Rewind forty seven years to that fateful day in 1967 when local business man Ed Snider forked up two million dollars to the National Hockey League to bring the Canadian Game of Hockey to the city of brotherly love.
The expansion draft would serve as the the beginning of the Flyers identity with Snider and Co. drafting what other's would call the league's throwaways, misfits, players left unprotected by their respective clubs. Names such as Bernie Parent, Joe Watson, Ed Van Impe and Gary Dornhoefer were amongst the now notables whom would serve on the inaugural team and later the championship teams. As expected this group of misfits, disappointed by their misfortunes would struggle in their first years despite making the playoffs the first two years but suffering countless beatings at the hands of such faces as the St Louis Blues' Noel Picard. Labelled the "No-Punch" Flyers, Philadelphia had a team looking not only for wins, but for an identity.
Enter the 1969 entry draft and once again a player passed by other teams and deemed throwaway. Bobby Clarke, a talented forward plagued by diabetes and considered unfit to play was given a chance by Ed Snider whom had already taken a "flyer" on hockey in Philadelphia. The Flyers would also take a player known as Dave "The Hammer" Schultz who would give our beloved flyers the identity they have today, our broad street bullies.
Only five short years later, these once misfits and castaways of the professional hockey world rocked the order of the NHL and through heart, blood, sweat took hockey's holy grail TWICE proving that they were no pushovers.
Fast forward to 2014. What in the Hades does all this have to do with out flyers of today?
With no Stanley Cup since nineteen seventy five and only three years removed from two monumental trades that saw it's star player and captain traded away, our beloved bullies start the season a despicable 1-7 record having fired head coach Peter Laviolette just three games into the season and having bought out our supposed savior in troubled goalie Ilya Bryzgalov from his 51 million dollar contract in the offseason. The Flyers were a team who seemed to have lost their identity and everything that made them the representation of Philadelphia in the National Hockey League.
Our captain Claude Giroux had not scored a goal. There was no step, their was no commitment to team defense, they were simply an empty vessel donning our orange and black.
My what a difference 60 games can make.
Once again the Flyers find themselves looking to "misfits" and throwaways to guide them hockey's ultimate crown.
Hoping to put a halt to the years of a goalie carousel Mister Snider has looked to former Blue Jacket and Calder trophy winner Steve Mason whom was cast out by Columbus after terrible and turbulent seasons seeing him replaced by former flyers backup and 2013 Vezina Trophy winner Sergei Bobrovsky. Like his former counterpart Bryzgalov, Mason was expected as a band-aid to hold the Flyers to some respectability while the front office led by Paul Holmgren searched to find their diamond in the rough. Some considered Steve Mason to be a placeholder until young 6'5" 2012 second rounder pick Anthony Stolarz matures and is ready for the big club.
What happened next, no one expected. Steve Mason has become a reliable backbone for a team deemed "the place where goaltenders die" at times making mind-bogglng saves and keep this Flyers team in each and every game. The resurgence to now 3rd place in the metropolitan division has been in large due to Mason's heroics and his ability to fight the adversity of letting in a soft goal or being tagged by his play in Columbus. Steve Mason has done what Ilya Bryzgalov could not, he plays focused, he plays to win and he doesn't care what we think, he just cares about keeping the disc out of the net.
The front office again looked to a 'throwaway' in the offseason signing the former face of the Tampa Bay Lightning franchise in Vincent Lecavalier. While not playing near his form in his prime Vinny's recent demotion to 4th line centre has sparked a resurgence in his game and his a big reason why the Flyers were able to stand toe to toe with the big bad bruins. I am certain Lecavalier brings more intangibles to the game that you nor I could calculate, but right now is the right time for Vinny to get hot.
With the focus now shifting away from goaltending, the Flyer's blue line has become the bane of our existence. Once again the Flyers find themselves relying on the "misfits" to fill the holes and to limit the pucks that hit Steve Mason. Andrew Macdonald and Mark Streit were both considered to be the bane of the Islanders blue line, labelled as defensive liabilities Macdonald especially has come to the Flyers and immediately began to log heavy minutes showing only very select moments that would relate him to his former reputation. While Mark Streit is more of a risk taker and does leave himself out of position at times he has become a venerable power play threat almost as if giving the unit a 5th forward (akin to the use of Vorachek on the point acting as a 2nd defensemen, but I use that term VERY loosely). While both have work to do in their games they have been a part of a team philosophy which has seen them hold both Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin to no points in a weekend sweep and limit the western conference leading blues to one goal.
So here we are, eight games from the finish and our beloved Flyers have clawed their way back into the playoff picture using the same blood, sweat and workmanship that has defined our franchise. In 2010 the team that made the playoffs the final day backstopped by a career AHL goalie made history being only the third team in history to erase a 3-0 defeating the mighty bruins in seven games erasing a 3-0 deficit in a crucial game seven. That team took hockey's powerhouse to six games before falling to the Chicago Blackhawks.
Now we have a chance to do it again. Is it coincidence or destiny that once again the Philadelphia Flyers find themselves in a position to defy the odds like they have made a habit over the years?
Only time will tell if the magic is there, but one thing that will be guaranteed is us fans will be treated to one wild ride, right to the end.