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Day Of Rest

by Brian Smith | PhiladelphiaFlyers.com / Philadelphia Flyers
The scene on the ice Wednesday night at the Wells Fargo Center following the Flyers’ 2-1 shootout win over Washington resembled one reserved for an accomplishment somewhat higher than a regular season win – perhaps a playoff win, or even a playoff-securing win.

Last night’s win was not a playoff-securing win, but it certainly helped. It was two points against a Capitals team that has run away with the President’s Trophy this season and could finish 20 points ahead of the second-place team in the league. It was two points that nobody would have faulted the Flyers for not getting at all against a team as dangerous as Washington. But now that they’re secured, it gives the Flyers that much more of a cushion as they enter a final six-game stretch of the season that consists of three back-to-back sets of games.

“It’s huge,” Jake Voracek said after Wednesday’s game. “We could have come up with one point the last two games, but we came up with four. At this time of the year this is huge and like I said we’re getting closer, but we have to keep going.”

The type of mentality that has been prevalent over the last couple months – win a game, enjoy it for a bit, then move on to the next one – was still in full force Thursday morning as the Flyers gathered at the Wells Fargo Center to take their annual team photo. It even was there a little bit after the game Wednesday, when Voracek and several other players refused to even consider what a Washington/Flyers first-round series would be like, saying they had plenty of work left to do.

“I think that’s probably what it is this time of year,” Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol said Thursday. “It was a great win and a great two points off a real good effort by our entire group. But the fact is, we’ve got to flip the switch this morning and get ready to come back to work and get prepared for Saturday afternoon.”

One thing the Flyers can enjoy now though, for the first time, is some space in the standings. Even though they had been in possession of a playoff spot for a few days based on points percentage, they are now two physical points ahead of Detroit.

“This is the first time in the season where we’ve had a little bit of a gap in points,” Wayne Simmonds said. “You know we have six games left and it’s going to be a bitter battle to the end. There’s no time to rest. We can enjoy it a little bit and we’ve got to be ready to go Saturday.”

COPING WITH THE SCHEDULE

The Flyers normally would have taken the ice for a quick practice following the team photo, but given the nature of the schedule, the order of this day was rest – the Wells Fargo Center ice was quiet once the photo was done and the chairs and risers were removed. The Flyers instead will be back at it tomorrow in Voorhees.

“We’ve got three back-to-backs left,” Hakstol said. “We also have the benefit of two days in between a couple of those. Today is one of those days obviously. It’s a good opportunity for guys to get away from the rink, relax mentally and rest up physically. We’ve got another one of those after the next back to back to take advantage of.”

This run starts Saturday vs. Ottawa and Sunday vs. Pittsburgh, and then the Flyers have two days off. But because of the rescheduled Islanders game from January 23 that instead is now set for April 10, the Flyers will play a rare four-game-in-five-night set – something that is hardly ever seen in the NHL landscape. It’s more reserved for the American Hockey League and other minor leagues, where the schedule is more compressed for reasons of travel, attendance and building availability.

“Last time I played anything like a four-in-five was probably when I was a little kid playing in tournaments and stuff,” Simmonds said. “It’s something that we’ve got to be really aware of, that we’re taking care of our bodies and we’re coming to the rink, especially for the second game of those, that we’re really mentally prepared for those games.”

One potential positive for the Flyers is they have a good handful of players who have had experience playing compressed schedules in the AHL, such as stretches of three games in three nights – something that isn’t even permitted in the NHL under the collective bargaining agreement. Shayne Gostisbehere, Nick Cousins, Andrew MacDonald and Sam Gagner all have experience with it this year alone, and other guys like Scott Laughton, Chris VandeVelde, Brandon Manning and Ryan White have done it over their careers.

“You’ve just got to stay within yourself, try not to do too much, keep it simple,” Gostisbehere said. “Simple’s the easiest thing in a back-to-back. You can’t try to go out there and do too much. You definitely just have to take everything in stride. You’ve got to keep it going and just relax out there. [Have a] defense-first mentality, and everything else will take care of itself.

Said Gagner – “Once the game starts, the adrenaline just kind of takes over and you just play. But I think guys are doing a really good job of taking care of themselves and taking advantage of the days off. We’ve got a lot of hockey coming up here, so we’ve got to be ready for it.”
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