March 27, 2009
(Have any Flyers been suspended at all this season? Somewhere inside the NHL offices in New York, Gary Bettman is patting himself on the back after his talking-to of the team after last season's suspension party on Broad Street.)
Keep in mind that looking at the standings today, it might seem as if the Flyers are battling for that fourth spot at first glance; but they also have a couple of games in hand over the Pittsburgh Penguins, New York Rangers, and Carolina Hurricanes, the teams chasing them.
With the way that goaltender Martin Biron has been playing of late (6-3 in his last nine starts, despite last night's loss to the Florida Panthers) and a now-finally healthy Daniel (sorry, Danny) Briere back in the lineup, that's enough to have the New Jersey Devils at least be looking over their shoulders a bit, should they slip up in the final nine games of the season.
Are the Flyers the best dark-horse contender in the Eastern Conference?
The return of Briere has now made an already deep Flyers lineup deeper and comes at the perfect time of the season as he told ESPN.com's Pierre LeBrun:
"That's been my focus, especially since the last surgery in January, my focus has been on the stretch drive and the playoffs," said Briere, who is in the second season of an eight-year deal. "The best part of the season is still ahead of me."
"We have three very dangerous scoring lines that can hurt you at any given time," Briere said. "With my comeback and the emergence of [rookie] Claude Giroux, it makes us a little more complete."
More complete, and with added firepower to the NHL's seventh highest scoring team.
With their deep lineup, the key cog in the Flyers playoff run will again be goaltender Biron. After years of playing the backup role in Buffalo, Biron is finally emerging as a solid No. 1 and experiencing the playoffs for the first time last season, he's again a contender for this year's annual "hot playoff goalie."
After dispatching the Washington Capitals in a first-round, seven-game series and then upsetting the number one seed Montreal Canadiens, Biron's gas tank ran out as Philadelphia was blown away by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Eastern Conference Final. With a year's playoff experience and an improved defense corps, including a healthy Kimmo Timonen, who's to say that the Flyers can't make a run again? This time though, not so surprisingly.
The 31-year old Biron will become an unrestricted free agent on July 1, so you know he wants a raise from his current $3.5 million/year deal.
With the Flyers signing 27-year old Swedish goaltender Johan Backlund yesterday, it's Biron's crease to earn in the long-term -- if his play down the stretch can show the Philadelphia brass he's worthy of the investment.