They’re not in Pittsburgh anymore, Toto. But, for all their missteps and outright blunders, the Flyers still seem to have the yellow brick road paving their way.
The Orange and Black overcame a week’s full of rust, manifested in a shaky first period, to steady themselves and eventually open the Eastern Conference semifinals with a stirring 4-3 overtime win Sunday over the Devils.
Danny Briere’s second goal of the day, coming just moments after his apparent game-winner had been nullified for kicking the puck into the net, enabled Peter Laviolette’s club to survive. For Briere and Co., it was simply business as usual.
“That was just the first game, a step in the right direction,” said Briere, whose first goal triggered a two-goal Flyers burst within 37 seconds to take a 2-1 lead. “We’re fortunate we got away with it after the first period. Jersey had come off a huge win and they were still in that same mindset that it’s playoff hockey, and they came out swinging. We’re fortunate that [goaltender Ilya] Bryzgalov kept it close and, like the Pittsburgh series, we were able to come back.’’
It seems like a dangerous pattern in the playoffs, yet the Flyers keep getting away with it. While the rust may have been a bit expected, that doesn’t make it acceptable.
“Nobody liked the first period,” said Laviolette, as the Flyers shook that off to outshoot the Devils 28-10 the rest of the game. “It was good to only be down 1-0. But beginning with the start of the second period we started to skate, jump and execute.”
They were playing so poorly at one point that boos began to rain down from the same Wells Fargo Center fans who rocked the house with their cheers just a week ago. But also factor in the adjustment of facing a different opponent — one that doesn’t instantly make their blood boil the way Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and the Penguins did.
“Against Pittsburgh, we had games that set up for the playoff series at the end of the year and we were able to get into it,” said Briere. “It had been a while since we had played Jersey. But it’s only going to take a couple games and the same thing’s going to happen. When you’re facing the same guys over and over, you have no other choice but to dislike each other.”
The Flyers feel confident that once the animosity builds, so will the level of play.
“They’re a good team,” said defenseman Kimmo Timonen. “They finished one point behind us [in the Atlantic Division standings], so we can’t take them lightly. But this was more us tonight than them. We were rusty and everything was off in the first period. The next 45 minutes we were great. When we play our game, we feel we’re one of the best teams in the league.”
The Flyers’ yellow brick road now leads through Newark, with more stops (hopefully) along the way. They’ll try to move step one closer to Oz back here against the Devils Tuesday night.