Phil Sheridan: Now we'll see what these Flyers are made of

Posted: May 05, 2012

NEWARK, N.J. - Now we'll find out.

During their wild and wacky romp through the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round, it was fun and easy to be the Flyers. They jumped out to a two-games-to-none lead with a couple of thrill-ride comebacks in Pittsburgh, then took a 3-0 series lead with a blowout win at home.

The Penguins won two games to give the Flyers a little taste of anxiety, but they closed the series out in Game 6 without feeling any real pressure.

Now? After squandering two power plays in overtime and losing Game 3 to the New Jersey Devils Thursday night, the Flyers are feeling some pressure.

Now we'll find out.

The transition from the Mike Richards-captained, Jeff Carter-centric team of recent years was looking pretty smooth there. Now we'll see who the real leaders are, and whether they can effectively rally the youngsters and recapture the momentum in this series.

In choosing not to stick Chris Pronger's unused "C" on anyone's sweater, coach Peter Laviolette has banked on a committee of leaders. The guys wearing the "A" are veterans Danny Briere and Kimmo Timonen, along with budding superstar Claude Giroux. It's a good mix. But maybe you need a captain, a designated leader, at a time like this.

We'll find out.

After the game, Briere ripped into the team's effort on the power play, especially in overtime. You just don't get four minutes of man-advantage in playoff overtimes. The Flyers did, and the Devils were more aggressive and more committed to killing the penalties than the Flyers were to converting them.

That is not a good thing.

"The power plays cost us the game tonight," Briere said. "I was trying to protect it the first two games, saying good things were going to happen. The last two games, the overall effort on the power play just was not good enough. It seems like we just think they're going to let us do whatever we want."

Those are harsh words, meant to send a message to the rest of the locker room. Briere included himself in his criticism, by the way, even though he did pounce on a rebound to score the goal that sent the game into OT.

Giroux went the other way. He was the guy in Pittsburgh who declared that the pressure was on the Flyers to win Game 6 because "I like pressure." Then he delivered a stellar performance to make sure he backed up his confident words.

Giroux has not been nearly the same player in this series. There is one school of thought that he has an undisclosed injury, which is as common as dentures in the NHL. The other possibility is that New Jersey simply has found a way to neutralize him and his line.

We'll find out.

After Game 3, Giroux sounded a stoic note. Apprised of Briere's comments, he simply acknowledged that the power play hadn't been good enough. Asked about his own series so far, he gritted his teeth.

"I know I got to step it up," Giroux said. "I have to be a better player. I'm aware of that. I have to find a way."

So these Flyers face the first must-win game of their postseason. Sure, it would have been very tough to lose Game 6 against Pittsburgh, but they would have had one more game, in an arena where they'd had plenty of success. Lose Sunday and they fall behind 3-1. The Devils have three chances to win one. It is not where this team expected to find itself.

This will be a test of the leadership in the locker room, but also the one clearly designated leader. Laviolette rallied a team from an 0-3 deficit against Boston two years ago. This is a speed bump compared to that.

It was not a good sign, though, that Laviolette's thorough shuffling of his lines didn't really pay off as he'd hoped.

"Just trying to loosen things up a little bit 5-on-5," Laviolette said.

Players can go either way when lines are changed. They can struggle to find a rhythm with unfamiliar mates, or they can be energized. Laviolette was betting on the latter. The results were muted, at best. The main factor is that playing that card in a 1-1 series leaves Laviolette with one less move in his deck.

What the Flyers really need is their swagger. They created it with those two crazy comebacks in Pittsburgh and it carried them past one of the teams favored to win the Stanley Cup. It disappeared sometime during that wretched Game 2 performance Tuesday.

Can they get it back? Can Briere's prodding or Giroux's quiet resolve or Laviolette's motivational techniques bring it back? Does this team have the right stuff after all?

Now we'll find out.


Contact Phil Sheridan at 215-854-2844, psheridan@phillynews.com, or on Twitter @Sheridanscribe. Read his blog, "Philabuster," at www.philly.com/philabuster. Read his columns at www.philly.com/philsheridan

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