By Wes Hermann (@Wes_Herrm)
The Philadelphia Flyers have made the playoffs just twice in the past five years. The most recent was in 2016 where the team was playing with house money and a loss to the Washington Capitals in the first round was inevitable and acceptable.
But the last time the Flyers made the playoffs with a real chance of making some noise was 2014. The team had depth, skill and finished with a respectable 94 points and in third place in the Metropolitan division.
Philly went seven games with the New York Rangers in the first round, but suffered the same fate as it would two seasons later – an opening round exit. But it’s possible that if a couple pucks bounced the right way or Steve Mason wasn’t injured to start the series, the team would have beat the Rangers and possibly go much further.
Heading into the playoffs, Mason, the clear starting goalie for the season, suffered an injury and missed the first three games of the postseason. Ray Emery took his place, earning one win.
But the rest of the Flyers depth chart was better than it’s been ever since. Claude Giroux scored at over-a-point-per-game pace and Jake Voracek, Wayne Simmonds and Scott Hartnell all joined him with 52 or more points.
Brayden Schenn, Matt Read, Sean Couturier and even Vincent Lecavalier were depth scorers among the offense.
On the blueline, Kimmo Timonen had one of his best seasons in a while. Mark Streit and Braydon Coburn rounded out the top three with Andrew MacDonald, Luke Schenn and Nicklas Grossmann in depth roles.
Besides Mason, injuries on defense forced the team to use Erik Gustafsson and Hal Gill on defense while Jason Akeson, who played one game during the regular season, was in the lineup for all seven playoff games.
But the loss of Mason hurt the most. When the former Blue Jacket returned, he compiled a 1.97 GAA and a .939 save percentage. If he was healthy in the first three games, it seems entirely possible that the Flyers could have earned more than one win.
So let’s say they did. With the new, at the time, divisional playoff format, Philadelphia would have played the Pittsburgh Penguins in the second round.
Today, winning even two games in a best-of-seven series would be a solid outing for the Flyers against the Pens, but 2014 was much different for Pittsburgh. There was no Matt Murray, no Patric Hornqvist or Phil Kessel and most important of all, no Mike Sullivan.
With Dan Bylsma still behind the bench, the Flyers could get under the skin of the Pens and dictate how his team played. Despite the Penguins having a better team on paper two years before, Philly upset the Penguins in six games.
It doesn’t seem unlikely that the same thing couldn’t happen two years later. With the Flyers established dominance over the Penguins, it’s entirely possible they could have made the Eastern Conference finals.
Once again, Philadelphia would have found a favorable and recent playoff rival in the Montreal Canadiens. The Habs didn’t have much depth in any area of the game, but goalie Carey Price was dragging the team as far as he could.
Unfortunately for Price and the Canadiens he couldn’t drag them much further. New York Ranger Chris Kreider collided with him in Game 1 of that series and knocked him out for the rest of the series. The Flyers had their own rough-and-tumble players back then, but it’d be better to assume Price doesn’t get injured in this imaginary playoff series.
The Flyers had no issues beating the Canadiens in 2010, except for one game. Jaroslav Halak was the Canadiens’ netminder back then, but he was playing at the top of his game.
It’s harder to predict this series with confidence, but a Flyers team with more offensive depth seems like a safer option. But that’s where the luck probably would have ran out.
The Rangers faced the Los Angeles Kings in the Stanley Cup Finals in 2014 and won one game. The Flyers may not have even done that against the Anze Kopitar-led squad.
The team was simply too deep, built to play a pounding game and faced several challenges in that postseason including coming back from 3-0 in its opening round series against the San Jose Sharks.
While this exercise doesn’t prove much in particular, it does show how much a bounce here or there or an injured player affects the whole playoffs. The Flyers didn’t end up on the lucky side of much in 2014, but maybe the next time they make the playoffs, they do.
(Photo: Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press)