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April 24, 2016

Flyers looking to learn from (and build on) playoff experience

Ask any of the Flyers if they felt like they were playing with house money against the Washington Capitals and their 120 regular season points, and they all would say no.

“I don’t know if many people gave us an opportunity in this series, but there wasn’t one guy in our room that thought our season would end during this series,” Dave Hakstol said after his team was eliminated. “We came in with a mentality and a confidence to go out and do the job and win the series.”

Deep down, though, you have to imagine the players and coaching staff knew what they were up against. The Capitals were supposed to be here while the Flyers weren’t, which we more or less saw over six games. The Caps are a finished product, and the Flyers aren’t.

They gave it their all, but got beat by a better team. No shame in that.

“They’re a good team,” Wayne Simmonds said of the Capitals. “They’re the best team in the league all year long and I think you can see that out there.”

After a few deserved weeks of rest, the work begins on improving and becoming that better team the next time around. On that subject, many of the Flyers were asked what they could learn from the playoff experience moving forward. After creating a league-wide buzz his rookie year, Shayne Gostisbehere was glad to see what the postseason was all about.

“It’s great to get to a good taste of some playoff hockey,” Gostisbehere said. “First series for a couple of us over here and it’s a good experience. Of course we wanted to go a different way, but you learn from everything and just take everything in stride.”

And what did he learn?

“The intensity level is up about ten notches and physicality, emotions, everything, it’s what you’ve been working for all year,” Gostisbehere said. “You don’t play 82 games for no reason. It’s all on the line and I think that’s what we realized.”

A funny thing happened at the end of the first period on Sunday afternoon: The scoreboard read 0-0, but it sure didn’t feel like it. The Wells Fargo Center was rocking like a Stanley Cup Finals game, saluting their team for killing off most of a 5-on-3 Caps power play. 

And while the fans seemed to understand that the Flyers were overmatched (and, considering the circumstances, appreciated the effort), the strong late-season push provided the younger players with the chance to experience a true playoff atmosphere.

“I think it gives everyone a taste of what the playoffs are like and how this building is in playoffs, and how much fun it is,” restricted free agent Brayden Schenn said. “We’re still a young team, we’ve still got a lot to prove and it was good for us to squeak into the playoffs and get a taste of it.”

The Flyers struggled in many areas (zone exits, power play, penalty kill, etc.) this series, which made it surprising to many that they were even able to able to push the series to six competitive games.

Capitals head coach Barry Trotz, on the other hand, admitted that he was a tad surprised that his team jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the first place.

“I mean, there’s a lot of character in that room, they’re very well coached, and you know, it was a battle,” Trotz said of the Flyers. “And they’ve got a great future, some young stars, some quality veterans.”

The Flyers also have some promising players waiting in the pipeline, ready to help the current group attempt to build on a productive 2015-16 season. Expectations will be raised, both from the outside and internally.

“It was a great learning point, great learning series,” Jake Voracek said. "Wasn’t good enough, got to do better next year.”

Follow Rich on Twitter: @rich_hofmann