Monday, September 22, 2014
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Battle-tested Flyers up to challenge

A victory over Los Angeles would put even more teeth in the argument that the Flyers are the team nobody wants to meet in the playoffs, but no matter what the outcome, the past five games have already served as a proving ground of their playoff credentials and potential.

Battle-tested Flyers up to challenge

The Flyers´ Brayden Schenn and Vincent Lecavalier. (Matt Slocum/AP)
The Flyers' Brayden Schenn and Vincent Lecavalier. (Matt Slocum/AP)

The often incoherent, grammatically challenged ramblings of a man who has watched too much sports, listened to too much music and devoured too many club sandwiches.

The Flyers' march through March continues Monday night when the Los Angeles Kings with Jeff Carter and Mike Richards arrive at the Wells Fargo Center and attempt throw some sort of road block on the home team’s drive toward the playoffs.

What seemed like an outside chance of even making the postseason a month ago, now appears to be a virtual lock as the Flyers have blitzed through a killer sequence of Pittsburgh twice, Dallas, Chicago and a convincing victory in Philly on Saturday against the St. Louis Blues.

A victory over Los Angeles would put even more teeth in the argument that the Flyers are the team nobody wants to meet in the playoffs. No matter what the outcome, the past five games have already served as a proving ground of their playoff credentials and potential. Five consecutive wins over eight days, four of which were scored against the NHL’s elite teams.

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This is the second time this season the Flyers have faced a stretch of games that could have been a burial ground, but turned into a confidence-boosting sequence.

The first took place just before the Olympic break when the team was struggling to find any sort of footing and faced a California nightmare with games in Anaheim, Los Angeles and San Jose. They responded with what might have been there best effort of the trip, but an eventual loss to the Ducks, and then back-to-back wins against the Kings and the Sharks.

Likewise, the Flyers faced this current stretch of season-in-the-balance games -- and have swept 10-of-10 points. The five-game stretch included a crucial overtime goal by Claude Giroux to beat Chicago, a winning effort by backup goalie Ray Emery, solid play by both the defense and – of course, goalie Steve Mason.

The Flyers have become a hit-us-with-your-best-shot opponent. Under coach Craig Berube they have been able to not only withstand a punch, but also come back with a flurry of confidence in a period, a game and – most importantly, the season.

Giroux has been the driving wheel. Long removed from the first month of the season when you had to wonder if he would ever get back to star stature, he has played well enough to be considered among a handful of players worthy of inclusion in a list of MVP candidates.

If you think back to the very dark days at the start of the season, it was Giroux who very matter-of-factly declared the Flyers would make the playoffs, and he made the statement twice following bad losses. Since then, Giroux has led the way with Wayne Simmonds, Jake Voracek, Scott Hartnell and the rest of the forwards taking their share of the workload.

What was a shoddy defense has found some structure, and the addition of Andrew MacDonald at the trade deadline has given the Flyers three solid pairings. It is still difficult to think a team can make a long playoff run without an elite defenseman, or the top-level depth of a team such as the Blues, but the Flyers overall defensive play has them in the picture.

If nothing else, the Flyers have turned into a “tough out.” Long gone are the early-season games in which they were simply overwhelmed by a deficit and came apart at the seams when a game started to go south.

At the very center of the turnaround has been the play of Mason in goal. Even when things were bad at the start of the season, Mason was very good. Thus, it was understandable that fans would think that if the Flyers suddenly found their scoring touch – well, the goaltending would go bad.

That just figures with the Flyers, right?

Well, that’s not happening, and what you’ve got headed toward the month of April is a team with plenty of scoring depth, a solid defensive system – and a reliable goalie.

It’s a long, long way from October.

Nuf ced.

Al Morganti is a member of the WIP Morning Show (94.1 FM) weekday mornings from 5:30 til 10 and a hockey analyst for Comcast SportsNet. His twitter handle is @nufced.

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About this blog
Al Morganti is a contributor at Philly.com and writes about sports and entertainment.

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