WINNIPEG, Manitoba -- It’s been a strange evolution for the Flyers.
As their injury losses mounted, game after game, even in practice, instead of the Flyers' performance dropping off, it’s been just the opposite.
The more adversity that has been piled onto Peter Laviolette’s club, the higher the Flyers' “compete” level has risen.
“We’re playing meaningful games in April and our team is playing hard,” Paul Holmgren said Friday afternoon.
The Flyers couldn’t find a way to win when healthy. Now they’ve rallied around the banner of “banged up underdog,” to make a surprising playoff push in April while catching the attention of the Eastern Conference.
Their latest casualty was Kimmo Timonen, who sustained some kind of lower-body injury during Thursday’s 5-3 win in Toronto. He was seen limping after the game and has been declared a game-time decision for Saturday.
After back-to-back games, the Flyers were off on Friday and meet the Jets in a Saturday afternoon game on Hockey Night in Canada.
“Kimmo hates not playing, so I feel pretty good about his chances of playing tomorrow,” Holmgren said.
The Flyers have won a season-high four games in succession to pull within three points of both the seventh-seeded New York Rangers and the eighth-seeded New York Islanders.
“What I really liked was the work ethic against Toronto,” Laviolette said. “It was a hard-working win and it started with the beginning of the game and went to the end of the game and guys played smart and they’ve been sitting there waiting for us. A really good, road win and team win.”
Since March 24, the Flyers have picked up 10 of a possible 14 points over seven games. They were five points behind when the push began. That’s the hard part – cutting the deficit when every team in the East is playing each other every night.
Here is what has transpired since Danny Briere sustained a concussion in practice back on March 23 and Nicklas Grossmann sustained an upper-body injury on March 22.
On March 24, the Flyers picked up a point in an overtime loss at Pittsburgh.
On March 26, Andrej Meszaros sustained a torn rotator cuff injury during a horrid 5-2 loss to the Rangers. Two days later, Braydon Coburn sustained a left shoulder separation during a 4-3 shootout loss to the Islanders. A point was gained.
On March 30, with call-ups Erik Gustafsson and Oliver Lauridsen in the lineup, along with previously scratched Mike Knuble, the Flyers stunned Boston with a 3-1 win to move within four points of the eighth seed.
That same day, the Flyers bolstered some gaping holes on defense with the acquisition of Kent Huskins from Detroit. The next night, with Huskins in the lineup, the Flyers rallied from two goals down in the third period to sting Washington in overtime, 5-4.
Huskins, incidentally, has been very strong on the puck and has settled down the defense.
“Huskins has been a really good pickup for us,” Laviolette said. “He’s really poised and he has settled things down back there and his minutes have climbed with injuries coming.
“Kimmo goes out of the game last night and he found himself in more situations and he did a nice job. A veteran guy who has seen and done a lot.”
The rookie Lauridsen, whose exceptional reach seems to pay off in terms of poke-checking and reaching for pucks that get behind him, is getting a baptism by fire.
“His opening night [Boston], we’re looking at the pairings and guys missing from our lineup and we see [Milan] Lucic and [David] Krejci and [Nathan] Horton,” Laviolette said.
“Those were not an easy welcome to [an] NHL first game and he did a really nice job. Just playing a simple, physical game.”
The win over Washington also saw Max Talbot fracture his left leg, joining Meszaros and Coburn with season-ending injuries.
Between April 1 and April 3, the Flyers traded for enforcer Jay Rosehill after Jakub Voracek had to defend Claude Giroux in the Flyers' win over the Caps; then plucked Adam Hall off the waiver wire from Tampa Bay to replace Talbot.
Hall can give the Flyers some valuable PK minutes, fourth-line duty, and he’s 54 percent on faceoffs.
On April 3, a badly undermanned Flyers team played an up-tempo game against the freewheeling Canadiens and defeated Montreal, 5-3, while losing Zac Rinaldo with a high-ankle sprain.
On Thursday, with Rosehill and Hall in the lineup together at Toronto, both players made an impact as a tired Flyers group came up big in the third period with a 5-3 victory.
The Flyers have suddenly become a very determined, very resilient group.
“It shows a lot,” Bruno Gervais said. “We have a lot of depth. Guys have been stepping up. We're playing a team game right now. Everyone is chipping in. Everyone is helping. It shows.
“And when you get on a winning streak like that, you need everyone to get involved and to help out. We've had some bad luck this year for guys going down, but every team is going to go through that, especially for a schedule like that [after a lockout]. It's good to see guys stepping up.”
Timonen was injured in the win at Toronto.
“You hate to see that,” said Gervais, who has been his partner since the injuries to Coburn and Meszaros.
“We have a lot of big defensemen going down this year. Kimmo is a huge part for the power play. Offensively, he's a great veteran back there, a leader. Hopefully, it's not that serious.”
Sources say it is not a serious injury which is why Holmgren is optimistic for Saturday.
Through all of this, sophomore forward Sean Couturier snapped out of his season-long slump with five points over the four wins, while veteran role player Ruslan Fedotenko and leading scorer Voracek (38 points) both chipped in with four points during the four-game streak.
Injury adversity has rallied the Flyers to make a playoff push that no one saw coming, nor could have reasonably expected.
“We try to keep to the present,” Laviolette said. “This whole thing started with a couple of hard losses that were tough to swallow and we came into work and I said, ‘Let’s go play this one game hard and where the chips fall, they fall.’
“At the end of the day, it’s the body of work you do in the present and not worrying about the future or past.
“We can control the present and I think they have done a good job at that. They’ve done a good job of staying focused and not worrying things out of our control.
“In saying all this, we’re in such a hole right now there is no time to take a breath and say, ‘Great game.’
“We got a tough, hungry opponent tomorrow. Guys have to come with the same attitude and resolve we have had the past few games.”
Brothers in arms
Courtesy of Hockeybuzz’s Bill Meltzer: Brayden Schenn and Luke Schenn each scored in the 5-3 win at Toronto. The last time two Flyer brothers scored in the same game was on Dec. 28, 1985, when twin brothers Rich and Ron Sutter tallied goals in a 6-5 win over the Calgary Flames.