Flyers Ready for Playoff Opener

A late-season slump has been rolled up like game-used tape and tossed in the trash

The only Stanley Cup photos at the Flyers practice rink were from the 1970s. The locker room walls in their home arena were spotless. The mood was a bit reserved.

This training camp scene, some eight months ago, was all the proof coach Peter Laviolette needed to know his team had the oomph to win the Stanley Cup they fell two wins shy of bringing back to
Philadelphia in June.

"There was no champagne on the walls,'' Laviolette said Wednesday.

Translation: No title, no party, no complacency.

Laviolette should know. A year after leading Carolina to its only Stanley Cup championship in 2006, he opened a training camp that had celebratory reminders in every nook of the organization. Parade pictures. Postgame celebration photos. The locker room felt stale, a booze-soaked reminder that everything the Hurricanes wanted to accomplish, well, they did.

They never made the playoffs again under Laviolette, and he was fired 2 1/2 years later.

Things might be different in Philadelphia. After all, Laviolette might be a Stanley Cup title away from a lifetime contract -- and their decor will surely need a makeover.

He not only pushed the Flyers into the playoffs a year after their Game 6 loss to Chicago in the Stanley Cup finals, he has them positioned as the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference when they open Game 1 against Buffalo on Thursday.

A late-season slump has been rolled up like game-used tape and tossed in the trash. The orange-and-black believe the Cup can come back to Philadelphia. After all, the Flyers led the East for most
of the season.

"I just think we have a lot of guys that are big-time players and show up for big games,'' forward Danny Briere said.

Winning a championship means tossing obstacles under the Zamboni on the way to the next round. And the Flyers have a few heading into their series with the seventh-seeded Sabres. Rookie goalie Sergei Bobrovsky has new pressures in the postseason and defenseman Chris Pronger may not play early in the series with a broken hand.

Even team captain Mike Richards skipped practice Wednesday to recover from whatever minor ailments are bugging him.

Oh, and that slump of 14 losses since Feb. 26 was a No. 1 seed dealbreaker.

"It's not a big deal to us,'' Briere said. "Yes, we had that tough stretch at the end. But it was the same thing last year. You have to show up when things matter most. I really believe, just like I believed last year, in my team and teammates.''

Briere gave the Flyers every reason to believe they'd swig from the Cup down Broad Street. He finished as the leading scorer in the postseason with 30 points (12 goals, 18 assists). He also set the Flyers' franchise record for postseason scoring, eclipsing Brian Propp's 12 goals and 28 points in 1987.

Briere had 12 points (three goals, nine assists) in the last series, the most in the finals since Mario Lemieux had 12 in 1991, and was one point shy of Wayne Gretzky's NHL record set in 1988.\

He has some added incentive in this series against Buffalo, the organization where he blossomed into a star and co-captain, and spurned in 2007 to sign an eight-year, $52 million deal with the Flyers.

"The people that didn't want me are gone now,'' Briere said. "There's nothing personal about it. I don't see it as payback or anything like that.''

The Flyers gave Richards a "maintenance'' day off Wednesday. Asked why Richards was not at practice, Laviolette created a brief stir when he said all injuries and status updates come from general manager Paul Holmgren. Laviolette hesitated when asked if Richards would play the opener, then referred the question to Holmgren.

Holmgren said all players aside from Pronger are healthy.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
Contact Us