The fact that there were any hopes of a Stanley Cup in Philadelphia this year is a testament to what the Flyers were able to accomplish this season. Before the season began, I wrote about the fact that no one really knew what to expect from this Flyers team. There were a lot of variables and a lot of question marks.
The 2011-12 Flyers needed to establish an identity. They needed to figure out who they were. As the season progressed, that persona began to take form and crystallize. That’s good, because that was the step this team needed to take this year, and they did.
If you had told me in September that the Flyers would make it to the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, I would’ve taken that as a big win. But along the way, Claude Giroux and company raised the bar and raised our expectations. Maybe they raised our expectations too high.
With a dominant win over the Pittsburgh Penguins in round 1, the Flyers were suddenly the darlings of the city. It was a great series, and showcased the speed, skill and ability of the Flyers. It was made sweeter by they fact the series win was over a hated in-state rival, and a team that many thought was primed to win another Stanley Cup. I won’t say it was fool’s gold, but ultimately it felt more like we played our Conference Final in the 1st round. After getting up for that series the way the Flyers did, there was only way to go.
But was it reasonable for Flyers fans to expect a deep run in the playoffs?
I don’t really think it was. Sure it would have been a great story, but that’s not always how things work, especially in the world of sports, and in particular in the world of Philly sports.
It just isn’t fair to place 37 years of frustration on a team that started 12 rookies at various points in the season. It is incredibly unfair to put the blame for the series loss on Ilya Bryzgalov. Bryzgalov may not have played to the level that fans expect a $51 million goalie to play at, but this series wasn’t his loss. Bryz passing the puck off of David Clarkson and into the net may have been the final nail in the coffin, but it wouldn’t have been if the rest of the team had shown up at any point in the series other than Game 1. As much of a pounding as the Flyers took in this series, it could have been exponentially worse if not for Bryz’s play. One play does not a season make or break, but unfortunately for Bryz, that will be the indelible image of this postseason.
The Flyers ran out of gas and answers in this series. They couldn’t solve the Devils’ forecheck, they couldn’t get the puck into the Devils’ zone and create pressure, and their power play was a how-to demonstration of what NOT to do. Those things aren’t Bryz’s fault.
But enough of the negative.
The Flyers have a bright future. Players like Wayne Simmonds, Brayden Schenn, Matt Read, Jakub Voracek, Zac Rinaldo, Erik Gustaffson, Marc-Andre Bourdon and Sean Couturier are young, talented and will likely anchor this team for years to come.
The team’s emerging superstar, Claude Giroux is 24. He’s a very young man that I believe is just beginning his ascension in the NHL. If James Van Riemsdyk can get back on track after an injury plagued season, the Flyers will have another solid young player, if they don’t trade him.
And back to Bryz. I know that it was a bumpy ride with Bryzgalov, but the bottom line is that the Flyers will have to make this work. They certainly can’t trade him with that ridiculous contract, so the best that they can do is hope that ater getting a year of playing under the intense spotlight of Philadelphia under his belt, maybe Bryz can settle down and worry more about playing his position, and less about all the rest that goes along with it. At least he knows what to expect now.
The Flyers lost in the 2nd round last year too. They got swept, in fact, and it was devastating after their run the year prior. I didn’t feel good about the loss last year. It felt empty and devoid of hope. There were a lot of questions about what this team was going to do to improve. Somehow, trading Mike Richards and Jeff Carter proved to be addition by subtraction. Yes, the two former faces of the franchise may very well hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup in the next month, but I still believe the Flyers are a much better TEAM without them.
Their day is coming…