No, not a reminder of last spring’s playoff collapse. No one in Boston needs to see the Flyers in the flesh again to feel the pain of that still-open wound.
Instead, it’s a look behind the bench that could lead to a case of the ‘what ifs.’
Just 13 months ago, the Flyers hired Peter Laviolette as their head coach after firing John Stevens. Laviolette took over a Philadelphia club ranked 29th in the league in points and led it all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals, engineering that historic comeback against the Bruins along the way.
It wasn’t Laviolette’s first trip to the Finals, as he led Carolina to that franchise’s only championship in 2006 in the second of his three coaching stints in the NHL.
Three is also the number of times the Bruins had a chance to hire Laviolette, a Franklin, Mass., native who played four seasons for the Bruins’ AHL affiliate in Providence and also coached the P-Bruins to a Calder Cup in 1999.
He was brought up to the big club as an assistant in 2000, but after Pat Burns was fired eight games into the season, the Bruins opted to bring in Mike Keenan. Laviolette stayed on as part of Keenan’s staff but was passed over the following summer when Keenan was not retained. Robbie Ftorek was hired instead, while Laviolette ended up on Long Island, leading the Islanders to the playoffs in each of his two seasons there after a seven-year postseason drought.
The Bruins had one last shot at Laviolette in 2003, after Laviolette was fired by then-Islanders general manager Mike Milbury, who told the team’s website at the time, “This was a very difficult decision. Peter is a very good young coach with an excellent future. We felt a change was necessary for this team to move to the next level and compete for a Stanley Cup. Just making the playoffs is not enough.”
The Islanders still haven’t won a playoff series since 1993, while Laviolette was hired by the Hurricanes in December of 2003 and brought the Cup to Carolina in 2006. The Bruins opted for Mike Sullivan in June, 2003, a stint ended after a last-place finish in 2005-06 and followed by another last-place showing in Dave Lewis‘ only year behind the Bruins’ bench before Claude Julien finally got Boston back in the playoffs each of the last three years.
Laviolette eventually matched wits with Julien in last spring’s historic second-round clash after being hired by the Flyers in December 2009. While Laviolette got the better of that encounter, he still feels both teams bring the best out of each other in this rivalry.
“I think the games have been excellent,” Laviolette said in a conference call Wednesday. “I think they bring out the best in us and we bring out the best in them, and they usually lead to pretty good hockey games. I would imagine that [Thursday] is no different. Over time too, especially recently, things kind of spill over from one game to the next, and you see certain teams on the schedule and you’re ready to play. I would imagine it’s going to be a pretty good hockey game [Thursday].”
It could be a milestone game for Laviolette, who will be looking for his 300th career win in the regular season as he comes in with a 299-218-69 record.
Bruins fans can only wonder how many wins he could have had in Boston if given the chance a decade ago.