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Bruins remain wary of struggling Flyers

Monday, 12.14.2009 / 1:56 PM / NHL Insider

By Shawn P. Roarke - Senior Managing Editor

"I think you learn a lot in life when times are good, but you might learn more when times are bad. That goes for players and that goes for coaches. Sometimes you do your best coaching when things aren't just moving along win after win after win." -- Flyers head coach, Peter Laviolette

BOSTON -- The Boston Bruins know better than to look past the struggling Philadelphia Flyers Monday night at TD Garden. The Flyers already may be on their second coach of the season and sit in 13th place in the Eastern Conference standings, but …
Bruins forward Blake Wheeler looks at the Flyers and sees a wounded animal, backed into a corner, left with no choice but to fight its way to freedom and get healthy. And we all know how dangerous that situation can be to anyone placed in the path of a cornered animal.
"I think before long you are going to see this team take off," Wheeler said. "We understand that over here and it's going to take everything we have to make sure it doesn't start in our building tonight."
Monday morning, it appeared Bruins coach Claude Julien was laying the foundation to make sure his team did not look past a struggling Flyers squad. After Monday night's game, Boston plays five of its next six games on the road and Julien would prefer not to start that daunting run with a home loss Monday night.
"Without looking too far ahead, this is a game that is a must-win for us, if you want to put it that way," Julien said. "We need to make sure we win this one because it is not going to get any easier as we go along here."
While the Bruins are firmly in the playoff picture and have gained points in 22 of 31 games so far, Wheeler knows that but for the grace of the hockey gods, the Bruins could be sitting at the bottom of the standings with the Flyers.
"Sometimes you go through these funks," Wheeler said. "I mentioned earlier that we went through our struggles earlier in the year. That makes you a better team."
The Flyers certainly hope that all the hardships this season -- the firing of John Stevens, the long-term injury to starting goalie Ray Emery and the constant shuttle of young players between the parent club and the American Hockey League -- will forge a better identity for the club going forward.
"I think you learn a lot in life when times are good, but you might learn more when times are bad," new Flyers coach Peter Laviolette told after the Flyers' skate Monday morning at TD Garden. "That goes for players and that goes for coaches. Sometimes you do your best coaching when things aren't just moving along win after win after win. You have to bond a little bit, you have to figure things out, you have to go through tough times and you have to trust each other and count on each other, but you eventually have to get out of that hole, too.
And that is the tricky part for the Flyers right now.
Emery, brought in this summer to be the team's No. 1 goalie, is on long-term IR after undergoing lower-abdominal surgery earlier this month. Forward Simon Gagne has missed all but nine games this season and the club already has dressed 26 different skaters in the first 30 games.
Defenseman Chris Pronger, obtained in a summer trade to bolster not only the blue line but the leadership group, has been through a few slumps in his career, so he is not ready to push the panic button yet. After all, as bleak as things have been in the City of Brotherly Love during the season's first two-and-a-half months, Pronger knows there is plenty of time for his team to right the ship. Plus, they are just four points out of the playoff picture at the moment.
"I'm a firm believer in that teams that go through adversity throughout the course of the season -- be it this, be it injuries or whatever the case may be -- define how the team is going to respond in adverse situations in the playoffs," Pronger told Monday. "It gives you a little gut-check time and it kind of makes or breaks your team. You can either pack it up and fold the tent or you can battle for one another and you realize that all the adversity you have faced has only made you a better team and a closer, tight-knit group."
Wheeler believes the Flyers will shake off their current funk -- just as his team did in the season's first month -- and be fine come the season's second half.
"You keep in mind that there are 50 games left," Wheeler said. "We are only a little into this thing right now and you don't take much stock in (their struggles). These guys are a good team. They are probably just searching for their identity a little bit and when it comes, they'll be very dangerous."
Quote of the Day

Life's about opportunity and how you respond to that opportunity, and obviously he must have some swagger about him, some confidence about him, because he was solid. He made some good saves. He was 6-foot-3 on every shot, which is a good thing for a goalie. He played well. We got a win.

— Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock on rookie goaltender Garret Sparks, who made 24 saves in his first NHL start, a 3-0 win vs. Oilers
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