(Editor's note: Second in a series of four stories. Next: Five reasons why the Detroit Red Wings can win the Stanley Cup.)
Moving from worst to first doesn't happen often, but this is a far different Flyers roster than the one that earned an embarrassingly-low 56 points in 2006-07, 36 fewer points than the next-worst team in the Atlantic Division and still double-figures less than anyone else in the NHL.
Those days, along with the strange one in October of 2006 when ex-general manager Bob Clarke admitted he no longer had the fire to hold the office, have been replaced with a positive look forward. Paul Holmgren did a quick patch-up job that hass blended faster and worked better than anyone could imagine.
Yo, Adrian! There's no need to keep trotting out "Rocky" videos during every stoppage at home games. It's not 1976, Apollo Creed does not skate a wing for the Penguins. Flyers fans are sophisticated enough not to need fictional series of bad-acting fights to gear up, they make plenty of appropriate – well, sometimes appropriate – noise on their own. And there's no such thing as a conspiracy theory in terms of the officiating being biased against the big, bad Flyers. The past is the past, God loves Dave Schultz, Gary Dornhoefer and Ross Lonsberry, but when the face of the franchise now is the 12-year-old looking Daniel Briere, it's time to stop selling the Broad Street Bullies.
Enough rant, here are five reasons why the Flyers can skate to the Cup on or before June 9.
1. Mike Richards and the new era Flyer. OK, Briere isn't really the mug of the franchise, despite having a great postseason, but Richards doesn't have a baby face, so the line wouldn't have worked. But we digress.
Richards and Jeff Carter are two of the few recent Flyers draft picks who are making an impact. Richards and Carter were much ballyhooed first-round selections in 2003 (Carter at No. 11 overall and Richards No. 24). They weren't oversold like Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, and the league wasn't looking for a savior coming out of a season lost to a lockout when Richards and Carter were picked.
With time to mature behind them, Richards and Carter can lead with their speed and energy, allowing teammates to see and feed off of that. Richards came through with several impact hits against Montreal and added a modest scoring touch. Carter drove the Canadiens' defense deep with his speed on the wing. It might seem like little things, but little things are going to add up to big things against the Penguins and beyond.
2. Hey, the Flyers have a goalie! What a refreshing postseason it is when the Philadelphia Story is not about the countless number of playoff goaltending woes the franchise faced in the recent past. Have you forgotten about Roman Cechmanek, Robert Esche and Brian Boucher? Thank Martin Biron for that.
In the league for all – or parts – of 11 seasons, the 30-year-old is getting his first crack as a No. 1 netminder in the playoffs, and he's taking full advantage of the opportunity. Biron definitely got into the Canadiens' heads in the second round. A native of Quebec, Biron admitted part of the motivation against Montreal was the fact he was a die-hard Nordiques fan growing up, and considering the importance of that rivalry, well, winning a round over the Canadiens was obviously a career highlight.
Biron has played enough games now to be unfazed by anything Pittsburgh will throw at him, and he can expect to see plenty of firepower. Confidence is the biggest thing at this time of year. Not only does Biron have it, but his teammates have it in him.
3. Scoring depth. The Flyers were the only team in the league with as many as seven 20-goal scorers during the regular season, an impressive stat considering one of their best offensive players – left wing Simon Gagne – was limited to just seven goals during 25 games before suffering a season-ending concussion.
There's balance throughout the lineup as Mike Knuble, Joffrey Lupul, Scott Hartnell, Briere, Richards, Carter and Prospal all scored between 20-33 goals. That's one reason second-round star R.J. Umberger (eight goals, nine points vs. Montreal) bounced around the lines so much. He produced 13 goals in the regular season, but seems to be a nice fit anywhere coach John Stevens decides to plant the third-year winger.
Philadelphia can put three offensively productive lines on the ice with an up-and-down, physical, forecheck and cycling style. Even fourth-liners Patrick Thoresen, Jim Dowd and Sami Kapanen have had their moments in this playoff season.
4. Depth on defense. Maybe the most underrated part of Philadelphia's game is the consistent balance the top six on the blueline provide. Everyone knows the Flyers miscalculated how the NHL would look coming out of the lockout. Sure, they may have overpaid (Derian Hatcher) and made mistakes (Mike Rathje), but the team wasn't convinced the league would stick to a more committed standard on stick-related infractions in terms of hooking and holding.
Those mistakes have been corrected; in Hatcher's case his role was reduced. Now it's Kimmo Timonen, Braydon Coburn, Jason Smith, Lasse Kukkonen and Randy Jones seeing the lion share of ice time. Smith may not be much swifter these days than the immobile yet physically-imposing Hatcher, but the ex-Oiler brings such playoff passion and leadership to the group that the rest can't help but follow.
5. Vengeance Now. The team's postseason motto rings true. The Flyers know they could do something special here. It was no fun late in the regular season when injury and an untimely slump pushed Philadelphia from Atlantic Division-title contention to barely holding a playoff spot. But through adversity comes reward if faced with the right approach.
The Flyers are motivated every day by those who say they can't do it. Can't rebound to make the playoffs. Check. Can't beat a red-hot first-round opponent during Game 7 on the road. Check. Can't beat the conference top seed that has an advantage in speed and skill. Check.
Can't win the Stanley Cup? Dare you bet against them?