The Philadelphia Flyers have made it a habit of getting behind in games. More importantly they have made it a habit to bounce back and win from behind. The Flyers have the most comebacks in the NHL. Their aura of never stopping, always sticking with the game plan, and constantly pressuring their opponent is paying dividends.
The Penguins are a tough team, no doubt about it. However, how many times can you watch the same team come back on you? Three times in the last weeks of the season the Flyers were behind 2-0, 2-0, and 3-0 in Game 1. All wins. The only time Pittsburgh maintained their early lead was when Claude Giroux and Danny Briere were out of the lineup in Game #82 to close the regular season. That win likely gave Pittsburgh little confidence; when both teams bring their full lineup the Flyers have found a way to frustrate the Pens.
How have the Flyers continually bounced back? From the outside looking in it seems the Flyers have built an organization around being resilient. The Flyers are continually changing their roster to build a Stanley Cup winner, but their leadership from Coach Peter Laviolette and General Manager Paul Holmgren has not wavered.
Even before the season the Flyers overhauled the roster by trading Mike Richards and Jeff Carter. The team immediately became younger in their forward corps. Many wondered if the Flyers would drop in the standings this year. What happened? Scott Hartnell elevated his game and became an All-Star. Claude Giroux, thrust into the leadership role with Richards gone, lived up to the expectations and finished third in the scoring race. Jaromir Jagr provided the offensive spark that helped the Flyers offense go from dangerous but inconsistent, too consistently scoring on the best goalies in the league. Wayne Simmonds had his best offensive year ever. Sean Couturier, Matt Read, Brayden Schenn, Jakub Voracek, and Max Talbot all stepped up with better than expected years.
Adversity? The Flyers deal with it every day. Their defense was gutted during the second half of the season. Chris Pronger is out for the season. Andrej Meszaros has been out for a long stretch. James Van Riemsdyk, last year’s breakout performer in the playoffs, has been missing much of the season. Add to those concerns Ilya Bryzgalov’s struggles earlier in the season and you had a recipe that would cause many teams to fall apart. No matter, the Flyers just scored more goals with a lineup full of rookies and off-season acquisitions.
Philadelphia now has the deep belief that no matter the situation they will be successful.
"We've done it all year and that's what we've got going our way after the first period," Danny Briere said.
This belief gives the Flyers an advantage over a team that has routinely allowed them to get back in games. However, Briere and the Flyers know their starts need to be better.
"At the same time we have to find a way to rectify that because it's not going to happen every night, especially in the playoffs. We got away with it tonight. We're not going to come back from two or three goals every single game. We'll take it, but let's be better."
The Flyers have found the mental and emotional toughness that every team needs to win a Cup. They have the willingness to keep battling when behind, the commitment to the game plan and not panicking and the belief that no matter the situation they can win the game. Having these kinds of beliefs allows the Flyers to remain composed and be resilient.
Philadelphia knows that this battle has just begun and Pittsburgh will come out in Game 2 harder than ever to try to even the series.
"We've got a game on Friday. It's one game," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said when asked how to avoid letting this frustrating loss linger. "They did a lot that they have done all season, which is keep coming and come back from deficits. They did that. They're a good team -- and they don't stop. The second half of the game we didn't get to our game and where we needed to play as much as we needed to, and they really got back in it."
Certainly the Penguins have played a role in this interesting trend of Flyer comebacks. They have played less aggressive. Fleury has allowed some tough goals. But give credit to the Flyers. They always bounce back. And, just like in the 2010 playoffs they will be capable of winning against anyone, anywhere.
Looking ahead to Game 2 and the rest of the series the Penguins must deal with the doubts that come with giving up leads. They must focus on being attacking. The Flyers, in contrast, must find a formula for getting off to a good start by getting their forecheck going and controlling the puck in the offensive zone. It will be interesting to see how the Pens handle this adversity, and if the Flyers can continue to bounce back.