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Phil Sheridan: Flyers depending on young guns to take them on a long playoff run

It is a different kind of playoff run for the Flyers.

Flyers rookie Sean Couturier, 19, scored three goals in Friday's win over the Penguins. (Yong Kim/Staff Photographer)
Flyers rookie Sean Couturier, 19, scored three goals in Friday's win over the Penguins. (Yong Kim/Staff Photographer)Read more

It is a different kind of playoff run for the Flyers.

Not their 2012 journey through the Stanley Cup tournament - that has barely begun. We're talking here about the remarkable run of young players using the postseason to establish themselves as legitimate NHL stars.

Two years ago, it was Claude Giroux. It's hard to remember now, because Giroux has become one of the game's elite players, but he was a little bit of an unknown going into the 2010 playoffs. He'd had a solid regular season, but the Flyers were not considered serious contenders after slipping into the playoffs on the final day of the season.

Two months later, the Flyers came within two wins of the Cup and Giroux was in ascendance. The 22-year-old scored 10 goals and assisted on 11 others, a total of 21 points in 23 playoff games.

Last year, it was James van Riemsdyk. The former No. 2 draft pick had a solid season, but he scored seven goals in just 11 playoff games. He didn't draw as much notice as Giroux, but that's because the Flyers got bounced in the second round.

The infusion and development of young talent is a very good sign for the Flyers' future fortunes, but it's more than that. Hockey is very much a young man's game right now. When the Blackhawks beat the Flyers two years ago, they were led by Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, who were both 22. Last year's Bruins were led offensively by David Krejci (24), Brad Marchand, and Milan Lucic (both 22) and got a boost from 19-year-old rookie Tyler Seguin.

It may feel as if Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin have been around a while. But they were 21 and 22, respectively, when the Penguins won the Cup in 2009.

If these Flyers are going to make a deep run, they will need strong play from Danny Briere and Kimmo Timonen and even 40-year-old Jaromir Jagr. But already it's obvious that they will go only as far in this grueling marathon as their younger legs can take them.

That's why it's so important for the Flyers' different kind of playoff run to continue. Already, it is clear that one of the great pleasures of this postseason will be watching the emergence of Sean Couturier and Brayden Schenn.

Jagr certainly appreciates it. He was 19 when he won his first Cup back in 1991. That's how old Couturier is now. After Game 2 in Pittsburgh Friday night, Jagr searched for words to describe the kid's performance: three goals and the toughest defensive assignment of the game.

"Don't forget, he had to play against maybe the best player in the league in Malkin," Jagr said. "If he wouldn't score any goals, I would say he had a great game. But he also scored three goals. I don't know any words. Awesome? Maybe something better than that. I don't think, during my hockey career, I've seen someone so good defensively at such a young age. I would say he's our best defensive forward at age 18, 19."

It is shocking, when you think about it. Coach Peter Laviolette has the confidence to put a rookie on Malkin. Couturier, along with Giroux, also takes important faceoffs, often in the Flyers' defensive zone.

"There's always a feeling-out process with players," Laviolette said. "With regard to Sean, we started giving him responsibility in training camp. Every time we did that, he answered the bell. He may not win the Calder [for rookie of the year], but he had a terrific year."

Schenn won't be in the Calder Trophy running, either. A series of injuries kept him from showing what he could really do until late in the season. But the last few weeks, he was one of the Flyers' best players. In Game 1 last week, he assisted on two Briere goals, then scored the third-period goal that sent the game into overtime.

Not bad for his first-ever playoff game. Not bad for a 20-year-old.

"It was a big game for Brayden," Laviolette said, "but this was not something that all of a sudden just popped up. He's been a strong player for us for the last half-dozen, 10 games."

Schenn and Briere created most of the Flyers' offense in Game 1, while Jakub Voracek scored the overtime winner. They were quiet in Game 2, but Couturier and Giroux went off with dueling hat tricks. That kind of depth and versatility is crucial if this promising start is to blossom into a serious Cup run.

The other encouraging sign: This group seems remarkably calm and poised, whether it's on the ice with a two-goal deficit or in the locker room after a big win.

They seem to expect good things, and that's not a bad way to go about earning them.