SUNRISE, Fla. _ It was an inartistic 5-2 win over sad-sack Florida on Tuesday night, but it assured the Flyers of a playoff spot after a one-year absence _ and that was the reason for all the hugs and fist bumps in the visitors’ locker room.
The team that got its coach fired after three games and started the season 1-7, had every right to feel good about itself.
“It’s a great accomplishment, but I think within this organization, it’s something to be expected,” said goalie Steve Mason, who made 38 saves in Tuesday’s victory. “It’s one goal that was achieved, and now we have a bigger one.”
Since their 1-7 start, the Flyers are 40-22-9. The turning point, coach Craig Berube said, was when the Flyers went on a six-game road trip Dec. 28 to Jan. 7, traveling to Edmonton, Vancouver, Calgary, Colorado, Phoenix and New Jersey.
Who would be a better first-round playoff matchup for the Flyers?
The only loss was to Colorado, 2-1.
“We went with a purpose on that road trip,” Berube said. “We came out with five wins out of six. That’s pretty good. That made believers out of our team more than anything, and it put us in a good situation.”
“It’s about a process and slowly getting everybody together,” captain Claude Giroux said “When we play as a team, that’s when we’re dangerous. For example, tonight in the third period we didn’t play as a team, and that’s when we get in trouble.”
The Flyers still aren’t playing consistently enough. They still have too many defensive lapses, and they outplayed lowly Florida in just one of the three periods Tuesday.
They need the last three games to build momentum going into a likely first-round playoff matchup with the New York Rangers.
Mason has only been in the playoffs once _ in 2008-09, his rookie season with Columbus.
“Five years is a long time ago and I’m not even going to think about it,” Mason said. “It’s something that’s new and everybody’s really looking forward to it.”
Giroux, who led Tuesday’s win with two goals (see story), said the Flyers disappointed not only themselves, but their fans, by failing to make the playoffs last season.
“You see what the Flyers fan base brings every single game, and it’s an exciting thing to be a part of,” Mason said. “I haven’t been a part of a playoff series with this team, but watching on TV there’s a great atmosphere within the Wells Fargo Center, and I’m sure come the first game of the playoffs, it’ll be rocking.”
The Flyers are two points behind the second-place Rangers and have a game in hand. If New York splits its two remaining games (Buffalo, Montreal), the Flyers would take second place by going 2-0-1 against Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh and Carolina.
“Regardless of what happens, we just have to make sure _ whether we’re starting on the road or at home _ we’re ready,” Mason said.
Looking ahead. The Flyers may not have to face standout Lightning goalie Ben Bishop Thursday in Tampa Bay. He was injured Tuesday.
On Tuesday, Florida goalie Roberto Luongo was injured in warmups and unable to face the Flyers, who shelled a shaky Dan Ellis.
Breakaways. The Flyers qualified for the playoffs for the 37th time in their 45-season history _ and 17th time in the last 19 seasons. They are Cup-less since 1975….Flyers’ first-round home playoff tickets are available at 215-218-PUCK, or online on the team’s website….In their last four games, the Flyers have been outscored, 8-2, in the third period. They were outscored, 2-1, and outshot, 16-3, in Tuesday’s third period. “We took our foot off the gas,” Giroux said. Said Mason: “Our third period was terrible. We all know it and we addressed it after the game. Come playoff time, we’re going to have to be better with that.”…The Flyers have seven 20-goal scorers for the first time since 1989-90…The Flyers have killed 20 straight penalties on the road, and they haven’t allowed a road power-play goal since Feb. 3 in San Jose….Adam Hall had two assists _ his 14th career two-point game and first as a Flyer….The Flyers are now 20-2-1 when Giroux scores a goal…..Nick Grossmann was plus-4…..The Flyers are 2 for 15 on five-on-three power plays (25th in the NHL) after failing to connect Tuesday.
Follow Sam Carchidi on Twitter @BroadStBull.