Emily Biron turned 1 year old yesterday, a milestone that took her goaltending father right back to the swirl of events that surrounded her birth. That is just where the Flyers need him to be.
Marty Biron was just beginning his first real run through the Stanley Cup playoffs. Emily was born the morning after Biron played brilliantly in a Game 2 shutout of the Washington Capitals. For the next few weeks, he alternated between game-changing stops on the ice and diaper-changing breaks at home. The combination seemed to work, as Biron led his team all the way to the Eastern Conference finals against the Penguins.
The Flyers return to the scene of their abrupt elimination tonight. Once again, they are playing a team that is better, a team they'll be able to beat only if the Flyers elevate their play. And there is no button that elevates a team's play quite like a hot goaltender.
"Last year was totally unknown," Biron said of his first time carrying a team. "I enjoyed it a lot. This year, it's trying to get to that same place, trying to get that same excitement, that same feeling that you're going into games and it's the best time to be playing hockey."
Biron did not go so far as to plan for another baby during this year's playoffs, so he will have to find other ways to duplicate that focus. He scoffed, though, at the suggestion that he appeared to be hotter going into the 2008 playoffs than this year's, based on his late-season numbers.
"[There are] so many stupid things about stats and numbers," Biron said. "When it's on the line, it doesn't matter if it's 0-0 or 5-5. The guy comes in to shoot with a couple minutes left, are you going to make that save or not and give your team a chance to win? Are you going to make that save or not? That's what my whole focus is on."
Biron made those saves through an epic series against Alex Ovechkin and the Capitals -- a series that ended in a double-overtime Game 7 in Washington. And Biron was even better against a powerful Montreal Canadiens team, playing three games in his native Quebec with his ears ringing from the taunting chant of his last name.
"I think he was on a real high last year coming into the playoffs and carried that through the first two rounds," Flyers coach John Stevens said. "We're very confident that he can play like that in the playoffs. I'm excited he's got a reference point, having been in the playoffs and having success there."
It is telling that Stevens cited those first two rounds. The third round was against the same Penguins the Flyers will face tonight. But it's not as simple as saying Biron didn't sustain his level of play, not when the Flyers lost defensemen Kimmo Timonen and Braydon Cobourn in stunning fashion to injuries, leaving aging and injured Jason Smith and Derian Hatcher to hold the fort against Pittsburgh's waves of offensive attackers.
Stevens said he felt like his team lost some of its confidence when it lost Timonen.
"It was kind of a devastating blow," Stevens said. "We got beat by a better team last year, bottom line."
This year, the bitter rivals will begin as close to healthy and fresh as the long regular season allows.
"So what are you going to do with that opportunity now that it's put in front of you again?" Biron said. "There's much more at stake than just wanting to get back at them about last year. It's about what's happening this year and having a chance to win the Cup."
That is the question for these Flyers. Will they answer the bell that rings come playoff time? And can Biron again be the kind of playoff goalie who erases mistakes, frustrates opponents and steals the occasional game?
Phil Sheridan is a columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .