Philadelphia Flyers: Pressure Lifted

After a stressful 2 months, the pressure is finally off the Philadelphia Flyers for tonight’s Game 5 against the Washington Capitals.

Tonight in Washington, the Philadelphia Flyers will be facing elimination. They are down 3-1 in their series with the Washington Capitals, who boasted the best regular season record in the NHL. It’s a dire circumstance, and no one really gives the Flyers any chance. That’s probably the best thing the Flyers have heard in some time.

For two months, the Flyers have been engaged in a furious playoff chase. Many (myself included) didn’t give them much of a chance to make the playoffs as of mid-February. This brought out the best of the Flyers. They had a great homestand, and Steve Mason served as a workhorse and had perhaps his best stretch of the season.

By the end of the chase, the Flyers almost ran out of steam. Some of that was simply that no team can play their best all the time. Other parts of it were that the Flyers apparently wanted it so bad, they were trying too hard. In key games against Detroit and Toronto in the final week of the season, the Flyers gave up an unusual amount of odd man rushes from pressing too much.

Of course the Flyers got a few breaks and got into the playoffs with a final push. Once in the playoffs, the Flyers shouldered new pressures. Making the playoff push for an ailing Ed Snider became win it in memory of the towering owner.

Against the formidable Caps, who have been on cruise control for the last few months, it was an impossible situation for the Flyers. It was too much, for too long. The Flyers fell in a tight Game 1, and a strong performance in Game 2 went for naught largely because of Mason’s horrific fail.

Real rock bottom came in Game 3. What started as a tribute to Mr. Snider went completely off the rails, ending in an embarrassing score line and even more embarrassing fan behavior.

Fortunately the Flyers saved face with a professional performance in Game 4. The Flyers avoided a sweep, and were able to go to the major Ed Snider memorial ceremony yesterday without the indignity of having just been swept out of the playoffs.

It is probably accurate to say that the Flyers have achieved most of their goals this season. The Philadelphia Flyers made the playoffs. Young players like Sean Couturier, Brayden Schenn, and Shayne Gostisbehere all made important strides in their professional development. The burden of winning for Ed is largely behind them. On the one hand, you could say the Flyers no longer have much to play for.

Another way to look at is that the Flyers can finally relax. The win in Game 4 allows the team to put Game 3’s shenanigans behind them, and no one around the league expects them to have any chance to come back in this series. Maybe they don’t, but this will give the Flyers permission to relax and maybe enjoy the game a little.

Desperate circumstances brought out the best in the Flyers this season, albeit for a limited time. Pressing so hard for so long also inevitably led to an emotional and physical crash. Tonight the Flyers should be freed from the fans’ expectations of success, Ed Snider’s ghost, and their own expectations of themselves. They should go to the rink with a smile for the first time a long time, pleased with what they’ve achieved, and just maybe they can play their best game in weeks, and make the Capitals feel a bit of pressure themselves in the process.