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The message came in at 5:54 a.m.

It was seven minutes before the alarm was supposed to go off, so there might have been some grumbling, I admit, but nevertheless, it was a pleasant message to see.

It was from a guy who is a hockey fan. Well, let me clarify that – a guy who used to be a great hockey fan. A guy who used to have his finger on the pulse of the Philadelphia hockey world. A guy who grew up in Delco, which as we well know is the epicenter of Flyers fandom, who watched every game, and tracked the movements of all of the team’s popular players both on and off the ice.

However, he had admitted to me recently that in the past decade his interest in hockey had waned a bit. With the Flyers seemingly never better than fair-to-middling, and the Eagles and Sixers on the rise in recent years, the Flyers sadly became an afterthought to him.

His disinterest, while disappointing for such a once-fervent follower, was completely understandable.

But we’ve talked a little hockey in our recent conversations and I’ve tried to make him a believer again. I’ve tried to tell him that what the Flyers had was a team ready to require attention again. A team that was fun. A team that you will like to root for.

He just gave me one of those half smiles, kind of just to appease me, but in reality was still a doubting Thomas. He needed to see it for himself.

So, when the message arrived on my phone, and I rubbed the sleep out of my eyes to read it, I saw five words. And those five words were enough to let me know that the time is nigh for people to recognize what they have here in the 2019-20 Flyers.

Those five words:

“Yo, are the Flyers good?”

Yes. Yes they are. They’re really good. From top to bottom. From Left to right. The Flyers are exceeding a lot of expectations and are proving to be one of the best teams in the NHL.

There, I said it.

And it’s not like I became convinced of that status after another come-from-behind, 4-3 overtime win in Columbus on Thursday night. Sure, that helped to reinforce the belief in this team, but this has been something that has been building and coming for awhile.

At the beginning of the season, I pegged the Flyers for a 5th/6th place finish in the Metropolitan Division and battling for the wild card. That wasn’t because I didn’t think they would be improved – just adding Alain Vigneault to behind the bench was enough to let me know this team would be better. But the Metro is a gauntlet filled with seven good teams and the New Jersey Devils. Finding their way through those teams was going to be a challenge.

And the Flyers are meeting that challenge. Head on. In 20 games so far this season against Metro opponents, the Flyers are 12-4-4. With the win Thursday in Columbus, they swept the season series against the Blue Jackets for the first time – ever.

The Flyers are now in third place in the crazy competitive division (34-20-7, 75 points). How crazy and how competitive? The Flyers are only five points out of first, and only three points ahead of the New York Islanders, who wouldn’t be in the playoffs if they started today.

So, there’s a lot that’s still going to be in flux over the final 21 games of the season, eight of which come against division rivals, including a stretch of four in a row that begins next Friday.

But here’s the thing; the Flyers are winning more than just about everyone these days.

Tampa Bay, who is maybe the only team in hockey hotter than the Flyers right now, has 40 wins. Boston, who marched out to the best record in the NHL early this season, has kept up a steady pace with 38 wins. Pittsburgh and Washington, who have been jockeying for position atop the Metro, each have 37 while Dallas, who has been the best team in the west since mid-November has 35.

Then there’s the Flyers.

That’s sixth-best out of 31 teams.

When you look at total points, those same teams and the defending champion St. Louis Blues are the only squads ahead of the Flyers (Colorado is tied with the Flyers).

When you look at goal differential, only six teams are ahead of the Flyers plus-21 mark.

Their 197 goals scored ranks seventh-best in the league. Their 82.1 percent on the penalty kill is ninth-best.

They allow the fewest shots on goal of any team in the league. They are second-best in fewest shot attempts allowed at 5-on-5, showing how stingy their defense is to play against.

Oh, and they are the best faceoff team in the NHL, winning 54.2 percent of all draws.

Put that all together and that’s one heck of a resume. Not many teams will find themselves in similar spots.

Couple that with an excellent coach, the team believing in itself and its system and a never-say-die attitude, and you have a team that can be playing for a long time this Spring, regardless of the opponent, especially when you consider these Flyers are 7-4-2 this season against those six teams with identical or better records.

Yes, these Flyers can play with anybody. They are undaunted by adversity.

Down a pair of goals early to Columbus Thursday, they could have easily folded the tent. But they didn’t.

First it was Travis Konecny putting an end to the Columbus momentum with this tip-in goal:

O.K., so the puck found him more than he found the puck, but guess what? When you play the game the right way, as the Flyers have been, puck luck sort of starts going your way. Four of the Flyers five goals against Columbus on Tuesday were fortunate bounces and this was another one.

TK goes hard to the net. Travis Sanheim gets a shot through toward the net. Both are things you want to do, and the end result is a good goal.

That had the Flyers feeling better after another slow start, going into the first intermission down just a goal.

However, Columbus regained the two-goal cushion early in the second period, and you started to think it just might not be the Flyers night.

But then came the Deuce Caboose line, and Nick Aube-Kubel, who is a guy Flyers fans should be falling in love with because of the way he plays, re-energized the team with another goal that was the result of hard work:

Just look at how every player is defending to try and get the puck back at the start of the video. Skating hard. Stick-on-stick. Out-muscling the opponent. And then notice Aube-Kubel (NAK for short in print, although his coach and teammates call him “Cube”) identifying there is room up the middle of the ice and he starts skating hard from his own end to get in position to take a short pass from Michael Raffl with speed through the neutral zone.

He beats a man through center ice and then uses the lone defender as a screen for a nasty wrist shot. This is excellent play for the Flyers rookie who continues to impress and now has five goals this season.

Less than two minutes later, it was the grizzled vet tying the game on the suddenly rejuvenated power play:

Just a wicked slapper from Giroux, and as Russ points out in the tweet, a different look with Giroux on the right. That was absolutely a set play with Sean Couturier setting him up from behind the net.

Oh, and Giroux, who a few weeks ago we were wondering if he would find a way to return to form at all this year, has now embarked on a seven-game point streak (4 goals, 8 assists, 12 points) and is a big part of why the Flyers are rolling right now.

Getting the game tied was all that mattered, and from there the Flyers shut it down defensively. Yes, Columbus got 10 shots on goal in the third period and three more in overtime, but there weren’t many huge chances for the Jackets.

And when it looked like there would be a big chance for Columbus, Brian Elliott, showing some real veteran savvy, flipped off his mask after taking a shot up high, drawing a referee’s whistle and a much-needed stoppage in play to thwart Columbus’ momentum with them having the puck in the Flyers zone.

The Columbus fans and the Jackets bench were livid. But, it was a brilliant play that allowed the Flyers to catch their breath and get a line change. And then, a couple shifts later:

Kevin Hayes is a beauty, especially with the Aaron Rodgers-esque celebration afterwards. Hayes has been all the Flyers could have expected since November. Frankly, every player that has been in the lineup the past couple weeks has been giving the Flyers exactly what they need.

From the top with Giroux finding his scoring touch, to Jake Voracek being a surprisingly excellent defensive player and Couturier playing at an absolute Selke Trophy level to the fourth line where Aube-Kubel, Raffl, and Connor Bunnaman have been a spirited and productive line.

On defense, the group has been really good. Phil Myers had his best game of the season in his own end. He was a hammer. He played strong and physical and with an edge. Even Mark Friedman, filling in for the sick Justin Braun, had another responsible game.

There’s nobody on this team who should be the target of constant derision, which has to feel weird for Flyers twitter.

And they are only getting better and better.

They come home for three games to wrap up the month of February all against teams below them in the standings.

And as we hit the month of March, the Flyers could well be in the discussion at the top of the standings more so than at the bottom of the playoff race.

So set the hockey alarm a little earlier than usual and wake up to this Flyers team. Because they, in fact, are very good.

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