BOSTON - Peter Laviolette is one of the game's great motivators.
His players say they have never played for a coach who inspires such confidence, ranging from day-to-day practices and meetings to pregame speeches deep in the bowels of every big arena in the NHL.
Standing on the bench Wednesday night, as his Flyers were getting pounded by the Bruins, Laviolette noticed something about his team he had not seen in a while.
"Once it got to 3-0, the fight seemed to leave us," Laviolette said yesterday. "We've got to have a commitment to that fight. We're capable of giving more than we gave in [Game 3]. We've done it so many times."
Yes, the Flyers have done it so many times - as recently as 2 weeks ago, when they trailed the Buffalo Sabres, three games to two, in their first-round series. But do they have enough gas left in the tank to complete another miraculous comeback, to win four straight against a team that already was victimized by such a comeback?
For Laviolette, the motivational speech began yesterday before his team practiced at TD Garden in preparation for tonight's possibly season-ending Game 4 against the Bruins.
"We had a similar speech from Peter that fired us up last year," Danny Briere said. "I'm not going to say what the speech was, but it was very similar to last year.
"Whatever it takes to get us going, I guess. I think we need more fire in our eyes than we showed in Game 3."
That fire was nonexistent at the Flyers' skate yesterday. There was no energy, no passion. There was no chatter about how the Flyers won four straight last year to beat the Bruins in seven games, or how the Flyers have liked the way they've played, as they did last spring in those first three games against the Bruins.
"It was obviously tough to come to the rink [yesterday]," Briere said.
The feeling down the hallway, in the Bruins' locker room was the opposite.
"This is obviously a different feeling," Bruins coach Claude Julien said, comparing this year with last year. "We're a determined group right now. We're certainly not sitting comfortable, by any means. We have the right mind-set, I think, as we speak."
For the Flyers, the mind-set doesn't seem the same as it has when they faced any other deficit. They've continued to say all of the right things - but there is no convincing voice behind it. Yesterday, they sounded more like a team glued to the mat.
Ville Leino acknowledged the Flyers were "probably a little down." Leino estimated that half of the team was probably "[ticked] off" and the other half was quiet.
"We probably didn't sleep too well [Wednesday] night," Leino said.
Then again, other than from Laviolette's lips, there isn't too much to say before a game like tonight's. The statistics do not matter. The history does not matter. Laviolette's words will not matter. Tonight's starting goaltender, whom Laviolette did not name yesterday, will not make any bit of difference.
This team will be judged solely by the final score tonight - not any style points it might accrue.
"We know what it is that we have to do," Leino said. "We should play loose and have fun out there. It's serious, but it shouldn't be too serious. There is no need to go out there nervous or scared."
This Flyers team has been in this position before - with almost the same nucleus of players. The players also probably already know that, with a loss tonight, after leading the Eastern Conference for 54 straight days with a deep roster, offseason surgery by general manager Paul Holmgren might make this the last time this group is together.
"Everybody should realize at this point of the year that if we're not playing our game, we're going to be doing something other than hockey pretty soon," Timonen said. "We can't feel sorry for ourselves. I think everyone should realize what kind of game [tonight] is. We've got to make sure that [tonight] is the only game in our mind."
That was the basis of Laviolette's pregame chats last year against Boston. The truth is that the Flyers can't begin to think about planting a seed of doubt inside the Bruins' minds - that won't happen by winning only one game.
And as unfulfilling as the cliches are, it's true that the Flyers can't win four games by winning one tonight.
"It's do-or-die," Scott Hartnell said. "You can look at every analogy or saying in the book. It's one game. Leave it all on the table. I think it's one of those games where you need to look at yourself in the mirror and ask yourself if you gave it your all. I think if everyone can do that, we will come out on top."
The Flyers haven't given their all in two of the three games in this series. This is their last opportunity to make it right.
The Flyers can decide to either write their own obituary or begin to write a new chapter in what has been a hell of a storybook.
"The good thing is that we're still alive," Briere said. "You look in here and there are 23 other teams on vacation already. It's a good thing that we're still alive. We're not going to win four games [tonight]. We've put ourselves in a tough, tough spot. But we win one game, and you never know what can happen."
Jeff Carter (knee) and Chris Pronger (lower-body injury) both missed yesterday's brief practice at TD Garden. Carter played nearly 16 minutes in Game 3 and could be a possibility for tonight's Game 4, depending on how his knee responds after that game and yesterday's rest. Pronger is doubtful to return this series. *
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