Commentary

Flyers need another batch of magic

Updated: May 8, 2012, 12:36 PM ET
By Scott Burnside | ESPN.com

VOORHEES, N.J. -- Two years ago, the Philadelphia Flyers stunned the Boston Bruins and the entire sporting world by erasing a 3-0 series deficit en route to a berth in the 2010 Stanley Cup finals.

Two years later, the Flyers confront a 3-1 series deficit against a New Jersey Devils team that has proven to be a formidable opponent.

So the question is posed: Does that Boston series represent a talisman that will guide the Flyers through the darkness of this series, or is it merely a fairytale, a fond memory and nothing more?

Certainly for those Flyers that were part of the 2010 comeback, which included an overtime win in Game 4, there is comfort in that experience. It is something to gather warmth from as they face this current predicament, a predicament compounded by Monday's announcement that leading playoff scorer Claude Giroux would be banished from Game 5 after targeting the head of Devils forward Dainius Zubrus late in the second period of Game 4.

"That time I remember it was belief. We believed we can beat these guys that time," defenseman Kimmo Timonen said of that magical series against the Bruins.

"We just focused game by game. Don't think about what happens if we lose this game or win this game, just focus on tomorrow and believe we can win."

After breezing through Pittsburgh in six games in the first round and averaging five goals a game, the Flyers have been stymied by a Devils team that has forechecked relentlessly and received stellar performances from top players such as Zach Parise, Ilya Kovalchuk, Patrik Elias, Adam Henrique and Marek Zidlicky.

"We can be a better team than we [have] been the last three games," Timonen added.

Well, they could hardly be worse.

The Flyers have gone nine straight regulation time periods without registering more than 10 shots on goal. In Game 4, they were outshot 43-22 as the Devils have controlled offensive zone puck possession time and disrupted the Flyers' breakout patterns.

On Monday, coach Peter Laviolette elected not to have the team practice, so players met, went over video and discussed their three-game slide. Some players ended up on the ice briefly but it was nothing structured.

"I'm not going to say what we talked about, but in general, basically, we have to believe in ourselves. There's a lot of guys who were here a couple of years ago and have seen us come back," offered Daniel Briere, who was also part of the comeback against the Bruins.

"Obviously, it's not going to be easy and it's not going to happen out of the blue. A lot of things we need to fix. The first step toward that is believing in ourselves and believing we can do it before we start our way to recovery."

Always candid, the NHL's leading playoff goal scorer said he thinks the Flyers will be mentally prepared to face the challenge.

"Obviously, when we walked in everybody had a lot of questions," Briere said. "But after the meeting, I sensed guys were upbeat. We've been in tough positions before. I have the sense guys were starting to get alive and starting to believe they can do this."

Although the Boston series is a familiar, even comforting reference point for the Flyers, Laviolette noted that the Flyers are a vastly different team and the connection to that series has to be put into perspective.

For a lot of guys, "it's hearsay," Laviolette said.

"It's a story from a different team and a different day. Our group's got to take a stand tomorrow night and fight for something. That's the history of the Stanley Cup. Not many teams go 16-0 in the playoffs. There's always a story, always a fight, there's always something to overcome and this is our crack."

And that's what makes Game 5 and the possibility of more games in this series so fascinating for the Flyers.

The Devils have put themselves in position to write their own dramatic Stanley Cup tale. They survived a Game 7 that went to overtime in the first round against Florida after winning Game 6 in extra time as well. They now have the Flyers backed against the wall and have served notice that they are as good a team as there is in the Eastern Conference right now.

The Flyers?

In the past two games, they have squandered two fine performances from netminder Ilya Bryzgalov. And if there is optimism for the Flyers, it's that they aren't in this situation because their goaltending has let them down.

Small consolation but it's something.

Game 5 will also present a chance for the Flyers' young stars to reassert themselves.

Brayden Schenn, Sean Couturier (who played in Game 4 after suffering a leg injury in Game 3), Matt Read, Erik Gustafsson and Eric Wellwood were critical elements to the Flyers' decisive first-round victory over the Penguins. In this round, they seem to have hit a wall.

And now they will face their first NHL elimination contest on Tuesday, something Laviolette addressed with his team.

"There were a lot of things addressed in the meeting today and certainly that was part of the equation," Laviolette said. "When you're down 1-0 in a series, you look at it and you're faced with a little bit of adversity. But this is the first time that our group is faced with our backs truly against the wall. We need to play a good game tomorrow night and be successful at it.

"Through the course of the year with the youth that's been involved in the season to this point, I think there's always been conversations to address certain areas because it's the first time that we're seeing things, whether it be a big game or a Winter Classic or Game 1 of the playoffs, I think those conversations always come up."

When the Flyers emerged from the first round, one of the storylines was that this team seemed to be maturing before our eyes, ready to take on challenges few expected them to meet. Now the Devils have stopped that process in its tracks. They are full value for their standing in this series.

The Flyers will find out whether they have another batch of comeback magic somewhere in their locker room, whether it's left over from two years ago or something fresh and original.

"We've shown all year we can come back," Briere said. "We faced adversity all year and showed we can come back from it. This is the biggest challenge of the year, obviously, but we've shown all year that we're not quitters.

"That's what makes me believe that the guys just won't quit at this point. I might be wrong. We'll see tomorrow. The character we have shown all year, I believe will come out tomorrow."