Tough stretch of games will test Flyers’ mettle

Garnet Hathaway

      PHILADELPHIA – Now comes the hard part.

      Call it the Big 7. Beginning with Thursday night’s home game against Toronto, the Flyers’ schedule turns considerably harder over the next two weeks with seven straight games against some of the NHL’s elite teams.

      There are two games against the Maple Leafs, two against Boston and single encounters with Carolina, Florida and the New York Rangers.

      And, from the Flyers’ perspective regarding a potential playoff spot, there isn’t a whole lot of margin for error. Philadelphia is in a close tussle with teams such as the New York Islanders, Detroit Red Wings and Tampa Bay Lightning for postseason consideration.

      After Thursday morning’s skate at the Flyers Training Center in Voorhees, N.J., Garnet Hathaway indicated these will be good tests to see just what his team is made of.

      There’s really no point in worrying about these games as a complete entity. It’s better to go with the old “one game at a time” attitude.

      “That’s how we’re going to approach it,” Hathaway said. “We have to do everything right against Toronto. We really can’t think about the other six. It’s a good stretch. It’s a stretch of games you have to step up for.”

      It should be noted the Flyers have already defeated Florida twice and Carolina once, so there are those results to place in the confidence file.

      “I think we’ve played really well against top teams,” Hathaway said, mindful of additional successes against top teams such as Vancouver, Edmonton, Vegas, Colorado and Dallas. “Right now I think we have to focus on the details, being able to do that at home (where four of the seven games will be played).

      “We have to play that same disciplined game in all the parts of the game. We talked about that a lot today. This is playoff hockey for us. That’s how we’re going at it.”

      Although the Flyers find themselves on the inside of the playoff picture looking out, things can change in a heartbeat and there’s still a month left on the regular-season calendar.

      “The thing is, you can’t be satisfied with where you are,” Hathaway said. “Things change really quickly in this league. I think if you had asked players back in September if they would be (satisfied) with where we are now in the division, they would take it in a second.

      “But you have to know how much work you’ve put in to get here and just how much work it’s going to take to stay here.”

      Associate coach Brad Shaw, who, along with assistant coach Rocky Thompson will be running the bench on Thursday night in the absence of head coach John Tortorella (two-game suspension for Tampa incident), goes along with what Hathaway had to say.

      The Flyers, who haven’t been to the playoffs in the previous three seasons (second-longest drought in franchise history), would like to give their young players a taste of playoff action.

      “I think there’s an excitement that the games are meaningful now,” Shaw said. “I don’t think we’re getting too far ahead of ourselves, we’re still taking it one day at a time.

      “Regardless of the group of games we have in the next couple weeks being fairly daunting, when you look at them one game at a time, we’re capable of winning any night when we play our ‘A’ game. That’s our challenge: How close can we get to our best game with as many players as possible, as often as possible?”

      Adding to the excitement is the fact a lot of people did not pick the Flyers to make the playoffs this season, so apparently the “rebuild” might be a little farther along than people might have expected.

      “That’s one of the great puzzles for coaches – how do you get your guys there as often as you can?” Shaw said. “Through this stretch, I think it is exciting for guys and it’s sort of the next step for the organization and these key core young guys.

      “They need to play playoff games and they need to go through the lessons that come with seven-game series. The hardships and the highs and lows. Everything is a little bit more under the microscope and that’s what is great about it. That’s why it (the Stanley Cup) is the hardest trophy in the world to win.”

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About Wayne Fish 2426 Articles
Wayne Fish has been covering the Flyers since 1976, a stint which includes 18 Stanley Cup Finals, four Winter Olympics and numerous other international events.