Very few Western Conference teams evoke such strong reactions from Flyers players as do the Chicago Blackhawks.
Simply mention the Blackhawks to any of the seven current Flyers who were a part of the team for the 2009-10 season, and thoughts immediately turn to Patrick Kanes game-winning overtime goal and subsequent celebration at center ice at the Wells Fargo Center two Junes ago.
Any time you think of Chicago, youre going to think of them stealing the Stanley Cup from us, Claude Giroux said. Obviously its motivation for us to win every game. I remember last year, it was a big game for us. We won that game, but weve got to make sure we do the same thing here.
The Flyers, as Giroux notes, will have their first chance to host the Blackhawks since they lost the Cup to them in 2010 on Thursday evening.
If youre reading this story, you likely dont need to be reminded of the circumstances surrounding the end of the Flyers extraordinary playoff run (and might wish to skip the next sentence). Kane, the young, outspoken Blackhawk, beat goalie Michael Leighton from a seemingly impossibly angle to end overtime of Game 6 and win the Cup.
It was an awkward ending, to put it lightly, and not one anyone on either team or watching the game at game will soon forget.
Ive seen it, yeah, coach Peter Laviolette said, referring to replays of Kanes goal. Like youre trying to do to me today, I dont have it on a speed dial on my TV just to punch it up and look at it every day. But Ive seen it. I dont close my eyes if its on the TV. Its part of history. Its part of what happened.
You move forward. It keeps you moving forward. Did I know it went in right away? No. There were a lot of people who probably didnt know it went in right away. The puck got lost for a second. After they reviewed it, it went in the net.
The bittersweet memory of reaching the Stanley Cup Final despite a rough regular season still hangs in the backs of many Flyers minds. It was there last season, when the Flyers traveled to Chicago and defeated the 'Hawks, 4-1, and itll be even more present on Thursday, when the Flyers face the Blackhawks on home ice and aim to get their home record back on track.
Im sure itll cross everyones mind that was on our team that year, Scott Hartnell said. It was obviously a disappointing end to that season. It was a great run, everything like that. But coming up short always leaves bad memories in the back of your head. There wont be much motivation needed. Weve got to get back to our winning ways. Our home record has been quite poor all season, and weve got to change that.
Including the Winter Classic, the Flyers are 8-6-2 playing at home. Never mind the emotional victory silencing the Blackhawks at the Wells Fargo Center would provide; the team needs to find a way to win at home and on the road, if it hopes to continue to fight for the top spot in the Atlantic Division.
Weve got to get back on track here, Laviolette said. Were home for a couple games, back at the Wells Fargo building. Weve got to take care of those games and pay attention to our home games.
The Flyers will be without Jaromir Jagr for at least the next couple of home games, as the veteran right wing is out of commission for seven to 10 days with a mild groin strain. Expected to take his spot in the lineup on Thursday is rookie Matt Read (see blog post), the 25-year-old utility player whos making a case for Rookie of the Year honors.
Read, who has spent time on the Flyers second and third lines, has played alongside just about every skater on the roster. But he regards the chance to play on the teams first line with Hartnell and Giroux as a big opportunity.
I walked in and I saw I was on a line with Giroux and Hartnell, I thought oh, Lavy made a spelling error there, Read said. I was excited. You probably only get one of these shots to make the most of one of these opportunities and I look forward to playing with those guys tomorrow night, and to try to cash in on a couple points and help our team win.
Youre only given this opportunity once in a while, and youve got to take advantage of it.
The Flyers arent quite into the second half of their season, but as Read noted, its starting to feel that way. His sentiment was echoed from players across the lineup.
Every game counts, every two points you can get is huge, Read said. Youre fighting for home-ice advantage or a playoff spot or first in your division, every games important now. I guess the mentality is, you cant lose at home and on the road youve got to take care of business.