“At this point,’’ Dowd told NHL.com, “every team has four good lines, and that’s what it takes this time in the season. Even guys who didn’t have a chance to play in the earlier rounds will come in and contribute in some way. That’s a huge part of it and that’s a staple all four teams share.’’
There’s no question depth and durability are invaluable this time in the season, and the Flyers, who certainly had their share of injuries over the course of the regular season, are now finding out just how important four productive lines can be during the rigors of a Stanley Cup run.
The Flyers and Detroit Red Wings each have 10 players with five-or-more points through two rounds of the playoffs. The Pittsburgh Penguins, who have played the fewest games (nine) of the remaining four, have seven players with at least five points and the Dallas Stars have eight. Coincidentally, the scoring leaders of each team, including Detroit’s Johan Franzen (11 goals, three assists), Pittsburgh’s Evgeni Malkin (six goals, eight assists), Dallas’s Mike Ribeiro (three goals, 11 assists) and Philadelphia’s Danny Briere
(eight goals, six assists) have 14 points apiece.
“We have a good group of guys up front and on defense that can all get the job done,’’ Flyers goalie Martin Biron said. “The injuries we had this year enabled other guys a chance to play and step in to different roles at different times, so they have that game experience.’’
Biron, who not only played against Dowd in the NHL, but also in the American Hockey League when he was with Rochester and Dowd with Hamilton during the 1998-99 season, admitted the 39-year-old journeyman knows his role and plays it as well as anyone.
“Jimmy’s experience both on and off the ice are great,’’ Biron said. “He does a great job on that fourth line, which I feel can play against anyone. He kills penalties and takes big faceoffs.’’
Dowd’s unit, with wings Sami Kapanen and Patrick Thoresen, has not only provided the top lines with needed rest, but has generated scoring chances and quality penalty killing. The trio usually dons the red jerseys during practice.
“We’ve always been pretty deep throughout the lineup since I’ve been here,’’ said fifth-year Flyer Kapanen. “There have always been pretty talented offensive players on the third and, sometimes, fourth line and I think we’re now seeing the results this postseason. You really can’t pinpoint one line on our team making a huge difference every night since it seems a different line is coming up big each night. The bottom line is playing solid defense since that makes all the difference. That’s an area we pride ourselves on.’’
Dowd, who has a goal and two assists and is a plus-3 through two rounds of the playoffs, said the fundamentals are what make or break a team this time in the season.
“I do feel we’re a good team when we’re skating and forechecking hard, but we know that if we skate and play our positions well away from the puck then good things will happen,’’ Dowd said. “When you have a team like this with so many guys capable of putting the puck in the net, it’s imperative to pay attention to the play away from the puck. When we begin to get a little too fancy is when we need to step back and remember to get back to skating and getting the puck in deep; just play basic hockey.’’
Flyers coach John Stevens has been impressed with the determined effort of his fourth line, including its versatility. Thoresen, for instance, has contributed in some capacity to each of the top four lines despite only playing in 21 regular-season games this winter. The 5-foot-11, 190-pound native of Oslo, Norway, was claimed off waivers from Edmonton on Feb. 22.
“I feel Patrick (Thoresen) has been a very good addition to our team,’’ Stevens said. “He’s filled a variety of roles since he’s been here, especially when we had those injuries to several players. When we’re healthy, he’s been a big contributor to our fourth line and an effective penalty killer. Our fourth unit has done a good job getting pucks deep and being physical on the forecheck. They’ve done everything you would want out of your fourth line in terms of special teams and 5-on-5 play.’’
Stevens is also quick to point out that Riley Cote, Steve Downie and Denis Tolpeko also are capable of stepping in and contributing when needed.
“I’ve had my chances to score goals, but it’s just a matter of taking advantage of those opportunities when you get them,’’ Thoresen (two assists) told NHL.com. “Sometimes you freeze up. But my role is to provide the team energy, be strong on the forecheck and provide some momentum moving forward. When I was playing on a line with Mike (Richards) and Joffrey (Lupul), I made it a point to try and provide some room for those two guys by feeding them pucks. With Jimmy and Sami, it’s more like we’re trying to kill some time in their zone in order to provide rest for the top lines. It’s important in the playoffs to be able to use as many players as possible.’’
Kapanen, who has two goals this postseason, is one of the League’s most respected penalty killers. The 12-year veteran still relishes that defensive role.
“No matter what line you play on, it’s defense first until you get an opportunity offensively,’’ Kapanen said. “Jimmy’s been involved for so long that he has that experience and is calm with the puck. Patrick has shown some offensive ability and he makes some great plays with the puck. He’s a hard-working kid who plays solid two-way hockey and it’s been fun playing with him.’’
“Depth has been a key for us over the last month and a half and I don’t see that stopping at this point,” Briere said. “It’s no secret that in order for us to be successful, we need many guys to chip in, especially against Pittsburgh. It will be important that everyone is on board. We have four lines that could score on any given shift and that’s a nice thing to have.’’