Everyone knew the stakes. To state them was to state the obvious. Peter Laviolette did not mind stating them, either -- that a win in Game 4 would put the Flyers in a great position and that a loss to the New Jersey Devils would put them back in the soup. Reality. Deal with it. Laviolette is that way.
The guy is a truth-teller. Behind the bench, a very public place, and in the dressing room, a very private place, he can be a loud truth-teller. It seems pretty obvious that he does not mind acknowledging either good or bad.
What he has now is good. What he has now is a team that is on the verge of steamrolling the favored Devils out of the first round of the playoffs. Steamrolling; the the exact right word after this one, after a 4-1 Flyers victory that was all about a tremendous wave of physical momentum that absolutely engulfed the Devils at the Wachovia Center.
If you want to count all of the good things that happened to the Flyers, it might take all night. Jeff Carter, scoreless in the first three games, scored twice. Danny Briere, also scoreless, also got a goal. Brian Boucher again was excellent in goal. The Devils’ Marty Brodeur was not excellent in goal. And after again having to overcome a slew of early penalties, and a 1-0 Devils lead, the Flyers kicked in the door starting in the second period and didn’t stop kicking until the final horn.
Now they head to Newark for Game 5 on Thursday night, with the Devils facing elimination and probably ready to offer their best effort in reply. It does not get easier.
And on it goes. The stakes are so significant and they make for nervous days and nervous weeks. Talking about all of that at lunchtime on Tuesday, Laviolette said that one element of playoff hockey is easier -- the fact that you are preparing for the same team, night after night, and not worrying about a whole new set of bodies and styles every other game. But that is the only easier part.
I mean, just consider the emotional edge this team has been on for a couple of weeks now, as a playoff spot began to slip away and was then recaptured at the last possible moment, in a shootout in the last game of the season against the Rangers.
“The intensity goes up -- everybody feels that,” Laviolette was saying. “That’s what makes Game 7s and overtimes great -- everything kind of ratchets up. Is it easier to sleep after the first game of the year as opposed to going into a Game 7? Yeah, probably. But that’s what’s great about playoff hockey.
“It’s rare in the world to get the feeling you get, like we had at the end of Game 82, or like when you win in overtime like we did the other night. The highs are really high, I guess more so in playoffs than at any other point in the year.”
“Not right now,” Laviolette said, laughing. “When you look back, and you have successfully navigated to the point where you’re the last one standing, that’s the journey and that also goes with the highs and lows. The highs are in there, the lows are in there, that’s part of the whole ride. That’s what you really enjoy about it. You don’t enjoy when you’re on the bad end of something or when things don’t go your way. If you are high, you can quickly get knocked down to reality. That’t the process that I was talking about, that ride, where you look back and say, ‘That was awesome.’”
The Flyers are not there yet, not nearly. But they are one game away from a place that most did not expect even a week ago. A good place, but not there, not yet.