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Playoff aspirations bring Wells Fargo Center back to life

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Steve Kuzma/Flyerdelphia

A full-throated crowd truly is an advantage for the home team. Philadelphia has long been known as city with passionate, almost rabid fans who are so invested in their teams it's scary. Veterans Stadium had a court during Eagles games for goodness sake. 

Flyers fans fit that mold. They are passionate, dedicated, and knowledgeable. They don't demand perfection as long as the effort is there. They expect the team to play as hard as this blue collar town works. 

For the past season plus, the rabid and full-throated atmosphere has been, for lack of a better term, missing.  That was until Tuesday night. Those knowledgeable and passionate fans had the Wells Fargo Center rocking in what was the most important home game of the season to that point.

Flyerdelphia caught up with a few of those fans before the game. Joe Nellinger and his brother Gary are partial season ticket holders and have been for a few seasons now. They voiced a "cautious optimism" about both the game and the team's chances of making the postseason.

It was a sentiment shared by a lot of the fans. You could tell by the way they were reaction during the first few minutes of the game. Once the Flyers scored the game's first goal, the cautious optimism turned to euphoria and the fans were engaged like it was a playoff game. 

Following the big win on Tuesday, the team headed to Chicago and earned a hard fought come from behind victory over the Blackhawks. The win temporarily put the Flyers into the final playoff spot. Detroit has since won and is one point ahead of Philadelphia with the Flyers holding two games in hand.

By the weekend, Saturday brought on the cross-state rival Pittsburgh Penguins. The crowd is always ready for their pound of flesh when Pittsburgh comes to town but this game has a little more meaning. With the playoffs in reach, the Penguins in town, and the team playing better than it has in almost two seasons, I wanted to find out if the mood had changed since Tuesday. 

I arrived at the sports complex around 11 a.m., a good two hours before the game. The parking lots were already starting to fill up, the fans were having fun and you could tell it was gonna be a rowdy crowd. 

The usual Philadelphia welcome was louder than usual as the Penguins lineups were announced. The crowd also made sure to salute Sidney Crosby as only they can. It truly felt like a playoff game. The cautious optimism that was present on Tuesday had turned to thunderous belief.

Lauren Hart sang, the crowd screamed. The game started, the crowd screamed. Brayden Schenn and Claude Giroux had an early 2-on-1 that just missed connecting and the crowd was ready to explode. They cheered hard for routine body checks.

As the game progressed and Pittsburgh began to take things over, the crowd still cheered. The "Let's go Flyers" chants filled the arena until the late stages of the third period when the game was officially a lost cause. They did everything they could to urge their Flyers on hoping to make a difference.

I once again had a chance to speak to a few fans, this time after the game. 

The sentiment was the same. As Becky from Philadelphia stated, "I was disappointed with the effort." Kish, also from Philadelphia shared theses thoughts "I was disappointed with the sloppiness of play. I guess they thought with the recent success against Pittsburgh, this would be a cakewalk."

Both ladies stated even though the outcome was not what they expected they were excited in the moment. A third woman, Annie from Philadelphia, agreed. 

The bottom line is that even though Saturday's game was lackluster, there was still that buzz throughout the arena. It was a buzz that has been missing since the playoff series against the New York Rangers in 2014. It was the Wells Fargo Center the way it used to be. It was the Wells Fargo Center I know.

Bill Minchin is a contributing writer for Flyerdelphia. Follow Bill on Twitter @wtfd103074.

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