The Philadelphia Flyers shifted into Stanley Cup Playoff mode long before the actual postseason started. High-pressure games were the norm in the final weeks of the season, and because of that no team is better equipped to win the Stanley Cup than the Flyers, who will deliver a championship to their title-starved city in June.
After falling into an early hole in the standings. the Flyers went on a 19-game run starting Feb. 25 in which they took 28 of 38 points to get back into a wild card spot in the Eastern Conference.
Among the biggest reasons the Flyers have climbed so high has been the play of defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere. Recalled from Lehigh Valley of the American Hockey League on Nov. 14, the 22-year-old has provided an offensive boost; the Flyers averaged nearly a goal per game more with him in the lineup.
The Flyers also have one of the best goaltenders in the League since the start of March in Steve Mason. Playing nearly every game during the final five weeks of the season, Mason has played his best hockey since winning the Calder Trophy with the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2007-08.
Philadelphia also has a deep, versatile group of forwards, with three lines capable of creating offense.
The top line of center Claude Giroux, left wing Brayden Schenn and right wing Wayne Simmonds is among the most dangerous in the League. They can score by cycling the puck in the offensive zone off a strong forecheck or off the rush, which makes them hard to defend. Giroux has more points than any player in the League since the start of the 2011-12 season, and has averaged more than a point per game in his postseason career. Simmonds is among the best players in the League in front of the net, and he and Schenn set personal-bests in goals this season.
Second-line center Sean Couturier is scoring and shutting down the best offensive players, and is a proven playoff performer. Jakub Voracek, finally healthy after missing time late in the season because of a lower-body injury, has began to resemble the player who finished fourth in the League in scoring last season. He's back to using his speed up and down the wing and his size to protect the puck in the offensive zone to create scoring chances similar to his idol, Florida Panthers forward Jaromir Jagr.
Video: PHI@PIT: Voracek redirects the puck past Murray
The bottom two lines are filled with grit and speed, including Sam Gagner, who has shown a nice scoring touch on the third line with Nick Cousins and Matt Read.
The top power-play unit hasn't produced the way it has in previous seasons, but like most other aspects of their team game, it improved as the games got more important. Gostisbehere's big shot from the point, Voracek's improved health, Simmonds' strength near the net and Giroux's vision and elite puck-moving skill make it among the most dangerous in the League.
Coach Dave Hakstol has had ups and down in his first NHL season, but playoff-type games haven't fazed him so far.
During the past six weeks, high-intensity games have become the norm for the Flyers, and they've thrived in that situation. That's why they will keep it up all the way through late June and bring the Stanley Cup to Philadelphia for the first time in 41 years.