(Voorhees, NJ) – With the final two regular season games this weekend and the Philadelphia Flyers battling to secure a spot in the NHL playoffs, Mike Knuble has a very simple message for the fans that are lucky enough to have tickets for what should be an exciting finish to the regular season.
Get there early and make your presence felt.
“We’re imploring that the crowd be with us [Friday] and really come out and be in your seats early and not trickle in,” said Knuble, after the Flyers held an afternoon skate on Thursday at the Virtua Center Flyers Skate Zone
. “Get there right at the start, because we’re going to need it. We’ve seen what a crowd can do to the teams we’ve played against, and now it’s time for us to have our home ice advantage.
“If people get there on time and are ready to go right from the start, it’s going to go a long way.”
|Mike Knuble and the Flyers are counting on using home ice to their advantage in the final two regular season games. (Getty Images) |
Philadelphia has won its last three games on the Wachovia Center ice, and the Flyers may have to win their final two, as well. The Flyers trail Washington by a point in the standings for eighth place after the Capitals beat Tampa Bay Thursday night, but Philadelphia has two games remaining while Washington has just one (Saturday night against Florida). If the Flyers win their final two games, they're in, regardless of what the teams around them do.
Knuble is hoping a sold-out, raucous crowd will make things difficult for the New Jersey Devils Friday night and Pittsburgh Penguins on Sunday afternoon.
“It makes it harder on the other team. It creates a pitch in the building, a fever in the building, and it can only help our team,” he said.
With the race so close, and with the likelihood that nothing will be finalized until all 82 games are complete, it would be safe to assume that there are some nervous and anxious feelings in the locker room. Knuble doesn’t dispute that, but said that it’s only natural.
“I think it’s healthy. There should be some anxiety. There’s a lot at stake,” he said.
“We’ve all put in a lot of time and a lot of energy towards this. As an athlete, you make a commitment to your team and your teammates, and the last thing you want to do is feel like you came up short and not achieve what you want to achieve.”
Mike Richards offered a different view.
“I think it’s more excitement than nervousness,” he said. “It’s a good situation for us to be in right now, battling for playoffs. Obviously it’s been an up-and-down year, but with all that we’ve been through together it’s a positive that we have the opportunity to get in the playoffs with a couple wins.”
Head Coach John Stevens senses that the tight-knit group will pull together and put forth a strong effort over the final weekend.
“We’ve fought our way out of all the adversity we’ve faced this year, and I don’t expect anything different,” he said. “I saw a team today that was focused, and I think you’ll see a team that comes out and plays extremely hard. I expect this team to do well.
“This group has been a unified group through everything this year, good times and struggles. I’ve seen a group that cares, has affections and a bond for each other, and I see a group that’s going to continue to get better.”Briere, Timonen stay off the ice
Two noticeable absences from practice on Thursday were center Danny Briere
and defenseman Kimmo Timonen
. Timonen will definitely play on Friday, while Briere should be considered probable, according to general manager Paul Holmgren.
Timonen left Wednesday’s game in Pittsburgh in the second period after getting hit in the ankle with a slap shot, but returned midway through the third period after an x-ray revealed that it was not broken. Briere collided with the Penguins’ Jarkko Ruutu late in the game.
“Danny has a lower body injury and we’ll see how he is [Friday] morning,” said Holmgren. “I would say he’s probable for the game. It’s not a significant lower body injury.
“Kimmo is okay. He had an ankle [injury] with a slap shot, but x-rays were negative and he feels better today.”
Timonen was relieved that his injury was not as serious as it could have been.
“I’m glad it’s not broken,” he said. “It’s a little painful, but you’ve got to suck it up.”
Briere had an assist on Wednesday to increase his point-streak to seven games. He has five goals and five assists over that span.
“We’ll see how he does [Friday], and hopefully we’ll get him in and keep him going because he’s played very well lately,” said Stevens.