The way this season started, for both Timonen and the Flyers, one more run at the Stanley Cup seemed like a delusional dream.
Timonen looked every bit his age in October. He was slow. His shot seemed half as powerful. His decision-making and timing were off. His play - and the Flyers' 1-7 start - was another question atop the pile for Paul Holmgren: Six million dollars for a 38-year-old defenseman, really?
Amazingly, as he closes in on his sixth Barry Ashbee Trophy as the team's best defenseman, Timonen saved his best hockey for after the 16-day Olympic break. A best-on-best tournament that was supposed to break him and his native Finland resulted in a bronze medal and a revived belief.
Timonen made sure to point out not many believed Finland had a shot to medal in Sochi - not all that different than the Flyers' predictions in the playoffs.
"I think he's a lot like the whole team," coach Craig Berube said. "I think he's gotten better and better as the year went on. I think he was rejuvenated at the Olympics, going there. His team did well. He believes in his hockey team."
Timonen is 23rd among NHL defensemen this season in terms of quality of competition faced. He spends nearly as much time on the ice with shutdown center Sean Couturier (32 percent) as he does Claude Giroux (40 percent).
Despite all of that, since the advanced statistics began being tracked in 2011-12, Timonen has a career-high relative Corsi rating this season. In layman's terms, that means the Flyers average 6.6 percent more shots than opponents when Timonen is on the ice than when he is on the bench.
He has made up for his decline in speed, which hasn't looked out of place recently, with unrivaled positional awareness and instincts. He has been particularly adept at holding the Flyers' blue line to prevent zone entries.
"He's done a pretty good job," Berube said. "He's been a very good power-play guy for us. He's an all-situation guy, killing penalties and playing against top guys all year."
Physically, Timonen says - without disturbing the karmic hockey gods - he is no worse for wear. He might still rest one of the games this weekend, depending on where the Flyers stand for home ice.
He knows the real test - how close Timonen gets to kissing that elusive first Cup - will determine his motivation level for this summer and his profession this fall.
"I'm really happy we made the playoffs," Timonen said. "It's a great accomplishment for our team. I'm excited about this time of year. I'm excited to go to the playoffs and have a chance to compete for the Cup."
Gathered around power-play coach Joe Mullen, the Flyers' top power-play unit met during yesterday's practice at Tampa Bay Times Forum to try to figure how to make their five-on-three unit click. It is one problem area the Flyers need to fix before heading into the playoffs next week.
"It's one of those things, if you get that [opportunity] in the playoffs, you have to be able to score," Timonen said. "That's the bottom line. Special teams are going to be huge moving forward."
The Flyers blew 1:40 of two-man advantage time in Florida. It was their third such opportunity in the last seven games. They are now 2-for-15 (13 percent) in 12:30 of five-on-three advantages, 25th in the NHL.
It doesn't make a whole lot of sense, considering the Flyers' five-on-four unit - on which it is theoretically harder to score - has the third-most goals (53) in the league.
The main difference between the two units is that Vinny Lecavalier replaces Jake Voracek. Lecavalier scored 3 seconds into a five-on-three against Toronto on March 28 - which came off a faceoff. Berube said Voracek returned to his normal spot in practice yesterday with that unit - but that he originally had Lecavalier for his one-time capability.
"We've got to get more shots," Berube said. "On five-on-threes, you tend to pass too much, get too fancy, and nothing happens. It's about doing things quickly and getting the puck to the net, rebounds and being there. That's how you usually score. It's a little bit more urgency, executing better."
Craig Berube said he wasn't sure on his starting goalie tonight, but don't be surprised to see Ray Emery in net vs. Tampa Bay. Emery's average opponents' points percentage since March 24 is .658, compared to just .519 for Steve Mason . . . The Flyers will oppose Lightning backup Anders Lindback (6-12-2, .884 save percentage, 3.11 goals-against average). Tampa Bay isn't sure whether starter Ben Bishop (left shoulder / wrist injury) will be ready to return for Round 1 . . . Nick Grossmann (ankle), Andrew MacDonald (ankle) and Adam Hall (finger) did not practice yesterday but will play tonight . . . Berube said Mason and Emery will split this weekend's back-to-back games.
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