Will these playoffs be Timonen's last?

Kimmo Timonen has played well since the Olympic break.
Kimmo Timonen has played well since the Olympic break. (YONG KIM / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER)
Posted: April 16, 2014

Kimmo Timonen had just finished an interview with a Finnish television crew last week and was in a pensive but happy mood.

The Flyers' sturdy little defenseman was asked if it gave him more motivation to play in the Stanley Cup playoffs because he may retire after they end. "It does," he said. "But I haven't decided anything yet. I want to play these playoffs and see how I feel. I just want to put that decision behind me and focus on the games we have here."

Starting Thursday in New York, the Flyers face the Rangers in an intriguing opening-round series.

Timonen is 39 and has lost a step but is a wiser player than when he broke into the league in 1998-99. It speaks volumes about Timonen's makeup that he was able to overcome a slow start this season and win the Barry Ashbee award as the Flyers' top defenseman, an honor he has won five times, including the last three seasons.

In franchise history, only Eric Desjardins has won the award more times (seven) than Timonen.

"He has tremendous hockey sense and knows how to play at an older age," general manager Paul Holmgren said. "He's slowed down a bit, but that's where the hockey sense and smartness come into play."

Timonen and winger Scott Hartnell were acquired from Nashville in 2007, and they helped orchestrate a stunning 39-point turnaround that took the Flyers from worst in the NHL in 2006-07 to the Eastern Conference finals the next season.

Now in his 15th season, Timonen is still searching for his first Stanley Cup. The Flyers came close in 2010, losing to Chicago in overtime in Game 6 of the Finals.

"It's been a long year with the Olympics and everything," said Timonen, who helped Finland win a bronze medal in Sochi. "But at the same time, I'm really excited about the playoffs. I'm going to give my best with whatever games are left, and hopefully everything goes well and it ends up with a Stanley Cup.

"I'm really excited about our team. I'm really confident we can do well," Timonen added. "If we play as a team and do the stuff we've been doing the last few months, we're a really tough team to beat."

The Rangers, who host Game 1 on Thursday, are "obviously a really good team," said Timonen, whose team split four games with New York this season but has lost eight straight at Madison Square Garden since 2011. "No question about it, they're going to be favored. We have to be smart. We go in there, we have to play a smart road game and not turn the puck over. The last few games we've played there, we turned the puck over too many times, and they're really quick when you do that and they're going to score."

The favorite's role, Timonen said, means little in the playoffs.

"We just have to go in there with the mind-set that we have to win the first game - and move on to the next game," he said.

Timonen, who teams with Braydon Coburn on the Flyers' No. 1 pairing, had six goals, 35 points, and a plus-5 rating while averaging 20 minutes, 20 seconds per game this season - almost the same numbers he had when the Flyers went to the Cup Finals in 2010.

Holmgren was asked if he wants Timonen to return next season.

"Absolutely," he said, though it's highly probable the defenseman would take a pay cut from his $6 million salary. "We've talked a couple times during the year and put it on the shelf, and we'll talk again in a couple months. I know his family is very big in his life, and his kids are getting older and he wants to be around them more. But he loves to compete, and if he wants to come back, we'll figure it out."

Timonen, whose minutes have been reduced slightly since the acquisition of Andrew MacDonald, said he doesn't want to think about retiring because it would become a distraction.

"Once you start thinking about it, you don't think about the game as much," he said. "During the Olympics, I knew it was my last game and it was really emotional. I knew it was the last time I put the Finland jersey on. But I haven't made up my mind yet here."

If the Flyers somehow beat the odds and win their first Cup since 1975, it might make the decision easier.

"That," Timonen said, "would be a dream come true."


scarchidi@phillynews.com

@BroadStBull

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