Having beaten every team in the West — besides Anaheim —the surging Flyers seemed poised to make things interesting in the Stanley Cup Finals.
Now all they have to do is find a way to get out of the East to give themselves a chance at the prize that has eluded them for 39 years
After taking it to the St. Louis Blues,currently No. 1 in the West with a 101 points 4-1 Saturday, the Flyers not only have won five straight to move into the second in the Metropolitan Division behind the Penguins. They’ve showed they can play with anybody, having beaten Pittsburgh twice, the reigning champion Blackhawks and now the Blues within a spectacular eight-day span.
No wonder they’re brimming with confidence, as Steve Mason keeps standing on his head making incredible saves, while Claude Giroux and Wayne Simmonds spearhead a balanced attack that features seven 15-goal scorers.
"I think we’ve proven that we’re a good hockey club,’’ said Mason, who turned aside 32 shots while racking up his 30th win of the season by slamming the door on Ken Hitchcock’s team after giving up an early shorthanded goal. "We’re beating teams that come playoff time you’re going to have to go through to the ultimate goal, the Stanley Cup.We think we can go against anybody.’’
In this case it was a St. Louis team that in no way resembles your Grandfather’s Blues back when the Plager Brothers and Noel Picard used to physically intimidate the Flyers back in Philadelphia’s pre-Cup years and set the stage for them to change their style and become the Broad Street Buillies.
These Blues still play physical, but they also have a number of skill players, among them recent Team USA Olympians T.J. Oshie, David Backes and Kevin Shattenkirk.
Then again, these aren’t your Grandpa’s Flyers either. Craig Berube’s club now 15-9-2 against the West.
"The West, they play a big-bodied game,’’said Simmonds, who set up Brayden Schenn for the lead goal late in the second period, then put it away with his 24th into an open net. "They grind down low a lot and like to work the other team’s D.I think that’s kind of the identity our team is starting to take on. If we’re going to play like we’re a Western Conference team, that’s fine with me.’’
Tonight yet one more Western power comes to town and it’s not just any team. Mike Richards and Jeff Carter will be returning to their old stomping grounds for the first time since they and the L.A. Kings won the 2012 Cup.
"It should be an emotional game for them,’’ said Giroux, who had two assists to extend his scoring streak to six games. “They did a lot of good things in Philly for our organization and personally I respect them a lot, so it’s going to be a good game.I think we find our best games when we know we’re playing a really good team. We kind of dial it up and play better.’’
In the process the 38-25-7 Flyers have finally built a mini-cushion in the crowded Met playoff picture, holding a one-point lead over the Rangers for second—with two games in hand, Alex Ovechkin and the Caps, who also have played two more games, are four points back, with Columbus five off the pace.
Still, there’s no time to relax or all that could disappear in a hurry.
"Right now it’s imperative for us to get points,’’ said veteran defenseman Braydon Coburn. "But I think the guys do a good job getting up for the challenge.The teams coming in here, we know how good they are. But there’s no easy game this time of year.’’
There won’t be once the playoffs get underway, either. But the way the Flyers have been going that doesn’t seem so daunting.
“We looked at this stretch here that it would be a big measuring stick for us,’’ said Scott Hartnell, whose early second period power play goal tied the game and turned the momentum in the Flyers’ favor. "A chance to see how we do against some of the best talent in the league and some of the best teams in the league.We played some of our best hockey. Now we just have to keep it going.”
Having proven they can conquer the West, it may be only a matter of time before the entire hockey world begins to take notice.