Ivan Provorov, getting closer to his first appearance in the Stanley Cup playoffs, feels like a kid with Christmas approaching.
"This is basically what you play all 82 games for," the intense second-year Flyers defenseman said after practice Monday in Voorhees, where the Flyers were preparing to open their first-round playoff series Wednesday in Pittsburgh. "I mean, it's hard not to be excited. … To be honest, I couldn't even sleep the last two nights."
It had nothing to do with the two-time defending Stanley Cup Penguins, though they can make it difficult to get a good night's sleep. Especially Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, superstar centers who combined for 14 points as the Penguins swept the four-game, regular-season series against the Flyers, including two overtime wins.
Provorov, whose third-place team finished just two points behind the Penguins in the Metropolitan Division, downplayed the regular-season series against Pittsburgh.
"I know we didn't get the points that we wanted in the games against them, but I think out of the four games, in three of them we played really well and kind of let a few games get away," he said. "It doesn't matter now. It's a clean sheet now in the playoffs and all our focus is on getting the first win."
Center Sean Couturier agreed.
"I don't think we've played our best game or a full 60 minutes against Pittsburgh yet," Couturier said. "I like our chances if we play some good hockey and focus for 60 minutes, maybe even more."
To win the series, the Flyers will need to contain Crosby, who had nine points in four games against Philadelphia this season, and Malkin.
In the playoff games in Pittsburgh, where the Penguins get the last line change, Couturier figures to be matched up a lot against Crosby, and Val Filppula or rookie Nolan Patrick will probably get the assignment against Malkin.
The Flyers' No. 1 pairing of Provorov and Shayne Gostisbehere will see lots of time against both top units.
"You play defense with all five guys … and I think if everybody plays responsible, we'll be fine," said Provorov, who finished tied for the NHL lead among defensemen with 17 goals.
"The key against those guys is you have to take away their time and space," Couturier said. "That's when they're dangerous, that's when they create a lot of plays. If you take that away, usually it makes it tougher on them."
The Flyers have been a better five-on-five team than the Penguins, outscoring opponents, 159-145. Pittsburgh has allowed 176 five-on-five goals – 27th in the NHL – and scored 161.
"If we play our game, we should be able to have the puck and be able to make plays," Provorov said. "If we play with the right mentality and play our game where we're really heavy down low and controlling the pucks – and putting shots to the net – that's what we have to do. If we have the puck, they [can't score]."
Like the 21-year-old Provorov, veteran goalie Brian Elliott, who has played just two games since returning from core-muscle surgery, is excited about the playoffs.
"Every moment makes a big difference," said Elliott, who turned 33 on Monday. "You have to stay within yourself and not get caught thinking this is the last shot, or the last opportunity. You have to really treat it as another game, but you definitely have to elevate your level because this is what everybody plays for. You're going to get everybody's 'A' game, and we better have ours."
Elliott called it a privilege to play in the playoffs.
"I woke up this morning and with all the news coming out of Saskatchewan," he said of the crash that killed 15, including 10 junior hockey players, "and we've all been those kids that ride the bus and have those dreams to go on and play. We're living our dream and those kids don't get to fulfill their dreams. We have to treat it as a privilege. That's how I want to go into the series, knowing we're here and we fulfilled our dreams to make it to the NHL and we all have that one big dream to get the Cup."
Provorov, even if he can't sleep, has the same dream.
"I've been in two full rounds in Brandon," said Provorov, referring to his playoff experience in the Western Hockey League. "I know it's not the same, the juniors and the NHL. But it's definitely the same feeling. The game gets faster and more physical. I know I'll be ready for it and I know our team will be ready for it.
"Wednesday can't come soon enough."