Okay, so the two situations are not exactly the same.
When Peter Laviolette coached the Carolina Hurricanes to the 2005-06 Stanley Cup championship, his club faltered badly and missed the playoffs the following season. Last spring, Laviolette's Philadelphia Flyers came up two victories short of a title. But unlike his bust of a follow-up season in Carolina, with the exception of a recent slump, Laviolette has his Eastern Conference-leading Flyers in a much better place with the playoffs around the corner.
On the surface, it should be easier to motivate a team that came so close. But while there hasn't been a repeat Stanley Cup winner since the Detroit Red Wings in 1996-97 and 1997-98, there has been only one team in the past 25 seasons that has won the Stanley Cup after losing in the final the previous year.
That team was the Flyers chief rival Pittsburgh Penguins back in 2008-09. Maybe the salary cap world has killed the dynasties in the NHL, but since the initial wave of expansion in 1967 there have been far more repeat champs than losing finalists storming back to take the Stanley Cup the following year. Only the 1967-68 Montreal Canadiens, the 1983-84 Edmonton Oilers and the Penguins have accomplished this difficult task of winning the season after losing in the final.
"We didn't get back in, and we're certainly weren't sitting where we're sitting this year," Laviolette said, when asked about what happened in Carolina. "Every year is different. Different circumstances, different teams. There are different scenarios that happen during the course of the year. I think it's really hard to compare one year to the next."
If Laviolette learned anything from that dismal follow-up season with the Hurricanes, he's not letting on. Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren certainly aided the cause by strengthening the depth of the blue line with the additions of Andrej Meszaros and Sean O'Donnell. Rookie sensation Sergei Bobrovsky has helped elevate the team's goaltending. Forward Claude Giroux has benefitted the most from his playoff performance and is playing with sky-high confidence. There isn't one forward you can key on to defend because the Flyers have plenty of depth.
When the Flyers gathered for training camp four months after Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane slid his Cup-clinching goal in overtime underneath Flyers goalie Michael Leighton, Laviolette put the pressure right back on his players. His message was that Holmgren had built a team that's time was now.
O'Donnell is 39. Chris Pronger is 36. Kimmo Timonen turns 36 next week. The Flyers need to win now. So they jumped out of the gate and recorded their 40th win in Game No. 61 two weeks ago. That was the third best fastest trip to the 40-win mark in club history. The quickest was 58 games in 1979-80.
Now, about the recent slump that saw the Flyers drop four in a row, including a 7-0 drubbing by the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden last Sunday. Laviolette could see it coming. The team was beaten down by the flu, the players had strayed from the system and the focus was no longer evident.
"For the most part, through the first 55 games, we played very consistent," said Laviolette, whose club broke out of the slump with a 4-1 win over the team he beat in the 2006 final, the Edmonton Oilers, on Tuesday. "We have to get back to that consistent way. We've done a lot of things the right way.
"There are other good teams that have had a good start, through the first 50 or 60 games, and are now battling .500. I'm not making excuses because we're not happy about it. But you start to play a lot of teams in desperate situations. In the end desperate usually wins. Unless you bring that competitiveness every night you're going to be behind the eight ball."
Before the Flyers suited up to play the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Air Canada Centre on Thursday with Pronger because he had aggravated a hand injury that kept him out of lineup for a game last month, his teammates talked about the importance of finishing strong. They want to play well going into the playoffs like last season rather than trying to "flick a switch" and hope the wins will be there.
Unlike Laviolette's 2005-06 Hurricanes, of course. They finished the regular season with 52 wins, but lost four of their final five games and still managed to celebrate in the end. But Laviolette hates comparisons, so we won't mention it.
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