DALLAS -- Peter Laviolette had a blank expression on his face.
It was almost as if the question that he knew was coming - after Saturday night’s drama-filled shootout win in Dallas - caught him off guard.
“Does it mean anything to clinch a playoff berth?” a reporter asked.
“Yep. It means we’re in the playoffs,” Laviolette said dryly.
“But you don’t need to sweat it out like you did last year ...” the reporter continued.
And that’s when his expression changed.
Despite the fact that the Flyers became the first Eastern Conference team to officially clinch a spot in the pursuit of Lord Stanley, Laviolette didn’t seem impressed or surprised. He was indifferent.
“We’ve never talked about it,” Laviolette said. “We’ve never talked about clinching a playoff berth. We’ve always talked about home-ice, all rounds, starting in our building, Game 7 if it comes to that. That’s why we continue to push.”
Yes, it is easy for the Flyers, who have clung to the Eastern Conference lead consecutively since Jan. 4, to puff their chests out now.
But in order to see where you’re going, it’s important to look back at where you’ve come from.
And the Flyers have come a long way. Even in the last few weeks. It’s so easy to look back and discuss last April 11’s shootout win over the Rangers in game No. 82 nonchalantly - as one chapter in a dreamy storybook.
Last season, at this very time, Laviolette laid out a set of very specific goals. Step one was to make the playoffs. Step two was to win the Eastern Conference. Step three was to win the Stanley Cup.
The Flyers have been so out front in the East this season that last year’s No. 1 wasn’t even in the discussion. That’s a big accomplishment for a team that had so struggled with consistency.
Talk about the Flyers’ “slump” now and you get a few sideways heads turned in their locker room. They all know that they haven’t played as well as they have wanted.
They’re 4-0-2 in their last 6 games. That’s 10 of a possible 12 points. It's hard to point the finger at those results, even if the play isn't as solid as it was.
Recent stretches, though, can at least make the Flyers appreciate what they’ve done for the large majority of the season. The Flyers went 2-0-1 on their three-game road swing through Florida, Atlanta and Dallas.
“I don’t think it’s a slump,” Mike Richards said. “We said in the beginning of the year that we wanted to continue to get better throughout the season. Tonight was another step forward. We played a good game. We killed off penalties at key times. ‘Bob’ made some key saves at big times.
“Hopefully it’s another day that we can build on.”
Jeff Carter called the berth "just another step in our process.”
And maybe that’s a good thing - that the Flyers haven’t lost sight of their original goals. There is still a lot of hockey to be played over the next 3 weeks.
“We’ve still got a lot of work to do,” Laviolette said. “There are teams that are right behind us. We’ve got to keep winning hockey games."
And the Flyers, still 7 points back of West-leading Vancouver, have never lost sight of their President's Trophy goal. They have 2 games in-hand.
“You know, Vancouver is not out of reach," Laviolette said. "We’ve got a couple games in hand that we can play and try and get on the backside of them as well.”
WHAT ABOUT BOB? Sergei Bobrovsky brought his lunch pail with him to Dallas.
And his shovel.
Time after time, save after save, Bobrovsky bailed out the Flyers from a few breakdowns and turnovers against Dallas - especially in the third period. It was the type of game - in his first start since blowing a three-goal third period lead the Saturday prior in Philadelphia - that allowed Flyers fans to momentarily pencil him in as the playoff starter.
“Awesome,” Richards said. “He made some big saves and some critical times in the hockey game. That’s what we need from him. It’s a high task but I think he’s a confident guy and he can handle it.”
But if you take one thing away from Bobrovsky’s 28 save performance, let it be that he was finally confident and comfortable playing the puck in net. In fact, the puck was on his stick, in his own crease, with just 2 seconds to play in the third period of a tie game, shooting the puck out of the Flyers’ zone to end regulation.
That’s something he probably would not have done as recently as a few weeks ago - choosing instead to hang on to the puck for a faceoff.
“It took me time,” Bobrovsky said with the help of a translator. “But now, it’s getting better. I feel much better. My defense and the guys understand me much better now. It’s easy.”
SHOOTOUT REPORT: Here’s the report card from Saturday’s 6-round, 12-shooter showdown at the American Airlines Center.
Jamie Benn - X Danny Briere: X
Brad Richards - X Claude Giroux: O
Mike Ribeiro - O Kris Versteeg: X
Jamie Langenbrunner - X Kimmo Timonen: X
Stephane Robidas - X Jeff Carter: X
Brandon Segal - X Ville Leino: O*
*Leino’s goal was the game-winner.
The Flyers are now 3-4 in 7 shootouts this season. It was Ville Leino’s first successful shootout attempt of the season. He is now 1-for-2. It was also Bobrovsky’s first-ever shootout win in three tries.
STAT WATCH: The Flyers recorded a season-high 40 hits against Dallas ... It was their 23rd road win of the season, just one shy of a franchise record 24 set in 2002-03. The Flyers still have stops in Long Island, Pittsburgh, Buffalo and Ottawa before the regular season ends on April 11.
For more news and analysis, follow Frank Seravalli on Twitter: @DNFlyers
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