You win Stanley Cups in June, not in January. That’s something the Flyers have sadly learned over time.
Being the best team in hockey at the midway point doesn’t mean a thing if someone else is carting Lord Stanley around the ice five months from now — especially if they’re celebrating on your ice, like the Blackhawks did here last year.
Still, there’s good reason to believe the Flyers are geared up for another serious run for their first Cup since Bobby Clarke and the Broad St. Bullies won back-to-back titles in 1974-75. Peter Laviolette’s team goes a good three lines deep and finally has enough blue-line support to survive an injury like the broken foot that sidelined Chris Pronger for a month. With that kind of firepower, it’s nearly impossible for a team to shut them all down. Only the proverbial hot goalie can do that.
So let the second half of the season begin — and maybe this year the Flyers can turn January into June and end that 36-year drought.
Secrets of success
Lightning in a bottle: Scottie Hartnell (34 pts) and Ville Leino (36), who didn’t come alive until last year’s Cup run, have picked up where they left off, teaming with Danny Briere to give the Flyers a dynamite line.
Team MVP, Danny Briere
Falling asleep at the wheel and surviving an offseason car wreck has given Briere a new lease on his hockey life.
Well on his way to surpassing his career-high 32 goals — Briere’s got 26 already — he’s playing like the $52 million free agent the Flyers thought they were getting three years ago. That gives his team the kind of scoring depth and balance they’ll need to beat East powers like the Penguins, Capitals, Bruins and Lightning.
Wall of support: Sean O’Donnell and Andrej Meszaros (NHL’s best plus-minus) have been a reliable third pair on the blue line, taking a lot of pressure off Chris Pronger and Kimmo Timonen.
3 Keys to taking home Lord Stanley
1 Special recipe.
With plenty of snipers and skilled point men, there’s no reason for the Flyers’ power play to be ranked 15th in the league. But the Flyers have a tendency to overpass rather than shoot, which has made them predictable. Their 11th-ranked penalty killing, on the other hand, needs to stay strong, since this has always been a team that goes to the box a lot.
2 Defense still wins championships.
Will it be Boosh or Bob in goal? While common belief is you can’t get very far in the playoffs without a reliable goalie, the fact remains none of last year’s Final Four — Flyers, Blackhawks, Sharks, Canadiens — will have the same man in net this spring. That’s not to suggest your goalie can be a sieve, but a sturdy defense and back-checking forwards might be more important.
Still, seeing who emerges as the No. 1 goalie will be the most fascinating subplot for the second half of the season.
3 Find a trading partner.
Deep as they are up front, look for the Flyers to add one more forward by the trading deadline. That’s why GM Paul Holmgren banished Michael Leighton and Matt Walker to the Phantoms, clearing $3.5 million in cap space. The hottest names in their sights so far are Carolina’s Erik Cole and Calgary’s Jarome Iginla.