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Flyers believe in Laviolette's philosophy

COACHES IN the National Hockey League, like loaves of bread, have a short shelf life. They rarely last with one team for more than 3 years.

"Peter wants us on the go, to attack at all times," Danny Briere said of Peter Laviolette. (Yong Kim/Staff Photographer)
"Peter wants us on the go, to attack at all times," Danny Briere said of Peter Laviolette. (Yong Kim/Staff Photographer)Read more

COACHES IN the National Hockey League, like loaves of bread, have a short shelf life. They rarely last with one team for more than 3 years.

The reason is simple. New coaches - especially midseason replacements - command the attention of their players. Their system or style is often wildly different than the predecessor's, often by design of management with the idea of creating a spark.

Players buy in. Eventually, they cash out - and tune out - the coach, leading to his dismissal.

That contrast was evident in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals. The Flyers were locked in to Peter Laviolette's aggressive, strike-first mentality. New Jersey had completely given up on Jacques Lemaire's trap-you-to-sleep defensive style, which was like fitting a square peg into a round hole with the Devils' gifted offensive players.

Lemaire stepped down as the Devils' coach yesterday, opting to retire at age 65.

The Flyers, meanwhile, skated yesterday under the watchful eye of Laviolette as they prepare for an unknown opponent.

Almost 6 months after Laviolette's hiring, the same day the Flyers parted ways with John Stevens, the impact is evident.

"There is a difference in philosophy, in the way they wanted us to play," Danny Briere said. "John was more passive, waiting for chances and for teams to turn the puck over. Peter wants us on the go, to attack at all times."

Laviolette, 45, is a passionately intense person. He is direct. He does not mince words. And he always holds players accountable.

By all accounts, he threw a fit after the first period of Game 1 in New Jersey. And it was not pretty. But after a terrible start, the Flyers came back to win a game in which they were badly outplayed.

Laviolette could take credit for that, for his system. But he doesn't. He says it is "all about the players."

Still, Laviolette has helped hold together a team that could have been broken by injuries. Under his watch, they have been without Jeff Carter, Simon Gagne, three starting goalies and enough role players to stock an AHL team.

With a 3-1 series lead heading into Game 5, the Flyers could have crumbled in New Jersey with the loss of Gagne (toe) and Carter (foot). But they didn't.

"I give them a lot of credit," Laviolette said. "A few pieces came out of the lineup, but the philosophy stays the same. The system stays the same. The mentality stays the same: We're going on the attack. I think the guys have a really good understanding of how we play.

"We believe in what we're doing. It'd be great to have those players in there, but it's kind of like worrying about an opponent that you don't have. Why worry about things that you don't have? Worry about what you do have."

Laviolette's system, Briere said, helped them push forward in that game.

"Everyone expected us to sit back and let them set the tempo," Briere said. "But we came back and scored. That probably surprised them. I loved that attitude that we had as a team."

Laviolette admitted the Flyers "stumbled" when Carter was injured the first time, on March 21, and the team was mired in a 1-8 stretch with a playoff spot on the line. The coach considered that a lesson learned.

"We slipped down the stretch," Laviolette said. "We didn't get the results we were looking for. There are no excuses. Before that stumble, we were in fifth place, four points away from Pittsburgh with aspirations of winning our division."

The Flyers were playing their best hockey before the Olympic break. They won four straight before vacationing for 2 weeks while Chris Pronger and Mike Richards helped Canada win the gold medal.

Today will be the Flyers' fifth straight day without a game, a true rarity in the playoffs. It will be a full week in between games if they open Round 2 on Friday. And they might be playing even better now than before the Olympic break.

Laviolette has no control on the timetables for Carter and Gagne - and he has the same amount of control on this week's schedule and the opponent.

In 2006, when he was the Carolina coach, the Hurricanes had 6 days off between the second round and the conference finals. They went on to win the Stanley Cup. Still, this is when Laviolette has a chance to distinguish himself among coaches. Can he keep his team's fire burning, despite all the free time?

"We're down to eight teams fighting for the Cup," Laviolette said. "And everybody's coming to work with a smile on their face. It doesn't seem like work anymore.

"I don't have a crystal ball. All I know is that guys are confident in what we're doing."

Good news for Gagne?

Just 3 days after having two screws placed in his right big toe, Simon Gagne was hobbling around the Skate Zone yesterday on crutches.

"I feel pretty good," he said. "I need to be on crutches for the next 2 weeks. I can't really put weight on it. From there, we'll get an MRI 2 weeks from now. Hopefully, I'm a quick healer."

When will he be back?

"Right now, I don't know," Gagne said. "But I hope to be back at the end of the second round and if not, it will be the third round. I hope to be back as soon as I can."

Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren said Gagne, who missed the first-round clincher, will receive an MRI on Friday to determine the progress of his healing. The Flyers also will have a better idea of when he can return to the ice if there is a sign of callus, or healing, around the bone.

Slap shots

Michael Leighton skated with the team again yesterday, rotating in net with Johan Backlund while Brian Boucher had a net to himself. Paul Holmgren said Leighton still has pain when doing "certain things" on the ice. He has been out since March 16 with a severe high left ankle sprain but could be Boucher's backup at some point this series . . . Ian Laperriere has not practiced since being hit in the face with a slap slot in Game 5 last Thursday. Holmgren said the puck made contact with Laperriere's right eye and he has experienced blurred vision, but it isn't a "main concern" for doctors. Laperriere is not expected to miss any time in Round 2 . . . Jon Kalinski, Pat Maroon, Andreas Nodl and Danny Syvret joined the team for practice yesterday.

For more news and analysis, read Frank Seravalli's blog, Frequent Flyers, at