Entering the Playoffs as an Underdog Is Good for the Flyers
Before the Philadelphia Flyers officially made the playoffs, NHL sportscasters were counting them out and hoping that the Washington Capitals could get in.
They kept saying that it would be really good for hockey to see the NHL's leading scorer, Alexander Ovechkin, in the playoffs.
The Flyers had been a team that made the Playoffs for ten consecutive years from 1996 - 2006 and were picked a bunch of those years to go all the way. They had a very good line-up with the Legion of Doom powered by Eric Lindros, John LeClair, and Mikael Renberg in '97 and made it to the Stanley Cup Finals getting swept by Detroit.
In 2004, Jeremy Roenick was leading the way with Keith Primeau as the Flyers lost by a goal in Game Seven of the Conference Finals allowing Tampa Bay to go on to win the Cup.
After the lockout, the Flyers got Peter Forsberg and were supposed to be the team with the most potential to go all the way. Somehow, last year for the 2007 season as the Flyers were celebrating their 40th year in the game, they looked great on paper, but messed things up so bad right off the bat that they became the absolute last place team in the NHL and had their worst year in their history.
So the Flyers have always been expected to be good and do well. It is one of the things that Philadelphia sports fans demand from all of their teams. It is one place where a star player has to earn their salary before they can be liked or appreciated. They like tough guys who are gutsy and willing to fight to the end even if they lose.
The heroes of Philadelphia sports are the players who are not afraid to get down and dirty and fight for themselves which is part of the reason that Philadelphians like the underdogs.
Although Rocky Balboa is a fictional hero from Philadelphia, his spirit, drive, and fight as the ultimate underdog is what exemplifies him as a true Philadelphia sports hero.
This past season started with the Flyers making some trades at the end of last season, acqiring some veteran blood that fit the Philly mold during the off season, to work under the motto "Back With A Vengeance."
Philadelphians immediatelytook notice.
They just came off their worst season in franchise history and in order to be liked and appreciated by the home fans in this city, the team better be prepared to prove that last year was a fluke and they are going to give it their all no matter what.
A few early wins helped ease the situation, but in this town the proof has to be in the pudding. All year the Flyers have been like any other team coming off of a bad year, expected to be mediocre at best and hopefully make the playoffs, but they are rebuilding and it could take a bit of time.
More than any other city, Philadelphians don't stand for mediocrity. You may not be the best, but you better try like you are and never let the critics tell you what you can or can't do.
Paul Holmgren and John Stevens designed a team with enough veteran leaders and young hungry players to have the right attitude and mindset to play in this city. They truly have been working with a vengeance and something to prove.
After a ten game losing streak, the Flyers dropped from a guaranteed playoff spot to just hovering at the 8th seed line. The incredible turnaround in just one year was looking pretty grim.
The Flyers were playing Buffalo and were down 3 - 0. Daniel Briere, who Philly acquired from Buffalo and who had been struggling all year to perform like the superstar Philly paid for, dug deep and turned the season around with that Philly "never say die" attitude that the fans have been waiting to see.
Briere scored the first goal for Philadelphia and sent a message to the team that they aren't quitters. Philly erupted with two more goals sending the game into overtime and a shootout.
It came down to Briere again after doing so poorly in all of the other shootouts to get Philly a come from behind win. They had already felt good about fighting back from their deficit and getting a point, but they had something to prove as a team and Briere was going to make his mark in his former home town.
Briere scored a beautiful goal and two of the stars of the game were Marty Biron and Briere who both had just come to Philly from Buffalo. This was the shot heard 'round Philadelphia that made the team realize that they have what it takes to not only make it into the playoffs but to possibly go all the way.
With nine games left before the end of the season the Flyers were trading off with Boston on an almost nightly basis between the 7th and 8th playoff spots. Philly had to give everything they had left to make the playoffs and keep an eye on Washington, Buffalo, and Toronto who were all pushing down the stretch to grab that 8th seed.
The Flyers needed wins badly and except for the Islanders, they were going to have to get these wins from Atlantic Division rivals who were all in better positions for the playoffs.
Out of all of the divisions, I truly believe that the Atlantic is the hardest most physical playing divisions. I am not talking down the feat of Washington's 10-game winning streak to make it into the playoffs and grab the top of their Division and thus the three seed, but they mostly played all teams that didn't make the playoffs and didn't have much to fight for while the Flyers were playing their biggest enemies who were all jockeying for position in the playoffs and trying to win their division.
The fact that the Flyers were able to hunker down and go 7-1-1 in mostly come from behind games and the one shootout loss came down to the last shooter after tying the game in regulation with less than a minute to play is truly incredible.
This doesn't even include in the second to last game of the season against the New Jersey Devils in a must win situation, they scored 3 goals and knocked out one of the game's greatest goalies, Martin Brodeur, and recorded a 3 - 0 shutout.
Thanks to Carolina losing a few minutes later, they were guaranteed a spot in the playoffs. This was a great feeling, but not enough for this team who has something to prove to their fans in Philadelphia. Their final regular season game was against the Division winning Pittsburgh Penguins who had just given the Flyers their only loss of their most determined stretch and who they could very likely be seeing in the first round of the playoffs if they were to lose.
The Penguins chose to sit their star Sidney Crosby to rest him for the playoffs, and the Flyers sat out Daniel Briere and their Captain Jason Smith, both who got injured in the previous game against Jersey.
That didn't matter as the Flyers still wanted to go out on a win and could move up in the standings and still wanted to send a message to Pittsburgh if they did play them in the first round or if it will have to wait until later.
This has become a big Pennsylvania rivalry. Well, the Flyers did what they had to do and recorded another shutout for Marty Biron and went into the playoffs with a win and the 6th seed.
Just before that game in Jersey some of the announcers from the NHL network and both on air personalities and former players all predicted that out of all the teams left in the East that could make the playoffs, Philadelphia will be the one that is left out.
The Flyers had a very good time on the ice proving them wrong. They have come back in many of these games and when they have been down in the 3rd period the team has been quoted as all saying they know they can still win.
This is the true spirit of Philadelphia. When the world tells you that you can't do it, that becomes the motivation to shine and prove everyone wrong. Having the press and the NHL overlook the Flyers and concentrate on the great 65 goal scorer (which is amazing) Ovechkin, suits the Flyers just fine.
They are a team and they represent Philadelphia and even though the Liberty Bell is cracked, it still lives on. If Philly is the underdog of the series, then they are right where they want to be. Game one starts in Washington at 7pm Eastern on Friday April 11.
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