As the postseason draws near, the Flyers have the opportunity to put their luggage in their closets and enjoy closing the season mostly at home.
The Flyers’ overtime win against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Sunday opened a five-game homestand, the team’s longest of the season.
“It’s been one of those seasons,” Briere said. “Since I’ve been in Philadelphia, even Buffalo, I felt like the road trips or the travelling was a lot easier. Coming from (Phoenix) I thought, ‘Wow, this is really easier in the East.’ But for some reason this year it’s been tough. We had the whole month of December, half of January and half of February on the road.”
Indeed. During the course of the season, the Flyers have embarked on a trio of four-game road trips and one, five-game trek that included opponents from four divisions. Their two longest home stints each lasted three games, though they did play five of six games at the Wells Fargo Center in early February.
The Flyers road trips are basically finished. Seven of their remaining 10 games are at the Wells Fargo Center, giving them the benefit of making their playoff push in Philadelphia.
“It’s finally paying off,” Briere said. “The good thing, too, is that we’ve been such a good road team this year that we’re able to put ourselves in a good position.”
The Flyers are well within reach of gaining home-ice advantage for at least the opening round of the playoffs, if not the entire postseason. Their victory over the Penguins gave them 92 points, which ranks them fifth in the Eastern Conference. However, that’s just three points behind the New York Rangers, who presently hold the top seed in the conference.
The Flyers have six games remaining against teams either fighting for a playoff berth or striving to improve their seeding. Four of those games will be played at home. The other two will be played in Pittsburgh.
In addition to holding a home-ice advantage against such pesky teams, Briere noted the season’s final stretch gives the Flyers a chance to find some consistency at home.
Entering the play Sunday, the Flyers ranked 23rd in the NHL at home. They have played much better on the road, where they own a league-best 23-12-3 mark.
Briere said the Flyers have been unhappy with their play at home, where they are now 19-10-5.
“I think part of the reason is not having the chance to have any long stay at home,” Briere said. “Now, hopefully we can bring it back, because Philly always has been known as a tough place to come and play. We want to get back to that and make it a tough place to play.”
The Wells Fargo Center is becoming that place again. Thanks to two clutch goals by Scott Hartnell
and numerous key saves by Ilya Bryzgalov
on Sunday, the Flyers are riding a five-game winning streak at home. It’s coming at just the right time.
Defenseman Kimmo Timonen
said it’s a luxury to be able to finish the season with a lengthy home stretch. However, the 13-year veteran stressed the way a team is playing is a bigger factor than where it is playing.
“Obviously you could spend more time at home, but we’ve only got (10) games left,” Timonen said. “It goes by really quick. It’s nice to be home playing big games but it doesn’t matter to us. We need to focus on every game, go game-by-game and hopefully win every game.”
Timonen admitted a season’s worth of travel – countless hours in flight and the constant shuffling to and from hotels – can wear on a player at this time of year. Still, it is something all teams must endure.
“You get used to it,” he said. “Obviously it’s tough. There’s a lot of games in the months of March and April. That’s why I said it’s nice to be home next week. But it goes by so quick in the next two or three weeks. The biggest thing is to go into the playoffs playing well rather than worrying about where you’re going to play.”
In that regard, the Flyers are doing just fine.
The Flyers are 8-1-1 in their last 10 games. Their only loss in regulation came at New Jersey, one day after they eked out a tough, 1-0 shootout win in Toronto.
From the offense to the goaltending, the Flyers have displayed a style that, if maintained, bodes well for the playoffs. Claude Giroux
has continued to rack up the points, leading an offense that tops the NHL in goals-per-game. Newly-acquired Nicklas Grossmann
has provided the physical presence the defensive corps has needed since Chris Pronger
’s suffered a concussion.
Most importantly, Bryzgalov has dazzled, putting his inconsistency in the past. In reeling off a franchise record scoreless streak of 249 minutes, 43 seconds, Bryzgalov has showcased the skills that earned him a long-term contract last summer. During his third straight shutout last week, he had the fans loudly chanting “Bryz” as the closing moments ticked away in a game that carried a playoff atmosphere.
“It’s huge for everyone,” Voracek said afterward. “It’s huge for Bryzgalov. It’s huge for our defense. It’s huge for our fans and I think we were solid all game. We played the way we wanted. … If you play like that, you’ve got a good chance. We’ve just got to keep working.”
That type of play has the Flyers in the thick of the playoff hunt. They know the fashion in which they conclude their current homestand could have major implications on their playoff seeding.
“A five-game home stretch when you’re going to play good is huge for our confidence and for our fans,” Voracek said. “It’s getting to playoff hockey almost and hopefully we’re going to play like that for the rest of the year.”