Flyers starting with clean slate

RON CORTES / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Claude Giroux has a nice trip, courtesy of the Hurricanes' Justin Faulk.
RON CORTES / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Claude Giroux has a nice trip, courtesy of the Hurricanes' Justin Faulk.
Posted: April 15, 2014

IT BEGAN with a three-game skid so stale, so uninspiring that Peter Laviolette's head rolled just 6 days into a 195-day slog.

From there, with Craig Berube installed, it got worse before it could get better. An ugly 0-3 became 1-7 before it turned into 4-10-1.

The Flyers failed to net more than two goals in 14 of their first 15 games. Claude Giroux did not score once in his first 15 contests - before roasting an Edmonton team with a game-winner the day after the Oilers signed free-agent castoff Ilya Bryzgalov.

The date was Nov. 9, 2013. They could have packed it in by then.

"Somebody told me that on Nov. 7, we had a 4 percent chance to make the playoffs," Kimmo Timonen said. "So, that's a pretty good comeback for the team. We started the season really bad. I thought, if you look at our players, we have a really good lineup. I knew if we started playing as a team, we'd be a good team. That's why I'm not really surprised."

Along the way, there were 11 exhilarating third-period comeback triumphs, a five-game streak over the NHL's best competition, 45 fights, one highlight-reel backhand goal from Giroux, career highs (Wayne Simmonds, Steve Mason), career lows (Steve Downie), two trades, one suspension and even a few fears in the final 2 weeks of the season that it might all be for naught.

"The whole locker room stuck together," Jake Voracek said, "no matter what happened on or off the ice."

The Flyers' regular season ended yesterday at 5:46 p.m. with an utterly inconsequential, 6-5 shootout loss to a Carolina Hurricanes team that has not played a meaningful game this late in the season since 2009. It was never boring.

But there will be no Game 83 for the Flyers this spring.

No, the pints of blood, yards of sutures and countless stops and starts were not in vain. It's just that Game 1 of a new season will begin on Thursday night at Madison Square Garden against the Rangers - the first postseason meeting between the storied rivals since 1997.

The Flyers' roller-coaster campaign, which has had the haze of malaise hanging over its head since training camp in Lake Placid, is over.

"Everyone has a clean slate," Scott Hartnell said. "I think if you asked every guy, I think everyone is really excited how we've come together as a team - especially from our terrible start. Chief [Berube] has got us playing like a team. I think that's the biggest thing we've got going for us. I think when we're going as a team, we're a hard team to beat."

The Flyers have always had question marks - whether in makeup, in net or in leadership. It has been a strange year, to say the least. Somehow, the Flyers went from being the butt of jokes in October, to a playoff dark horses in March, to a team no one can quite handicap for the Stanley Cup playoffs.

As Timonen duly noted, the Flyers will not be installed as a favorite against the Rangers; they have lost eight straight games at the Garden.

"The Penguins were favorites when we beat them in 2012," Voracek reminded. "It's going to be an emotional series. It's going to be loud, it's going to be exciting. I think we are due to win there - it will be a good time to win there."

That they are not favorites does not faze the Flyers. A No. 1 seed has never been safe in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

"It doesn't really matter in the playoffs," Timonen said. "We have to go in there with the mindset that we have to win that first game. Everyone has to be on board. It's a team game. The team who plays well together wins the Stanley Cup. I'm really excited about our team. I'm really confident that we can do well, if we play as a team and do the stuff we've been doing the last 2 months."

Since Nov. 7, the Flyers finished their season at a 38-20-9 clip - equivalent to a 104-point pace over a full, 82-game season. That war to qualify for the playoffs now has the Flyers heading into this new season as a different, still-imperfect team. Their scars can serve as a prompt on their path to an immortal season.

"We can play with everyone. Look at how we played Boston, how we played St. Louis," Voracek said. "The only thing we have to worry about is us - the way we're going to play, the way we're going to handle the pressure. If we're going to play the way we can, there's not many teams who can beat us."

Slap shots

Seven Flyers scored perfect attendance this season: Braydon Coburn, Mark Streit, Jake Voracek, Brayden Schenn, Sean Couturier, Wayne Simmonds and Claude Giroux . . . Andrew MacDonald, Nick Grossmann and Michael Raffl rested . . . Steve Downie was a healthy scratch for the sixth time in eight games to close the season . . . Zac Rinaldo served the final game of his four-game suspension . . . For what it's worth, the sixth-seeded Flyers would have opened the playoffs in Tampa Bay under the old NHL playoff format. They haven't won at Tampa Bay Times Forum since 2011, either ... One thing to watch this week: if Peter Laviolette can find a new job once the NHL coaching carousel starts to spin. Keep an eye on Nashville.


On Twitter: @DNFlyers

Blog: ph.ly/FrequentFlyers

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