- Craig Custance
The Philadelphia Flyers have been clicking for a while. It's been a gradual progression, but when goalie Ilya Bryzgalov started finding his game, the confidence started to rise. So did the shift in focus.
Yes, they'd like to overtake the Pittsburgh Penguins for home-ice advantage, but this group of guys is counting the days until the postseason. They know exactly what to expect, and they're excited for it.
"You hear guys say it. 'I can't wait until the playoffs start. Enough of this regular season,'" Flyers forward Matt Read said during a Monday phone conversation. "You hear that, and it gives you chills running down the back. ... The vibe in the locker room is you can't wait until the season is over and the playoffs start."
It's been a tumultuous season for the Flyers, a group that has had to deal with more issues than most. But the positive is that the biggest issues are long in the past. They lost their captain and leader, Chris Pronger, for the season to a concussion back in November. It was a devastating loss, but the Flyers have learned to win without him. And GM Paul Holmgren was able to fortify the defense at the trade deadline. Had Pronger's injury occurred in March, it might have been emotionally crushing heading into the postseason.
Bryzgalov has survived the humongous adjustment of playing in Phoenix to playing in Philadelphia, where every allowed goal and comment is analyzed to exhaustion. He has a chip fracture in his right foot, but the injury is not expected to cut into his playoff playing time. Even if it does, Sergei Bobrovsky has proved more than capable of winning games for the Flyers during the stretch run.
Things are lining up for the rebuilt Flyers at just the right time, making their projected first-round matchup against the Penguins the most compelling of the playoffs.
"Every game has been close; both teams are offensive and have good goaltending. It's going to be one of those times where the team that makes the fewest mistakes is going to win the series," Read said. "It's going to be a war every game."