'Mindless hockey' helped drive Flyers to early playoff berth

BOSTON MA - JANUARY 13: Head coach Peter Laviolette of the Philadelphia Flyers talks with referee Brad Watson before the start of the second period against the Boston Bruins on January 11 2011 at the TD Garden in Boston Massachusetts. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

The Flyers are the first Eastern Conference team to make the postseason, and while that doesn't seem like much of a big deal, it definitely is. Think about it: sure, it's not home ice advantage just yet and it's not the President's Trophy, but being the first team in the postseason in your conference certainly means something, especially when your closest competitor has played two extra games and still isn't there yet. 

So how did the Flyers get there? After starting off the year with a mediocre 3-4-1 mark, the fears were already building among us all. It's just another repeat of last season, this team doesn't have it in them, the 2010 Playoffs were a mirage, etc.

After the game in Columbus on October 25, Peter Laviolette ripped into the team in his post-game talk. 

"The first 40 minutes there was nothing there. There was no jam to our game, and we played mindless hockey without any energy, without any passion. We got what we deserved tonight. You don't show up and compete, you don't execute, you don't play the game with emotion and energy, you're gonna lose. All the time."

And there's your turning point.

Sure, it's a bit weird to say that the "turning point" came that early in the season, but that's exactly the idea here.

After that game, the Flyers went on a 10-game point streak. They asserted themselves as the best team in the conference over the next month, losing only two games in a 30-day stretch. Since that night, they have the second best record in the NHL at 41-15-7.

A year earlier, this team might have continued down that spiral after the Columbus game. They might not have won their next game against Buffalo in dominant fashion, and they certainly wouldn't have won the next game in Pittsburgh. This year they did, though, and that credit has to fall completely on Peter Laviolette's shoulders.

Like catching a disease before it gets too serious, he saw that his team wasn't giving the full effort and wasn't getting the results that could get them to the playoffs again. He went out and he challenged them early, before it was too late. In 2009, that didn't happen, and as a result the slump continued, the coach got fired and the team had to fight to make it to the postseason on the last possible day.

Laviolette was the difference this time. He made sure the team knew what was at stake before it became too late, and as a result, the Flyers are headed to the postseason sooner than everybody else in the East. 

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