The Flyers' calming influence
Steady defenseman Kimmo Timonen stays focused on one game at a time as Flyers make their playoff push.
DEAD ON Tuesday. Kidding themselves on Thursday. Rallying on Saturday. Two points out of a playoff spot on Sunday.
With that, welcome to the Flyers' week that was.
The ride is now officially absurd. It was certified as such on Sunday night when the Flyers came back from a 4-2 deficit in the middle of the third period and stunned the Washington Capitals, tying the game with just under 10 seconds remaining in regulation and winning the game in overtime, 5-4.
Seven teams are now fighting for the final playoff spot in the NHL Eastern Conference. The seven teams are separated by a total of four points. This is known as a cluster, among other things.
Any one of the seven teams can shoot itself into this thing or out of this thing in the space of a week now. All of them at this point are strapped into a carnival ride designed by a drunken engineering student who barely passed his final exam. And if it was team captain Claude Giroux who led the Flyers in the last 10 minutes against the Capitals with one of those look-in-his-eye evenings, there still needs to be someone who can settle things down amid the tumult.
That is part of Kimmo Timonen's job.
"We've got 13 games left," he said. "I don't think you can pay attention to what you guys say or whatever happens outside our team. We can only focus on the next game. If you start focusing on what's going to happen 10 games from now - who's going to come here, who's going to get out of here, what changes are we going to make - it's not going to help. We have to shut that off and focus on the next game.
"That's why I said we have to focus on Wednesday [when the Flyers play Montreal]. We enjoy this game tonight and then we have to move on."
Timonen had four points on Sunday night. He had the primary assist on Giroux's one-time rocket that ignited the comeback, and he blasted in the tying goal at the end of regulation, and he accepted a cross-ice pass from Ruslan Fedotenko in overtime and got the puck right back to Fedotenko, who scored the east-to-west-to-east game-winner.
Timonen remains a vital piece for this team, and not only because so many other defensemen are currently hurt. He has to be a good player but he has to be even more than that - sometimes the conscience, sometimes the sage, always a steadying element who desperately preaches that this team needs to avoid the extremes and just play with smart, solid persistence.
But amid all of the outcry of the last week - They're dead! They are selling at the trade deadline! They're firing everybody! They are only two points out! They're buying at the deadline! - the temptation toward emotional whiplash must be enormous.
How hard is it to avoid?
"To me, it's pretty easy," Timonen said. "Not reading the newspapers - that's a good start. Not watching TV - that's a second start. But it's an individual thing. Some might take it more personal but I don't. Hopefully we can build on this win."
Talking to the Flyers after the game, you got all kinds of theories about what is spurring on the team right now. If it is the Flyers-are-dead conversation of earlier in the week, no one is letting on. Or, as Zac Rinaldo said, "We don't pay attention to the haters."
But what about the mathematicians? This is still a longshot, even though the Flyers are only two points behind the Rangers, because of the number of teams involved. Imagine the cavalry charge out of the starting gate at the Kentucky Derby, except on skates, because that is what this race for the final playoff spot has become.
So is it that race that pushes them now? Is it the conversation about their demise?
"It is almost pushed to the side and just focusing more on the game and making sure that we are ready to play hockey," coach Peter Laviolette said. "There's less talk about that right now."
Less talk, more action. Interesting.
"This is the start," Timonen said. "Hopefully we can build on it. Hopefully we can carry on this feeling to the next game. Like we played against Boston [in a 3-1 win on Saturday] - when we skate, when we play hard, we're a good team. We're a hard team to beat."
But the margin for error is wafer-like. They probably need about 20 out of their final 26 possible points to have a shot at this thing. This is a bunch. This also is a team, coming off two big wins at home, that has yet to win three consecutive games this season.
And so . . .
"We can enjoy it tonight,"
Timonen said, as if in warning.
On Twitter: @theidlerich