Philadelphia staved off elimination all spring, securing a playoff spot on the final day of the regular season with a shootout win over the Rangers, upsetting New Jersey in the opening round and then making history by rallying from a 3-0 series hole – and a 3-0 Game 7 deficit – to shock the Bruins in the second round. It took a Game 6 overtime goal by the Blackhawks to finally end the Flyers’ season in the Stanley Cup finals. Despite all that, the Flyers still remain without a title since 1975, but having tasted postseason success last year, they could be primed for another long run this spring.
2009-10 Record: 41-35-6, 88 points (3rd Atlantic Division; 8th Eastern Conference; lost in Stanley Cup Finals to Chicago, 4-2)
Bruins record vs. Flyers: Boston leads the all-time series 87-56-21-5, and went 2-1-1 last year. The Bruins lost 4-3 in a shootout in Philadelphia on Oct. 22 and 3-1 at home on Dec. 14, but rallied for a memorable 2-1 win as Marco Sturm scored in overtime at Fenway Park in the Winter Classic on Jan. 1. Boston won again 5-1 at Philadelphia on March 11, but the Flyers had the last laugh as they rallied from a 3-0 series deficit to eliminate the Bruins in the second round of the playoffs.
When to watch: The Bruins will have to wait until December for the rematch, as they don’t face the Flyers until a Dec. 1 clash in Philadelphia. The Flyers don’t come to Boston until Saturday, Dec. 14. The Bruins also host the Flyers on Thursday, Jan. 13 and play at Philadelphia on Sunday, March 27.
Familiar faces: Flyers head coach Peter Laviolette (Franklin, Mass.) spent two years as Providence’s head coach, leading the Baby B’s to the Calder Cup title in 1999, and one year as an assistant in Boston, while defenseman Sean O’Donnell played 232 games in Boston from 2001-04. Goalie Brian Boucher hails from Woonsocket, R.I. and forward James van Riemsdyk played at the University of New Hampshire. The Flyers also drafted forward Brendan Ranford, nephew of former Bruins goalie Bill Randford, in the seventh round this year.
Key additions: D Andrej Meszaros (trade with Tapma Bay); F Jody Shelley (free agent); F Nikolai Zherdev (free agent); D Matt Walker (trade with Tampa Bay); D Sean O’Donnell (free agent); F Greg Moore (free agent)
Key losses: F Simon Gagne (traded to Tampa Bay); F Arron Asham (signed with Pittsburgh); D Ryan Parent (traded to Nashville); F Riley Cote (retired); D Danny Syvret (signed with Anaheim); F Jared Ross (signed with Atlanta); G Ray Emery (free agent); D Lukas Krajicek (free agent)
Burning question: Is the goaltending good enough?
The Flyers reached the finals last year with a patchwork netminding corps after starter Ray Emery went down with a hip injury. Both Michael Leighton and Brian Boucher were sidelined with their own injuries at different points in the postseason, but both played well enough for the Flyers to make their improbable run. Leighton was 17-9-2 with a 2.83 GAA and a .905 save percentage after being claimed on waivers, and was even better in the playoffs (8-3, 2.46 GAA, .916 save percentage), though he let in a soft goal on Patrick Kane’s Cup winner in overtime of Game 6. Boucher struggled through a 9-18-3 regular season with a 2.76 GAA and an .899 save percentage, but was 6-6 with a 2.47 GAA and a .909 save percentage in the playoffs. The Flyers opted not to bring in a big-name goalie this offseason, instead gambling that Leighton and Boucher weren’t playing over their heads this spring and can keep up that level of performance. That could be a risky play, as neither has a very strong track record prior to last year’s run.
2010-11 outlook: While the goaltending could prove Philadelphia’s Achilles heel, everything else appears to be in place for another long playoff run. Losing Simon Gagne will hurt, but the offense still features Mike Richards (31-31-62), Jeff Carter (33-28-61), Daniel Briere (26-27-53), Claude Giroux (16-31-47) and Scott Hartnell (14-30-44), plus a full season of Ville Leino, who was a breakout star in the playoffs (7-14-21 in 19 games). The Flyers also signed Nikolai Zherdev, who had 23-35-58 totals with the Rangers two years ago and 13-26-39 totals in the KHL last year. Philadelphia’s goalies will also benefit from a defense led by former Norris Trophy winner Chris Pronger. The blue line also features the likes of Kimmo Timonen, Braydon Coburn and Matt Carle to form one of the league’s deepest defense corps. New additions Matt Walker and O’Donnell add even more toughness to a rugged blue line, while heavyweight Jody Shelley joins Ian Laperriere and Dan Carcillo up front to help continue the club’s Broad Street Bullies tradition.
Did you know? Ville Leino had nearly twice as many points in the playoffs (21 in 19 games) as he had in the regular season (11 in 44 games). A spare part in Detroit, Leino was cast aside in an under-the-radar move by the Flyers, who acquired him for journeyman defenseman Ole-Kristian Tollefsen and a fifth-round pick in a trade on Feb. 10. Leino, who had managed just 4-3-7 totals and was a minus-7 with Detroit, paid immediate dividends as he finished the season with 2-2-4 totals and was a plus-2 in 12 games in Philadelphia, then exploded for 7-14-21 totals and was a plus-10 in the playoffs.
Next: We’ll head to the other side of Pennsylvania to check in on Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday.