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Solid defense, Boucher give Flyers confidence

by Mike G. Morreale
PHILADELPHIA -- There's a confidence oozing from the Philadelphia Flyers' dressing room these days that can't be ignored.

After needing just five games to dispose of the second-seeded New Jersey Devils in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals, the seventh-seeded Flyers will enter the conference semifinals against the sixth-seeded Boston Bruins riding an emotional high.

The defense is playing as close to shut-down hockey as imaginable behind a veteran goalie defying the odds. Special teams have been relentless behind a group of blue-collar Philadelphians better suited for a role in "Rocky" than "Quest for the Cup." And despite the fact the team has suffered key injuries at the most inopportune time, new faces have taken on greater roles and made valuable contributions.

It isn't often words like "defying the odds," "relentless" and "valuable contributions" are a part of the Flyers' postseason vocabulary, and the reality is Philadelphia still needs 12 more wins if they're to hoist the Stanley Cup for the first time in 35 years.

"Personally, I think it's fabulous. It's wonderful to see how this team battles through whatever is in front of them and comes out on top" -- Flyers chairman Ed Snider

But there is reason to believe.

"Personally, I think it's fabulous," Flyers chairman Ed Snider told the (Camden) Courier-Post. "It's wonderful to see how this team battles through whatever is in front of them and comes out on top."

The Flyers are among the top five in both power-play and penalty-killing efficiency this postseason -- hitting at a 27.6-percent clip (8-for-29) with the man-advantage, while working at 87.5 percent (28 of 32) while shorthanded.

They've allowed the fewest goals (nine) of any team in the playoffs, thanks largely to the strong play of goalie Brian Boucher (4-1, 1.59 goals-against average, .940 save percentage). "Boosh" enters the second round not having allowed an even-strength goal in 187:39, or nine-plus periods of hockey.

Boucher's teammates have assisted his effort by playing with the lead for 133:29 of 303:35 -- or 44 percent -- during their five-game triumph against the Devils. They were behind for only 34:33.

When Jeff Carter, the team's leading goal-scorer in the regular season, and Simon Gagne, the longest-tenured player on the roster, were sidelined with foot injuries in Game 5, others picked up the slack. In fact, it's been a collective effort since the opening game of the first round, when grinders Blair Betts and Ian Laperriere set the tempo by exhibiting the finer points of penalty killing.

But the League's toughest player, Laperriere, will be absent from the lineup against the Bruins. He was diagnosed with a brain contusion and is out the remainder of the postseason. Despite the injuries, it still remains business as usual for coach Peter Laviolette, who has his charges believing in his up-tempo, attacking style.

Of course, we can't forget about that four-headed monster along the blue line -- Chris Pronger, Kimmo Timonen, Braydon Coburn and Matt Carle. The foursome is among the top five on the team in ice time per game this postseason and they've combined for 2 goals and 10 points. Pronger and Timonen have played over 6:30 per game while shorthanded and over five minutes a game on the power play per game while averaging 30-plus shifts.

Offensively, the Flyers have six players with at least 2 goals in five postseason games, with second-year standout Claude Giroux leading the way with 4 goals. Captain Mike Richards has a team-leading 8 points; Danny Briere's 2 goals have been game-winners; and Daniel Carcillo, of all people, had the overtime clincher in Game 3 against the Devils.

"You want to continue to raise your game for however long you're in the playoffs because you're going against that much better competition," said Pronger, who led the team in ice time (29:03) and blocked shots (20) against the Devils in the opening round. "The teams are that much stronger and the intensity gets up there. But you also have to be disciplined. Disciplined not only with the rules, but in your system and how you play the game, how you execute. It's got to get better with each series."
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