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Philadelphia Flyers: 2010 Year in Review


For the Philadelphia Flyers, 2010 started off with a bang in Beantown. Not long"Five Hole" logo by Matt Schetter. after the ball dropped, the puck dropped.

The Winter Classic at Boston’s Fenway Park against the Bruins showcased a rivalry from yesteryear, and would provide foreshadowing to a renewed rivalry. The New Year’s Day showdown ultimately set the tone for the upcoming year.

As the Flyers wiped the champagne from their eyes and laced up their skates, they turned to journeyman goaltender Michael Leighton to save their inconsistent, disappointing season thus far. The latter portion of 2009 had not been kind to the Flyers, a talented and underachieving bunch that fell to as far as next-to-last place in the Eastern Conference.

But 2010 provided hope. In early December 2009, new coach Peter Laviolette took over and would prove himself an early Christmas present of sorts. His no-nonsense, intense, hands-on style of leadership was a breath of fresh air and became the catalyst for overcoming crippling injury after crippling injury during the season and into the playoffs.

Yes, indeed, it was an injury-filled year for the men in orange and black. Ray Emery (twice), Leighton, and Brian Boucher (twice) all went down with injuries. Even seldom used backup Johan Backlund got bit by the injury bug in his brief stint with the big boys.

And that was just the goalies. It was a virtual carousel.

Add to the list star forwards Simon Gagne and Jeff Carter, both injuring their foot during the same playoff game. Add penalty kill specialist Ian Laperriere, who blocked one too many shots with his face and now sadly faces an uncertain future in hockey  after sustaining lingering brain troubles.

Despite all the setbacks and adversity, Laviolette and his squad kept marching on and beating the odds. They squeaked into the playoffs in dramatic fashion with a shootout win against the rival Rangers on the season’s final day, and then somewhat casually brushed aside the pesky Devils in the first round of the playoffs.

That set the stage for what would define the Philadelphia Flyers in 2010: The Boston Bruins series.

Oddly enough, the round two series with the Bruins was the first playoff meeting for the teams since just before I was born in 1978, and ironically would become the series of a lifetime. The Bruins would win Game Three in Philadelphia and take a commanding 3-0 lead in the series. Flyers fans felt helpless and hopeless, disappointed at what was to become. Tee times were all but set. But a couple things happened that swung some momentum in the Flyers favor. Bruins forward David Krejci went down with an injury, a very important fact often overlooked. Then Simon Gagne decided to return for the Flyers, despite still battling his nagging foot injury. Here’s a blow by blow account of the remainder of the series:

Down three games to none and left for dead. Check.Simon Gagne's goal against the Bruins in Game Seven was one of the high points of what was the Flyers' most imporpable playoff run in team's history. Photo:  www.dailycaller.com

Fall behind in game four and face elimination in overtime. Check.

Overtime win to stay alive. Check.

Go to Boston, lose goalie to injury, and win game five. Check.

Win game six at home and force an improbable game seven. Check.

Had enough drama? That’s what I thought after six games, but little did we all know. The best was still yet to come.

Game Seven in Boston, where 2010 had begun. Only this time played indoors and with much higher stakes: winner take all. An early 3-0 deficit in game seven looked insurmountable just as the series had. But Laviolette waved his finger in now legendary fashion, signaling to his troops to just get one goal and chip away at the game like they had in the series.

His men listened, netting three unanswered goals to tie before Simon Gagne roofed one past Boston goalie Tuukka Rask with just over seven minutes left. It was a truly electric moment which instantly became etched into the brain of the Philadelphia sports fan. The Flyers held the lead, and as the final horn sounded, the gathered fans inside the Wachovia Center (as it was still then known) went berserk and the masses rejoiced in the Streets of Philadelphia (queue the Springsteen).

Bruce Springsteen - Streets Of Philadelphia
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Once the excitement settled, the Flyers would easily discard the Montreal Canadiens in five games, setting the stage for the Flyers first trip to the Stanley Cup Finals since 1997. Unfortunately, this trip would net the same result. Patrick Kane’s harmless shot in overtime of game six handcuffed Leighton and provided a somewhat goofy and extremely surreal ending to what was an incredible run by a team that looked destined to raise the Cup.

I woke up multiple times that night thinking and praying and hoping that Kane’s goal was a bad dream. It wasn’t. But neither was the fact that he beat up a cab driver, so that always makes me feel a little better.

The dream was over.  Leighton’s great playoff run ended in shame and disappointment. Destiny was not.

It was now time to turn the page. Paul Holmgren’s summer began by beefing up his defense corps, adding talented young defenseman Andrej Meszaros and veteran Sean O’Donnell, who have quickly become one of the best tandems in the league. Holmgren’s trade of Gagne seemed puzzling, but looks like a shrewd move as Gagne has battled continuing injuries and his salary would be a hazard. Oh, and then there was a kid named Bobrovsky that Holmgren picked up out of Russia during the Flyers playoff run.

So far in the 2010-2011 season, we have seen the emergence of Bobrovsky as one of the league’s best young goalies, the next step in the rise to stardom for Claude Giroux, the continued success of Ville Leino, and the pleasantly surprising contributions of Andreas Nodl. The aforementioned combination of Meszaros and O’Donnell give the Flyers the best and deepest defensemen in the league.

In addition, the Flyers have committed long term to Giroux (three year extension) and even longer term to Jeff Carter (eleven years!). Despite my own personal reservations about the Carter signing, these additions undoubtedly have solidified a young core that leads the Flyers into the future.

As the ball gets ready to drop on 2011 and end the roller coaster ride that was 2010, the Flyers are amongst the top teams in the NHL. Despite a couple blips on the radar in recent games, things look promising.

There isn’t much the Flyers do not currently possess. They have a terrific coach and skilled forwards. There is talent, leadership, and depth at defense. And, yes, there is both youth and depth at goaltender. When is the last time that was true?

All this appears to be a formula for winning. The big question is this: can Peter Laviolette wave that finger again and finish the deal? Will 2011 be the year of the long awaited parade down Broad Street?

All the pieces appear to be in place. Somewhere, there is Springsteen queued up.

Contact Ryan Downs at rdowns@philly2philly.com

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