Not to be a spoilsport and ruin the Flyers’ title-clinching win, but…
They must play much better than they did in Saturday’s 7-4 victory over the Islanders if they are going to have another long Stanley Cup run.
The good news: The defense, which has been porous lately and has yielded far too many breakaways and odd-man rushes, is going to get better. So is the shaky penalty-killing unit.
Defenseman Chris Pronger and penalty-killing extraordinaire Blair Betts are expected to return from injuries Thursday and face visiting Buffalo in Game 1 of the conference quarterfinals.
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The Flyers won just seven of their last 21 games, but winger Scott Hartnell said that stretch is already out of the players’ minds.
“I don’t really remember the problems,” he said with a smile. “We have the postseason coming up now and we’re feeling good in here tonight. It’s definitely a big relief. We’ve got some playoff performers on our team. Prongs (Pronger) will be back here soon, and everyone is on the same page. We’ll have a lot of meetings this week, some good up-tempo practices, some skating and shooting and we’ll get ready to go.”
“I think they’re more ready than last year’s team,” said Ed Snider, chairman of Comcast-Spectacor, the Flyers’ parent company.
That, of course, assumes Pronger returns and is at full strength.
How close are the Flyers to being playoff-ready?
“I can’t give you a formula,” coach Peter Laviolette said after the Flyers clinched their first Atlantic Division title since 2004. “You get on a roll, you catch some lightning, you catch some breaks, you catch some good health, you catch a bounce, and the next thing you know you’re playing for the Cup. I don’t know if there’s a recipe. I can tell you that I truly believe that when we wake up tomorrow there’ll be a little zip in our steps, ‘cause we’re back in the playoffs and I can’t stress it enough.
“You play the 82 games for the sole purpose, for the right to compete for it. That’s it, and we’re in, it’s a good thing.”
They key to playoff success, said defenseman Andrej Meszaros, is increasing their attack time.
“When we put the puck down low and cycle, that’s our strength,” said Meszaros, who had a career-high four points in the title-clinching win over the Islanders. “We have to do that more often.”
Laviolette was asked about the team’s stumbling last two months.
“You always wish it was a little bit better and could have changed in different ways, but as far as the body of work goes, it is still really positive,” he said. “Now that it’s done with, we wake up tomorrow and it’s the whole reason why we played those 82 games. It is the opportunity to compete for the Stanley Cup and we are able to do that on our ice.”
Most of the Flyers were on the team that played in last year’s Cup Finals.
“We have been here before with a majority of this group, and how we prepare will not be anything new,” Laviolette said. “It’s a matter of fine-tuning things and preparing yourself for your opponent and being ready to go.”
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The Flyers finished the season without shutting out an opponent. It’s just the third time in franchise history that’s happened (1988-89, 1981-82)....Matt Carle was plus-4 on Saturday. Carle and Meszaros each finished at plus-30 for the season....The Flyers won their 16th division title in franchise history. They finished 6-0 vs. the Isles this season.
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The NHL will make an official announcement Sunday night when it releases its entire playoff schedule, but the Flyers are expected to play Buffalo every other night, with the first two games Thursday and Saturday at the Wells Fargo Center.
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For constant Flyers updates, follow Sam Carchidi on Twiter at www.twitter.com/BroadStBull.
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