VOORHEES, N.J. Perhaps the best thing to come out of the Flyers first-round playoff victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins is that Peter Laviolettes rookies were forced into a highly-competitive war.
This wasnt the LA Kings vanquishing Presidents Trophy winner Vancouver in five games.
Of the six games in the Penguins-Flyers series, five of them were emotional roller coasters, not to mention physically demanding in every extreme.
Whether it was good for us or not good for us, it was the way the series was played, Laviolette said Monday.
It was a great series I know it was good for our team just because of the youth and a lot of young players who are experiencing the playoffs for the first time. They got to see what its about.
They felt firsthand how physically AND emotionally spent they were in having to fight back from continual 2-0 deficits early in the series and how taxing it was to do it on the road where the buildings energy works against you.
What it was like to seemingly have the Penguins on the ropes with a 3-0 series lead, only to get blown out in Game 4.
They experienced a dramatic shift in Game 5 from a series where 11-goal games were the norm, to suddenly half that number.
They felt how awful it was to lose their most physical defenseman, Nicklas Grossmann, only to discover that the 23-year-old rookie who replaced him, Erik Gustafsson, compensated with his speed and stick quickness to have a genuine impact by the series end.
It was fast, it was physical, and the environment was great, Laviolette said. In Pittsburgh, in Philadelphia, you got a sense of what it was like playing on the road and at home. You get the feel of what a lead like 3-0 is.
Get to feel what it is like to lose a couple games in a row as the pressure builds. A lot of that is a positive for our group. You can look back and say we learned a lot so we can move forward.
Laviolette said the only game he didnt like was Game 4 in Philly where the Penguins humiliated the Flyers, 10-3.
I really liked the resolve and the fight in the first two games and fighting back from the big deficit in a building where a lot of your players were feeling playoff atmosphere on road for the first time, he said.
He was also impressed with the Flyers determination not to fade at the series start when they could have easily lost both games in Pittsburgh.
Games 5 and 6 were very different from the first four because they actually resembled what playoff games usually look like: tense, low-scoring affairs where defense and goaltending take over.
In the first four games, it was physical, albeit shinny hockey where the last team that scored won. Both teams set an NHL record with 45 goals through four games. In all, there were 56 goals scored in the series.
In Game 6, the Flyers made a conscious defensive effort to shut Pittsburgh down with what Laviolette called a phenomenal 40 blocked shots seven from Gustafsson.
Meanwhile, goalie Ilya Bryzgalov didnt have to dazzle, but he did exactly what was expected of him in Game 6. He made the saves he had to make (30) and a couple he might not have been expected to make.
Thats what you want from your goaltender in a playoff series.
What I liked about Game 6 our team really played a certain brand of hockey to tighten things down, Laviolette said. Its not an easy thing to do. They still generated chances, but its what we did to defend that.
Theyre a talented team, Pittsburgh. Theyre highest scoring team in the league for a reason. They have a lot of talent over there.
To play the way we did and be desperate like we were and block shots like we did and be committed to our end and still generate offense, it think it was our most complete game.
The biggest surprise in the series had to be the effectiveness of the Flyers power play. It was 60 percent through four games and finished at an equally surreal 52.2 percent 12 for 23 for the entire series.
Usually, a truly dynamic power play in the playoffs is 25 percent. Without question, the Flyers special teams were responsible for three early victories.
Laviolette said he never anticipated having 60 percent power play success through four games
If we had one opportunity to score on the power play, do we have confidence in our guys to do it?
Laviolette said. Yeah.
How effective the power play continues to be as the Flyers move on will be interesting to watch. It certainly made a difference in this series given the Flyers few even strength goals late in the series.
Now they rest. No one has a true sense as to who their next opponent is and when the Eastern Conference semifinals will begin. There are a near half-dozen different possibilities.
At some point, well get an opponent and theyll tell us who and where were going, Laviolette said, adding theyll be plenty of time for preparations for a specific team.
Is there one club youd like to see there?
No, he said.