VOORHEES, N.J. You want more? Scott Hartnell does. He appeared almost giddy.
When the Flyers dispatched the Penguins, the semifinal opponent for the orange and black remained uncertain for the better part of a week. Given how things unfolded against Pittsburgh considering how intense and bitter the series was it seemed as though it would be difficult for the Flyers to end up pitted against another team that would inspire the same sort of overt vitriol. And then the Rangers held on against Ottawa. And then the Devils thwarted the Panthers in double overtime. And now the Flyers will face New Jersey in the postseason. Again.
Which brings us back to Hartnell. When the Flyers drew Pittsburgh in the quarterfinals, he was all too happy to jaw about the Penguins and the Yinzers and the mutual hatred between the two towns and the two teams. After practice on Friday, Hartnell stood in the locker room and answered all kinds of questions, many of which yielded familiar-sounding answers.
This is the best time of year, Hartnell said, a thin grin forming underneath a fuzzy and nearly-full playoff beard. There are only eight teams left fighting for that cup. Its us vs. Devils right now.
Its nice to have this travel schedule, obviously. An hour bus ride up there and an hour back. Its going to be fun to play these guys. Its easy to hate Pittsburgh, but the Devils are right there, right on our list too, being a division opponent and just down the turnpike. Its going to be a battle. Its going to be fun.
While the Devils no doubt slumbered they didnt hold practice on Friday, no surprise considering their protracted series against Florida the Flyers talked about their semifinal opponents. This will be the fifth time the two teams have faced each other in the postseason. The Devils beat the Flyers in the conference finals in 1995 and in 2000. The Flyers topped the Devils in the quarterfinals in 2004 and 2010. In much the same way that theres no love for the Penguins around here, the animosity between the Devils and Flyers has been long-established and frequently refreshed.
And heres the best part for hardcore puck heads and casual postseason rubberneckers alike: you could really say that about the Flyers facing any of the remaining Eastern Conference teams. The Rangers, the Capitals, the Devils theres history and deep-rooted animosity there with each of them (unlike what will transpire in the Western Conference).
You could throw it into a blender the Rangers, the Penguins, the Devils, the Flyers, and pull out any two and theres something there, I think, Peter Laviolette said. Theyve been around a long time. Theyve played each other a lot of times and that usually creates the intense environment. A lot of times, often times, it can create great hockey.
It certainly did against Pittsburgh unless youre a fan of the Penguins, at which point you probably werent so entertained by what happened. Prior to the postseason beginning, Vegas listed the Pens as the heavy favorite to win it all. Oops. So much for that. According to the oddsmakers, the Blues are now the best bet to hoist the Cup (154), followed by the Flyers and Rangers (each at 92). The Devils (91) have the next-to-longest odds to hold a post-playoff parade. That ought to make Flyers fans happy even if it didnt do much at all for Laviolette.
Whether you pick someone to be a favorite or not a favorite, we dont really view it like that, Laviolette said. The four teams I just mentioned, theyre all division teams. Weve played a lot against each other. Theyre all top eight teams in the league. We were five points behind the Penguins, Im not sure how that translates to a heavy favorite. New Jersey finished one point behind us. Im not really sure how that transfers to a favorite, either. And its all irrelevant. None of that matters. Two teams are going to go out and play hockey and the team that does it the best will move on.
Hes right about that, of course. The odds ultimately mean nothing, or at least they mean a whole lot less than the fact that the Flyers will be back on the ice soon, and this time they get to begin at home. Laviolette was asked about that on Friday, about what he expects the Wells Fargo Center to be like after remaining idle for a week.
I would think it would just pick up where it left off, Laviolette said. Weve got great fans and a great building and theres a great environment there. I dont see it being any different.
The blender, as Laviolette put it, is plugged in and the blades will begin to move again on Sunday. What an appropriate metaphor.
E-mail John Gonzalez at firstname.lastname@example.org