It took until the final day of the 2009-10 regular season for the Philadelphia Flyers
to qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs -- by winning a shootout over the rival new York Rangers
, no less -- but once they got there everything came together and the magic carpet ride didn't end until an overtime loss in Game 6 of the Final.
This season the Flyers have picked right up where they left off -- entering Thursday's action, they led the NHL with 30 wins and had the most points in the Eastern Conference with 65, tying them with the Canucks for first in the League.
So it came as little surprise earlier this week when GM Paul Holmgren
was given a three-year contract extension. Holmgren took over as interim GM in November 2006 and quickly got the job full-time. The Flyers finished last in the NHL in 2006-07, but he wasted little time rebuilding them into an elite team -- and completing a cycle that has seen him play, coach and work in the front office in Philadelphia.
"I think more than anything it's a statement of stability from the ownership on down," Holmgren said during Thursday's "NHL Hour with Gary Bettman."
"It shows our fans and our players, and maybe people around the League, we're moving forward and realize we're in a good spot right now. We're certainly happy to be there, but we know we've got a tremendous amount of work to do."
On Sunday, the Flyers will play the Blackhawks for the first time since losing to them in a hard-fought Stanley Cup Final. Prior to that, the Flyers had won series against the Devils, Bruins and Canadiens, rallying from a 3-0 deficit in games and a 3-0 score in Game 7 to defeat Boston in an epic comeback.
"That was a little humbling, especially in our own building," Holmgren said of losing the Cup-clinching Game 6 to the Blackhawks on an OT goal by Patrick Kane
. "But Chicago's a great team, and they certainly deserved to be the Stanley Cup champions.
"We gave our players a few days off right after the Game 6 here and then we got together and met with them as a group and then we met with them as individuals. We just started the process of … here's what happened, this is where we're at, we want to get back to that point again and we want to win our last game, and what are we going to do about it, and just basically put the onus back on the players -- a good part of whom are back from that team last year.
"We told them to take the rest of June off and after the Fourth of July start on their fitness regimens that we individualized for each player and we checked in with them over the summer from time to time. They all came back to training camp in September in a real good frame of mind. They were all very fit in terms of being ready for the start of the season, and ready to go."
From captain Mike Richards
to defensive stalwart Chris Pronger
to surprising rookie goalie Sergei Bobrovsky
, seemingly everyone has contributed to the Flyers' success this season. Young gun Claude Giroux
and veteran Danny Briere
will represent the team at the 2011 NHL All-Star Game presented by Discover later this month in Raleigh, N.C., as will coach Peter Laviolette
, who took over midway through last season and helped a team languishing near the bottom of the Eastern Conference turn things around and stage a remarkable playoff run.
"You see young players go to the All-Star Game and they get to hang around with Nicklas Lidstrom and some of the older guys that are going to be there and see how they prepare. I think it's great for Claude [Giroux] to be going. I expect him to come back an even better player just because of the experience he's going to go through."
-- Flyers' GM Paul Holmgren
"Peter's been here a little over a year now and done a tremendous job with our team," Holmgren said. "His enthusiasm and passion for the game …the players have kind of carried on his mentality. We're a team that plays with a lot of passion, emotion, energy right now, and he's done a good job with our group. If he sees things starting to slide a little bit he adjusts it right away.
"Our two All-Stars -- Danny Briere
was a late addition because of personal issues with Jarome Iginla
, and Danny, going back to the playoffs last year, if I'm not mistaken he led the playoffs in scoring. He's continued on this season and had a tremendous year. He's certainly well-deserving of the honor of playing in our All-Star Game.
is coming off a good playoffs for us and another (is) guy that's really carried it over into the season. He's a player that is probably our most beloved guy among our fan base. He looks like he's 12 years old and he's 22 now. I think he's going to be a real good player in our League.
"You see young players go to the All-Star Game and they get to hang around with Nicklas Lidstrom
and some of the older guys that are going to be there and see how they prepare. I think it's great for Claude to be going. I expect him to come back an even better player just because of the experience he's going to go through."
Based on his experiences as a player, coach and general manager, Bettman asked Holmgren to sum up the Flyers as an organization.
"All of what the Flyers are about reverts back to Mr. Snider," he said of Ed Snider, the team's president since its inception. "His passion for the game and his vision of what it takes to survive in this city as a sports franchise, it really comes to the forefront every time you think about the Flyers."