So what did we learn as the Flyers outlasted the Team That Was Supposed to Win the Stanley Cup in a wacky, entertaining first-round playoff series?


We learned that irrepressible Claude Giroux is on the verge of becoming the NHL's best player - that is, if he isn't already there.

We learned that Pittsburgh's Evgeni Malkin, who figures to be named the league's MVP, is actually a dirtier player than Sidney Crosby.

We learned that the Flyers - thanks to an explosive offense and a stunningly successful power play with breathtaking puck movement - are redefining the key factors for playoff success.

Oh, and perhaps most important, we learned that the Flyers' youngsters are better equipped for the postseason than anyone could have imagined.

It all bodes well for Team Resilient as it awaits its opponent ("Please, not the Rangers," most Flyers fans must have been thinking as New York forced a Game 7 against Ottawa on Monday night) for the Eastern Conference semifinals.

In ousting the Penguins, four games to two, the Flyers' rookies took turns in the spotlight during each of their victories. Consider:

Win No. 1: Brayden Schenn had a goal - scored with 7 minutes, 37 seconds left in regulation to tie the game - and two assists in the Flyers' 4-3 overtime victory, one in which they overcame a 3-0 deficit.

Win No. 2: Sean Couturier, who stuck to Malkin like roll-on deodorant during the series, scored a hat trick and was plus-4 as the Flyers overcame a 2-0 deficit and jolted the Penguins, 8-5.

Win No. 3: Matt Read, who had a relatively quiet series, scored a pair of goals, including the game-winner, in an 8-4 victory.

Win No. 4: Defenseman Erik Gustafsson triggered breakouts with his slick passing, blocked seven shots and did an admirable job on Crosby (minus-3). As a bonus, he scored a key goal in the Flyers' clinical, series-clinching 5-1 win on Sunday.

The rookies played a major role during the regular season, leading the NHL in goals and points. Still, there were questions, legitimate questions, about how they would perform during the real season.

That's one of the reasons most prognosticators - myself included - thought the veteran-laden Penguins were better built for a long playoff run. The Penguins had momentum (an 18-4-1 finish), experience (11 players from the 2009 Cup champs) and the superstars on their roster.

"There's something about Pittsburgh" that makes the opening-round win so satisfying, Flyers coach Peter Laviolette acknowledged, before quickly adding he's "not satisfied completely" because the goal is to collect 16 playoff victories.

"Their history recently, and probably being favorites in a lot of people's minds," he said. " . . . To come out and play the way our group did in the series and be able to move on - I think it speaks volumes about our group."

Especially the rookies. They were unfazed, and they helped make the Flyers a hungrier team than the been-there, done-that Penguins. The youngsters' first-round development should continue to grow with each successive series.

"It was good for us because we have a lot of youth, and they got to see what it's all about," Laviolette said.

The intensity is far greater in the playoffs, where every shift is magnified. That's why it's such great theater.

Laviolette wasn't surprised his kids were ready for it.

"Every time, through the course of the regular season, there have been challenges, our group has responded," he said. "That's who we are. [Couturier] did not get thrown into the fire today - he's been there all season.

"That's the Philadelphia Flyers. That's our makeup.  [The young players are] part of the fabric - they're not an additional piece."

Give Laviolette credit for their development. He was never afraid to use them in critical situations. From the start of the regular season, for instance, he frequently had Couturier and/or Read on the ice in key late-game situations.

Laviolette showed belief in the kids, and, as a result, they believed in themselves.

"We've relied on these guys in so many situations through the course of the year . . . it's almost like [it was] in preparation," Laviolette said.

The Flyers have a perfect mix of first-year players (six rookies played against the Penguins), young veterans (Giroux, Wayne Simmonds, Jakub Voracek, Matt Carle, Braydon Coburn, Nick Grossmann) and veterans ( Danny Briere, Jaromir Jagr, Scott Hartnell, Kimmo Timonen and Max Talbot, among others).

"So there's veteran leadership for the young pieces," Laviolette said." "They've been put into situations where they can grow into the role and prepare themselves for the playoffs. I truly think that that's what happened here."

What happened is that Danny and the Juniors were unflappable in sending the Team That Was Supposed to Win the Stanley Cup to early tee times.

What happened is that the Flyers are now oozing with confidence and, provided Ilya Bryzgalov is back on his game, might just make a Cup run of their own.