Decisive games in the Stanley Cup Playoffs are nothing new to Peter Laviolette, who won a big one just the previous year when the Flyers became the third team in NHL history to rally from a 3-0 series deficit to win, eliminating the Boston Bruins in the conference semifinals.
Laviolette also led the Carolina Hurricanes to the first championship in franchise history, winning a Game 7 in 2006 against the Oilers. A rally of a different kind was in the works there, as Edmonton had staved off elimination after going down 3-1 in the series.
A guest on Thursday's "NHL Hour With Commissioner Gary Bettman," Laviolette used the day of that Game 7 as an example of how he does his best not to let the pressure of a do-or-die situation in the playoffs consume him as a coach or ruin his sense of calm.
"I did my best to try to keep myself loose and not let that tension and that pressure get to me, and that was the message I kept sending to the players," Laviolette said. "I think it was an 8 o'clock game … I went home that afternoon and got home like 1:30, and I was going to head back to the rink around 4, and I had a couple hours and I hadn't seen my kids in the longest time, really, just to see them. And my oldest son, who was I think maybe 7 at the time, said, 'You want to go play catch in the backyard?' And I said, 'I'd love to.' So we got the ball and the glove out and we just went out and tossed the ball, and the next thing you know my daughter comes out and she joins in, and I just stayed loose.
"And really, that was the message coming back in this past Game 7 [Flyers vs. Sabres], was sometimes you can wind yourself up into such a top -- me, myself or even a team -- that you can't function the way you need to in order to play the way you need in order to be successful. Really it's a credit to the players because they then have to go and do that, stay loose, relax and go out in a big game, a pressure situation, and perform well. And I thought the first period against Buffalo the other night was probably the best period we've played this year, and that's a credit to the players because they really came out hard."
Laviolette said the Flyers, who won the Atlantic Division and finished one point behind the Capitals for the top seed in the Eastern Conference, were successful this season because they followed the team aspect and didn't rely on any one line, defense pairing or goaltender. The latter was a reference to the fact Philadelphia used three starting goalies in the first round, becoming the first team since 1988 to win a playoff series in such a manner.
"We trust and rely on all pieces here in order to move forward," Laviolette said. "Our situation in net is not somebody like a Martin Brodeur who has been here for 15 years and has solidified himself as the No. 1 goaltender. And I don't say that with a knock to Michael [Leighton] or Sergei [Bobrovsky] or even Brian [Boucher] -- they're terrific goaltenders."
While having to change goaltenders repeatedly was one of several hurdles the Flyers had to overcome in the opening round to advance, Laviolette admitted to feeling a sense of relief that as a field of 16 contenders for the Stanley Cup was halved in an exciting and grueling two weeks of hockey, his team was one of the eight that made the cut.
"There's pressure to be successful -- listen, it's professional sports and I think everybody knows that," he said. "Once you get past that, because like I said, anything can happen in that first round … people want to get out of that first round, they want to be one of eight teams. When we came into work today, it felt better. It wasn't such a dogfight anymore with 16 teams. You just felt better, there's only eight teams left. And that's a good feeling, you go back to work and you know your chances now are one in eight."
Of course the next opponent standing in the Flyers' way is a Boston group looking to make amends for blowing that 3-0 lead a year ago. The Bruins finished third in the East, just three points behind Philadelphia, and won three of four in the regular-season series.
"Their team hasn't changed too much and our team hasn't changed too much. A lot of the same pieces and a lot of the same figures are in place, even the coaches are the same and the styles of what they did last year and what we did last year to this year, that still all remains the same as well," Laviolette said.
"I think it's going to be a great series. If you look at it, we finished 2-3 in the conference, we both had good years. I consider them to be a deep team. They have good depth up front, good depth on the back end and two good goaltenders, and I view our team the same way. So I would imagine that this is going to be a heck of a series and we're looking forward to it."
The 46-year-old Laviolette enjoyed a long playing career -- mostly at the AHL level, though he had 12 NHL games with the New York Rangers during the 1988-89 season and a pair of appearances with Team USA in the Olympic Games sprinkled in. He said during his playing days he never figured he'd get into coaching, but the chance presented itself in Providence when Bobby Francis, who went on to coach the Phoenix Coyotes, asked him if he would be interested in serving as a player/assistant coach.
"I feel privileged every day, honestly," Laviolette said, "because there are so many great coaches out there. Thirty head coaching jobs in the League, and being able to get one of those jobs and certainly for the Flyers organization, which is such a terrific organization, I'm lucky for that. I enjoy every minute of what I do."