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Flyers plan to stay the course

by Adam Kimelman
PITTSBURGH, Pa. -- A year ago, the Flyers shifted into playoff mode about three weeks before the season ended, because they had no choice. If they hadn't, they would have spent April, May and June watching hockey rather than playing it.

This season, though, the Flyers were able to cruise a bit more, as they were unchallenged as the No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference for much of the season.

And it could have been the worst thing that could have happened to them. The Flyers went 4-5-1 in their last 10 regular-season games, and a final-day home loss to the New York Rangers dropped them to fifth in the conference and forced them onto the road for the first round of the playoffs.

"I think sometimes during a season, all those lulls were coming from not needing the extra points, being comfortable where we were, not being able to move up or down too much (in the standings)," Danny Briere told "Sometimes you get a little too comfortable. In the playoffs, nobody's comfortable. You can be up 3-0 and still not be comfortable. I hope that'll do it for us."

Flyers coach John Stevens said despite his team's late-season struggles, he's happy with the play he's seen.

"I don't agree with everybody else's analysis of how we finished the year," he said. "I think we played a lot of good games … our special teams was strong down the stretch. If we didn't have the best combined special teams in the League, we were second to San Jose. We tightened up defensively, we were giving up less, we were out-chancing teams. In my opinion we did a lot of things we needed to do down the stretch."

With that thought in mind, Stevens plans to go with the same forward combinations he's used throughout the season -- Mike Richards between Simon Gagne and Mike Knuble; Jeff Carter centering Scott Hartnell and Joffrey Lupul; and Claude Giroux with Briere and Arron Asham. The only change will be on the fourth line, where Jared Ross was called up from the AHL and will skate with Darroll Powe and Daniel Carcillo.

And with Ryan Parent's sore groin healed enough to allow him to play, he'll be paired with All-Star Kimmo Timonen on the top defense pairing. Braydon Coburn will play with Matt Carle, and Randy Jones and Andrew Alberts will play together. Luca Sbisa, the 2008 first-round pick who played 39 games before being returned to his Western Hockey League team, was recalled from the AHL to serve as an extra defenseman.

Regardless of who's in the lineup, however, as a team the need has to be a full, 60-minute effort.

"For us, the biggest thing is staying focused for 60 minutes," said Briere. "We play well for 45, 50 minutes, but we get into a lull. You can't get away with it in the playoffs."

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