The Battle of Pennsylvania’s fifth and final installment will be played out Saturday in a matinee at the Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh. Unlike previous previews I have written, or previous games the Flyers have played against the Penguins, this game carries a different meaning. Their playoff berth has been clinched and there are only a certain number of places the Flyers could end up in. Coach Craig Berube will play his match ups, the Flyers will stick to their system, and the lines will not be jumbled too much. What makes this game different is how the Flyers must play. There are games that you must win to advance in standings, there are games you must win to assert your dominance, and there are games you must win to show that you belong in the playoffs. Unfortunately, the Flyers will be playing the final two games of their regular season to prove that they belong in the playoffs.
Remember when the Flyers came surging out of the Olympic Break and then went on that long West Coast road trip, and returned as conquering hero? Remember when the Flyers beat the likes of the Sharks, the Blues, the Stars, and the Blackhawks? Recently, some of those very teams have come back and pushed the Flyers around, leading us fans to question if our Broad Street Bullies are ready for a deep playoff run? An early exit will not satisfy the thirsting fans of Philadelphia. In these final two games, the Flyers must gain some momentum, some energy, some excitement as they prepare to trudge through the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
A win is not exactly what we should be looking for in these final two games. It would be nice to win both games and cement the likely first round matchup against the Rangers, but all teams will have to be beaten for hockey’s holy grail, so to me it is not important where we end up in the first round in the playoffs. What is important is that the Flyers play with some pep in their skates, some fire in their bellies, and as beloved Peter Laviolette would say, to ‘play with some jam.’
The flurry of offense the Flyers displayed in the second period against the Lightening in their last game is what we are looking for. Constant pressure, physicality,fast skating and quick passes all lead to the Flyers dominance against the Lightning in parts of the game. If this energy, this fire, this jam is maintained against the Penguins for 60 minutes and again in their final game, we will be in for an exciting playoff run by the Flyers. If they fall back on their heels in these final two contests, and continue to be struck by spells of lifeless hockey, it will take a miracle to expect a long run in the playoffs.
The best analogy I can use to describe what the Flyers need to do takes us back to the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics. When Usain Bolt flew across the finish line in the Men’s Gold Metal 100m Dash, he didn’t stop; he continued sprinting for another 100 meters. The Flyers have rightfully earned their playoff berth, now, they need to keep running.