it as crucial to their success, the implication being that the team headed to the golf course lacked it, or at least enough of it.

But resilience is in the eye of the beholder. The Boston Bruins reached a seventh-game overtime in their surprisingly grueling first-round ouster by Washington. We know Patrice Bergeron was playing with a bad shoulder, leg and who knows what else, and it was clear that Zdeno Chara was not the same guy from the spring before. Tim Thomas was good but human, but the Bruins did not go meekly into the night, Dennis Seidenberg forcing that seventh game into overtime with a sprawling stickless kick save as Alex Ovechkin shot at the wide-open side of a net.

So did the Bruins pass or fail the resilience test? Certainly they performed better than their Cup finals foes from a year ago, the Vancouver Canucks, who fell to eighth-seeded Los Angeles in five games. Did the Bruins lack resilience 2 years ago when they frittered away a 3-0 series lead against the Flyers? Or did a slew of injuries incurred during their grueling previous six-game series against Buffalo simply catch up to them?

"We were in every one of those games," Mark Recchi, a Bruin in 2010, said recently. "But we kept losing centermen."

So far this postseason has laid out nicely for the Flyers. While the three other series went to seven games, while stars like Ottawa's Daniel Alfredsson and Brian Boyle got knocked out - literally - the Flyers have brand-name players such as James van Riemsdyk and Nicklas Grossmann returning to their lineup, and a full week to mend the slew of undisclosed injuries that Danny Briere mentioned after Sunday's ouster of the Penguins.

Thursday, for example, was Briere's first day back on the ice since Sunday. Sean Couturier has a full week to completely recover from James Neal's Game 3 cheap shot. Another week for Ilya Bryzgalov's foot to heal.

As for a loss of momentum, the Flyers seem mostly unconcerned and perhaps for good reason. In defeating Pittsburgh in six games, they overcame even worse slow starts than those that defined the latter part of their season.

"To me, resilience is when you go down in the first period and you never quit," Briere said after practice Thursday. "That's something we've done all year. Sticking around. Finding ways, even when teams think they have you down and out."

Yes, but it was a poisonous formula when it came to playing the Rangers this season. Resilience also means curing ills as you progress, making weaknesses strengths. After a 10-3 beatdown from the Pens in their own building in Game 4, the Flyers scored the first goal in Game 5 and the first three goals of Game 6 - and answered almost immediately when Pittsburgh finally put one in the net.

"It kind of evolved," Wayne Simmonds said. "You could kind of see how we started playing better at the start of the games."

Still, said Simmonds, the Flyers have spent more time this week going over their end-zone coverages than they could afford to do before the last series started. Another nice byproduct of the long layoff. Two years ago, when the Flyers reached the finals, they dispatched New Jersey in five games before facing Boston.

Had they suffered the casualties the Bruins did, perhaps they would not have possessed enough "jam" to come back.

"Playoffs are one big jumble of tests," Braydon Coburn said. "A magnitude of tests. And you have to try to persevere through all those things. There's going to be ups and there's going to be downs. You just have to keep going. That's really the key. That's resilience. No matter what happens. There's going to be injuries, there's going to be things that go against you, that seem unfair. But for us as a team, and as individuals, you've got to just push forward."

They have done that since losing their captain, Chris Pronger, early this season. It is the mark of Peter Laviolette's most successful teams. On their way to the Stanley Cup in 2006, Lavy's Carolina Hurricanes lost nine playoff games, a record the Bruins tied last year. They survived a seven-game conference finals against Briere's Sabres.

"We won Game 6 to send it to Game 7 when nobody gave us a chance," Briere said. "So both teams were resilient in that series."

In the finals, Carolina saw a 3-1 lead in games over Edmonton evaporate, forcing a Game 7. After scoring 294 goals in the regular season, the 'Canes could not score a goal over a 95-minute span extending from the end of Game 5 to the start of Game 7.

They won Game 7, 3-1.

Was it resilience?

Or coaching?

"We're down three in the third, we're still going to score four," Rod Brind'Amour, the 'Canes captain, said recently. "It's that kind of confidence Peter instills. Even if you're down three or four, he believes you can come back. And the players believe that, too."

Said Simmonds, "It's all about believing you can do something. But you have to have done it. I think we did that in the first round and that's going to be big. This team already knows it can turn a negative into a positive as long as we keep working."


Contact Sam Donnellon at donnels@phillynews.com.

For recent columns, go to

www.philly.com/SamDonnellon.

 

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