By ANDREW PORTER
December and January, a Flyers loss was a rare thing. In fact, in those two months combined, the Flyers tallied 18 wins, and only 7 losses. That success, coupled with the injuries to Penguin star players like Crosby and Malkin, the Flyers seemed poised for an Atlantic division title. In fact, it almost felt like the Flyers would coast their way to the number one overall seed in the eastern conference. But how quickly things have changed.
In 20 games since February 26th, the Flyers have six, count ‘em, six wins. In the middle of that horrid stretch the Flyers dealt with a bunch of injuries, but none tougher than the loss of their defensive leader, Chris Pronger, who had surgery on his hand and hasn’t played since March 14th. Since Pronger’s injury, the power play has been all but powerful, and as a team, the same team that has 7 players with 20 goals, and 10 players with 10 goals, is reeling right now. The Flyers are currently in the midst of a frustrating, horrid, and unpredictable, 5 game losing streak. A streak that has the team in the funk and the fans in a frenzy.
If the Flyers plan on winning the Atlantic division (Washington already clinched the 1st seed in the conference), that 5 game losing streak must end tonight.
The Flyers are currently tied with the intrastate and division rival, Penguins, with 104 points a piece, each team with one game remaining on the schedule. Good news for the Flyers is that they control their own destiny, because they hold the tie breaker, having more regulation wins than Pittsburgh. The Flyers end their season tonight in Philly against the Islanders, a team that the Flyers are 5-0 against this season. The Penguins, who are on a three game winning streak, end their season Sunday afternoon in Atlanta.
The Atlantic division winner would earn the #2 seed in the eastern conference, avoiding the #4 seed, and a first round match up with the Tampa Bay Lightning, a team that has given the Flyers fits this season. The Flyers would much rather see a team like the Sabres or Canadiens in the first round, rather than the Lightning. Or at least, I would.
Under Peter Laviolette, the Flyers seem to excel in these must win kind of situations. Countless examples were made last season, from the last regular season win against the rangers, to back-to-back-to-back-to-back wins facing elimination during the Bruins series that we will never forget. Resiliency, if nothing else, is the identity of this team.
In the past two years, this city has feel in love with these guys, with this team. Guys with heart that Philadelphia fans yearn for, like Ian Laperriere, taking a puck to his face last season. Journey men, who found themselves fighting for playing time, like Brian Boucher, who is now loved in this city for what he too, did last season.
Guys with the ultimate hockey grit, like our captain Mike Richards, who we love for the same exact reasons we loved Clarkie. Young guys, with tremendous skill and speed, like Giroux, Leino, and JVR, who we just sit back and watch in awe. And the non-Pronger defenseman, that only the most knowledgeable Flyers fan truly understands their importa! nce to this team, like Timonen, Carle, Cobourn, and now Meszaros and O’Donnell.
Yes, this team is struggling. And yes, a Stanley Cup Championship seemed much more likely and feasible in January than it does now. But this team is good. This team is really good. And even more importantly than that, this team is resilient. This team has seen adversary before, and quite frankly, they are staring it directly in the face again. If the past tells us anything about this team, this coach, adversary has no chance.