Don't look now, but the surging Flyers - a once-floundering club that lost its first six games this season - are among the NHL Eastern Conference's elite.
On the heels of the greatest late-game comeback in the franchise's 41-season history, the Flyers yesterday soundly defeated the Pittsburgh Penguins at the sold-out Wachovia Center, 6-3, and took sole possession of second place in the Atlantic Division.
"It was a statement game," said winger Mike Knuble, who scored two of the club's season-high four power-play goals.
Defenseman Kimmo Timonen collected four assists - all on the power play - as the Flyers improved to 12-1-3 in their last 16 games.
"We didn't get the start we wanted this year. . . . but we never stopped believing," Timonen said. "We had meetings and said we have to keep working and things will turn around. The biggest thing to me, the last 15 or 16 games, we're playing as a team very well. We forecheck. Everybody's coming back and we're not giving up much. The first couple games of the season, we gave up too many odd-man rushes and we were too hungry going the other way but not coming back. But now everybody's working both ways."
Mike Richards and Jeff Carter each added a goal and two assists, while defenseman Matt Carle returned after a five-game absence (back/rib injury) and contributed a pair of assists.
"The first 10 minutes were all special teams, and we got big kills and a couple of power-play goals" said Knuble after the 24th multi-goal game of his career. "By the time you settle into the game, we're up 2-0 and off and running. It does a lot for a team's confidence."
So did Thursday's historic 6-5 shoot-out win over Carolina. Feeding off the energy from that victory, the Flyers dominated a penalty-interrupted first period and built a 2-0 lead on power-play goals by Joffrey Lupul and Knuble.
"It was something we talked about before the game and making sure we were ready to go today," said Lupul, whose club overcame a 5-1 third-period deficit two nights earlier.
"As fun as it was to come back and win on Thursday, it isn't something you want to make a habit of. We took a little bit of that momentum from the crowd from the last game and just kept it going."
"There's no question the fact we won that game [Thursday] made a huge difference in our time on the ice in practice," coach John Stevens said. "We had energy, which I'm not sure would have been the case had we not come all the way back and won that game."
In yesterday's win, second-period goals by Richards, Scott Hartnell (after pretty tic-tac-toe passes from Carter and Carle) and Knuble gave the Flyers a 5-1 lead.
The Flyers went 4 for 6 on the power play, and are 32 for 121 (26.4 percent) on the season. That's the NHL's second-highest success rate, behind only Detroit (28.2 percent entering last night).
Carter and Richards also virtually shut down the league's top two scorers, Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby. Malkin managed an assist on a late goal and Crosby was held scoreless. Dany Sabourin was in goal for Pittsburgh.
The Penguins were playing their seventh game in 10 days, a span when they went just 2-4-1.
"When you are analyzing the schedule for us, you knew this was going to be a tough game," Penguins coach Michel Therrien said. "We were not good in every department. The five-on-five, the power play (1 for 4) or the penalty killing. The energy was not there."
The Flyers look much better - and are certainly healthier - than the team that lost to the Penguins in five games in last year's Eastern Conference finals.
"Whenever you play a division game, especially against Pittsburgh, everybody gets up," said Richards, whose all-around play is reminding folks of a young Bobby Clarke.
"It's always fun when we play these guys," Lupul said. "It's a good rivalry and there is a lot of bad blood. The crowd here just makes it that much better."