Greenberg: This one was earned
Flyers columnist looks at how this Flyers team truly earned their playoff berth
The Flyers made the playoffs the hard way, harder even than the 2009-10 team, which needed a shootout in Game 82 to squeak through. Exciting as that was, it is easy to forget that club won only five of its last 13 games and almost blew it.
Indeed, those 2009-10 Flyers didn’t finish like these Flyers are finishing and, having been 13-11-1 when they made a coaching change from John Stevens to Peter Laviolette, didn’t have to come as far, either.
In fact, this year’s team rebounded even more impressively than the 2007-08 Flyers, who grandly turned the 56-point 2006-07 disaster into a playoff spot the very next year, clinching in the next-to-last game.
That 2007-08 club rebounded from a 10-game losing streak in February and March to win seven of its last nine, pretty good. But it still started the season 6-1.
The 2013-14 Flyers, who began 1-7, could not afford any 10-game losing streak, not in facing 20 playoff teams (as of the standings today) in the last 29 games.After that 6-1 debacle to Boston on January 25 at the Wells Fargo Center left the Flyers on the outside of both the top three spots in the Metropolitan Division and the wild card, they were facing a schedule of Pittsburgh three times, plus St. Louis, Los Angeles, San Jose, Boston and the Rangers each twice. And Craig Berube’s team still has qualified for the post-season with three games to spare.
They skated the gauntlet, did the Flyers, earning at least one point this season against every current 100-point team but Anaheim. They got 18 points out of a possible 34 against these heavyweights, 16 since the beginning of February.
The Flyers did it with extremely reliable goaltending – was there a game this year they lost by one on a clunker goal? – with four lines made up seven 20-goal scorers, with steadfast belief coming out of both Captain Claude Giroux’s mouth and his stick, that they were not that team they appeared to be in October.
The Flyers bounced back with 12 of the regulars with which they missed the playoffs a year ago, with a new system they had to learn without benefit of a training camp, during a compressed schedule that extremely limited their practice days. This was one superior coaching job by a guy running an NHL team for the first time, bringing together a defense that most personnel evaluators around the league didn’t think was good enough to anchor a playoff team.
With better support from a more structured system, Braydon Coburn bounced back from a bad 2013, Kimmo Timonen and Mark Streit from slow starts, and Nick Grossmann, the team’s best player in October, from a sub-par January. When at the trade deadline, the Flyers gave Luke Schenn a smart partner in Andrew MacDonald, Schenn became better than a third-pair defenseman and the Flyers play in their own end made a big jump.
The players played like they enjoyed each other’s company, bounced back uncannily from the worst of routs and honored a franchise than now has made the post-season more times in the last 22 years than any team but Detroit.
The best compliment you can give an organization is that you assume it will be in the playoffs. It wasn’t much of an accomplishment when the Flyers began life in an NHL where eight of 12 teams would get in.
And not even worth a thought as Philadelphia was winning two Stanley Cups and reaching seven semifinals in eight years as part of a league where 12-of-18, then later, 16-of-21 clubs would qualify.
It was hugely embarrassing to fall short then. But 14 teams out of 30 are left out now, and last year the Flyers were one of them, so there will be 19,541 at Game One or Game Three next week taking the time to smell the roses, as they should.
The first Flyers team in 1967-68 had to play their last seven games on the road after wind damaged the Spectrum roof and won a division made up of all the newbies. But they beat only one established team – twice Toronto, a non-playoff qualifier that year -- during a 5-7-1 stretch drive.
This year the Flyers had to continue to believe that, despite strong early evidence to the contrary, they could play with the best. And they did. Their 37th playoff spot in 46 seasons was the most difficult and satisfying in franchise history.
You can reach Jay Greenberg at email@example.com