Late last season, the Flyers' play on the ice reflected the personality of their coach, John Stevens.

They became unflappable.

In danger of not making the playoffs, the Flyers went 7-1-1 in their last nine regular-season games, then upset the Washington Capitals and Montreal Canadiens in the playoffs and reached the Eastern Conference finals.

"John is a man of integrity, and he does not lose his cool," general manager Paul Holmgren said. "The best example for me is when we got blitzed, 7-1, in Pittsburgh late in the year and the team could have gone down, and we came back and had a very important three-game homestand, and the first game we played was against Atlanta, and they scored a goal on the first shift."

At that point, Holmgren feared a playoff berth was slipping away.

"I'm watching the game and thinking, 'Oh, boy.' But the team held it together and was able to put on a little push at the end that got us into the playoffs," he said. "I give most of the credit - if not all - to John, because of the way he carries himself. He doesn't lose sight of what the objective is."

Last year was Stevens' first full-time season as the Flyers' head coach. He led the Flyers to a startling turnaround - they finished with 95 points (42-29-11), a 39-point improvement from an NHL-worst 56 points (22-48-12) the previous season - and was named the Hockey News' coach of the year.

Stevens, 42, looks like a banker and speaks in a low, measured tone, but his calm demeanor belies the fact that he prods and pushes his players - his behind-the-scenes one-on-ones have become a part of his identity - with heartfelt intensity.

"He's pretty low-keyed but, at the same time, he's pretty demanding - like he should be," veteran defenseman Kimmo Timonen said. "But he's a pretty easy guy to talk to. As a player, if you have something on your mind and want to talk to him, you can go in his office and talk. I've been with some coaches who you can't do that with. Some are like he's the boss and it's only his way, but with John you can talk. Obviously, he has the last word, but you can at least talk about it, and I like that."

"He's very approachable, and his door is always open," right-winger Mike Knuble said. "He was very patient with our team last year."

That wasn't easy. The Flyers had a roller-coaster ride of a season that included a 10-game losing streak.

"I think the inconsistencies were very maddening for everybody in the organization who tries to run our team," Knuble said. "It probably drove him [Stevens] nuts a little bit, but he's the kind of guy who stays the course. I wouldn't call it babying, because he makes tough decisions with players and personnel, but there's a certain patience. . . . It's not a my-way-or-the-highway [approach]. He finds a way to help the team achieve using our strengths.

"He stays patient and stays consistent, but he'll change things as well if it warrants it."

Stevens isn't shy to criticize his players. But he does it one-on-one. Behind closed doors.

"He's not going to do it in public, and the players appreciate it," Knuble said. "Every guy probably gets up in the [coach's] room three or four times a year having one-on-one meetings with him at various points in the year. Is he going to come in and embarrass a guy in front of the team or in the media? No. But every coach has a way of getting through to guys; heart to hearts in his office is his way of doing things."

Stevens, affectionately called "Johnny" by most of his players, said there's "no value in trying to embarrass someone in front of a group just to embarrass them. I think I have enough established relationships here that I can meet with guys one-on-one, and I'm certainly willing to listen to them and hear their side of things, but at the end of the day, hopefully, they know what's expected of them. I think it comes more from who I was as a player and things I appreciated as a player."

The players, many of whom played for Stevens when he coached the AHL Phantoms, appreciate the philosophy.

"One of his strengths is his communication with his players," forward Danny Briere said. "Everyone knows exactly what to expect and what he wants from them, and if he doesn't like something, he'll take you in and have a discussion to make sure things are clear. There's no gray area. It's black or white. He doesn't need to come in and yell and throw things around; he has that quiet confidence and he knows where he's going and knows what he wants."

Stevens' style is different from the one Holmgren used when he was coaching.

"I may have lost my cool a little more than John," the general manager said with a laugh. "But I know John is a very strong communicator. He doesn't let brush fires become forest fires with the team. If he sees a problem, he faces it right away. And I think coaching is problem-solving."

Stevens' approach has come naturally.

"I was the captain on almost every team I played on, and think I quietly went to guys when they were struggling and tried to get them going," he said. "Or if someone needed to be straightened out or was maybe acting a little out of line, in the best interest of the team I had no problem telling them."

Quiet and laid-back, yet forceful and demanding.

For John Stevens, it's a winning combination.