The Philadelphia Flyers Reality Check: Getting Better But Not Quite the Best Yet

The Philadelphia Flyers lost to the Boston Bruins in the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs some weeks back.  Although both rounds were admittedly crushing, overcoming the Buffalo Sabres and then falling to the Boston Bruins, the Flyers have shown significant signs of improvement over the past four years.  Despite Philadelphia becoming a winning sports town since the turn of the millennium, even the Philadelphia Flyers cannot escape the Philly playoff curse — at least not quite yet.  Heck, even the Philadelphia Eagles with their new prodigal son Michael Vick could not escape the curse as the Philadelphia Eagles fell to the Green Bay Packers this past football season.  Football…well, that’s another subject to breach whenever the lockout and legalities become resolved.

The Philadelphia Flyers as a team improved since 2007.  In 2007, two years after the NHL lockout, the Flyers placed as the sixth seed into the playoffs as they entered into the Stanley Cup playoffs.  That year, general manager Paul Holmgren made significant free agent moves, including the acquisition of Danny Briere, Joffrey Lupul, Kimmo Timonen, Scott Hartnell and then captain of the Flyers, Jason Smith. They defeated the Washington Nationals in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs with Joffrey Lupul’s power play goal.  Then they defeated the Montreal Canadiens with their dominant offense.  However, the curse would finally catch up as they fell to the Pittsburgh Penguins in five games.

In 2008, the Philadelphia Flyers moved up to the fifth seed of the Stanley Cup playoffs, and with the much-cheered Mike Richards now as the captain of the Flyers.  Unfortunately, they would face the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round of the playoffs.  Despite winning the first two games of the series, they ultimately lost to the Penguins again despite having one of the most potent offenses in the NHL.  The curse strikes again…

In 2009, things have begun to change.  John Stevens was removed as coach for the Flyers after mediocre play, and Peter Laviolette was hired to that position. Goalie Brian Boucher suffered a hand injury, and journeyman Michael Leighton took over the position.  Despite these changes and difficulties during the regular season, they placed as the seventh seed into the Stanley Cup playoffs.  Although worse in terms of standings than previous seasons, they got past the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs by defeating Martin Brodeur and the New Jersey Devils.  In the second round, they faced a familiar foe in the Boston Bruins. In the exchange in goalie duties between Michael Leighton and Brian Boucher, the defense remained strong for both goalies as both goalies had shutouts in this second round series.  The Philadelphia Flyers had finally overcome the Boston Bruins.  But another familiar team would show up on the Philadelphia Flyers home ice — the Montreal Canadiens in the Eastern Conference finals.  They defeated the Canadiens in five games and finally enter the Stanley Cup finals since 1997.  Now they faced the Chicago Blackhawks and their reputed offense. The Flyers fought and dragged the series until their sixth game as Patrick Kane scored four minutes in overtime to finally eliminate the Flyers and acquire the Stanley Cup trophy for the Chicago Blackhawks. And the curse reveals itself again…better late to the party than never…

Now it’s the 2011 playoffs, and the Flyers placed as the second seed into the playoffs and clinched the Atlantic Division title since 2003-2004.  First things first, they overcame and defeated the Buffalo Sabres as the Flyers constantly switched between Sergie Bobrovsky, Michael Leighton and Brian Boucher as goalie.  However, lightning could not strike twice as the Philadelphia Flyers faced the Boston Bruins yet again in the Stanley Cup playoffs.  Unfortunately, due the Flyers inconsistencies all-around, the Boston Bruins eliminated the Flyers in the second round of the playoffs.  The Flyers lack of a mobile defense, lack of goalie consistency and perhaps lack of overall team chemistry when it was needed most were the nails in the coffin. And the curse yet again…

The Philadelphia Flyers are not as bad as Philadelphia sports fan and media make them out to be.  They have gotten steadily better, but for better or worse, the duo of the Boston Bruins and the Philly playoff curse always seemed to hinder the Flyers.  Last season and the previous season, the Flyers have demonstrated revealing inconsistencies, particularly late in the season.  Head coach Peter Laviolette should decide on a permanent goalie for the upcoming season first — whether it’s Sergie Bobrovsky, Brian Boucher, Michael Leighton or whoever.  Peter Laviolette doesn’t quite have the luxury as Andy Reid does with the Philadelphia Eagles during their switch between quarterbacks Kevin Kolb and Michael Vick last season. With their potent offense, Laviolette has to manage injuries throughout the season and ensure that the Flyers have depth at those positions.  Lastly, the Flyers have to focus on demonstrating depth, mobility and consistency on defense.

With Game 7 tonight between the Boston Bruins and Tampa Bay Lightning, whoever wins will face the Vancouver Canucks for the Stanley Cup finals.  With the Lightning seemingly battling against the odds, tonight’s game should be close and tight.

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