Brian Smith | PhiladelphiaFlyers.com
/ Philadelphia Flyers
Tuesday’s game is the first of the five biggest games the Flyers have among their 15 remaining - the three against Pittsburgh and two against Detroit. They take on the Red Wings, who are coming off a 1-0 loss at home to Toronto on Sunday night.
Even though the Red Wings are currently in the lead, they'll be playing with a level of desperation above that. The Wings barely got out of Madison Square Garden with any points at all on Saturday, although they eventually won in overtime. That win and the previous game vs. Winnipeg are Detroit’s only victories in its last six contests, and it’s put the Wings in a position where they’re just trying to hang on and extend their 24-year playoff streak.
“It’s impressive,” Voracek said. “They have a lot of good players on their team. But the way we play, they’ve got to be more worried about not making the playoffs than us. Everybody knows how we play right now. I think we’ve got more experience than when we were at that level last year. I think we’ve got more confidence, and you can tell by the way we play.”
The origins of that confidence go all the way back to the fall, when the Flyers finally seemed to get into gear in mid-to-late November. Whether it was getting used to a new coach, new systems, or something else, the Flyers began to put together stretches of solid play. Giroux says those stretches have started to become longer and longer.
“I think the whole season we had stages that we were playing really good hockey,” he said. “We’d have two good periods and wouldn’t be able to follow it up with a third one. Those two periods we were playing the right way and were patient with our game. I think lately we’ve been better at being more dialed in the whole game. Against Tampa Bay at home, that’s a good example. I don’t remember the last time we had a consistent 60 minutes like that. So it’s important that we build on that.”
Tuesday’s game begins at 7:30 on CSN and 93.3 WMMR. The Flyers then head to Chicago to take on the Blackhawks on Wednesday, which will be a national telecast on NBCSN and will air on 97.5 The Fanatic.
Monday was one of those strange days where the most interesting thing to happen at Flyers practice had nothing to do with the game the next day.
As the practice wrapped up, Jake Voracek emerged from the locker room for his first skate with his teammates in three weeks. He received a hockey team’s version of a standing ovation, with a lot of hollering and sticks banging the ice. Fortunately nobody got carried away and stick-tapped him anywhere near the lower-body injury that’s kept him out of the lineup since late February.
“It was amazing,” Voracek said. “It felt really good. I’m not going to lie. It was a great feeling and I’m really happy the boys did something like that.”
However, it was just a first day back. Voracek disqualified himself from being ready for Detroit tomorrow, and didn’t sound optimistic about the Chicago game on Wednesday, saying he needs time to recover the conditioning he lost during his long layoff since he couldn’t skate at all.
“You’ve got to do everything in the gym,” he said. “Miss three weeks of skating, it’s hard to catch up on. That’s why I need a couple of practices. [I have] no idea about Chicago. I’m going to go day-by-day and see how I feel.”
This whole thing is a strange experience to Voracek – he’d tied Jeff Carter for the third-longest ironman streak in team history in the game where the injury apparently happened, and hadn’t missed a game since 2011. So he’s been doing a lot of things he hasn’t done in a long time, such as today’s return to practice, or even watching games from the press box – something that’s caught him by surprise.
“It’s interesting to watch from up there,” Voracek said. “You see some things you can’t see on the ice. It’s easier from up top because you see the full ice; from ice level it’s harder. I’ve been looking at the power play a lot, thinking what I can do better when I get back on the power play.”
He’s also not used to not being around the team – in fact, he probably has been around the team more during his injury than most players are around when they’re injured.
“They’re like my family basically,” he said. “I wasn’t sued to not being around them. After the game I stick around the room with the boys, after practices as much as I could. Just try to keep the positive mood in the locker room.”
For that matter, his teammates are equally happy to still have him around.
“He’s been pretty excited to come back with us,” said captain Claude Giroux. “He’s one of the best team guys I’ve ever had a chance to play with. He just wants to be around the guys so much that seeing him back on the ice was pretty fun. He’s a little clown too. Kind of keeps everybody relaxed. He just enjoys being at the rink so much, it makes us enjoy it a little more too. We can’t wait to have him back.”
Voracek has obviously not cared much for being unavailable to play, but he noted that the team’s success during his absence has helped the situation.
“The boys make it easy on you,” he said. “It’s fun to watch them. For the last seven games I’ve been out, they’ve been playing incredible hockey. They’re doing a very good job.”