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Matt Read enjoying post-season run with Philadelphia

PHILADELPHIA - On Monday morning Philadelphia Flyers forward Matt Read headed to the rink to spend time on the stationary bike and relax in the sauna.

And, for the first time in quite a while, Read didn't have any other pressing matters that needed to be addressed.

"Today is an off day," Read said after his sauna. "I'm not sure what I'll do the rest of the day. It's an awkward feeling having a day off and not knowing what to do."

The former Bemidji State University forward definitely earned his day off. On Sunday Read and his teammates advanced to the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs by eliminating Pittsburgh 5-1 in the sixth game of a rugged and bitter series.

The Flyers are now in a wait-and-see mode as their second-round playoff opponent is yet to be determined. No one knows for sure when the second round will begin but Read said the best guess is that the puck will drop sometime during the weekend.

Until then Read will attend meetings, head to practice when called and "catch up on some housekeeping things that I've put off for a month or two."

The elimination of the Penguins shocked many NHL experts but Read was not among them.

"Going into the series everybody was talking about how Pittsburgh was the best team and would be coming out of the East (for the Stanley Cup finals)," Read said . "We knew we had our hands full and we knew that if we didn't play our game it would be an easy series for Pittsburgh.

"But we also knew that if we played a great 60 minutes every night we would win the series," he said.

In the first three games the Flyers accomplished that goal and the result was a 3-0 series lead after 4-3, 8-5 and 8-4 victories.

In the fourth game, however, the Penguins battered Philadelphia 10-3 and when the Penguins posted a 3-2 victory in Game 5 to draw within 3-2 in the series, the race was back on.

But on Sunday the Flyers took advantage of the home ice and officially eliminated Pittsburgh.

"After being up 3-0 in the series and finally winning feels great," Read said. "We know that every day from here on is going to get harder and harder. But I know it's going to be fun and I'm going to enjoy it."

During the regular season Read's 24 goals were the most among the NHL rookies and he finished with 47 points.

Gabriel Landeskog of Colorado tied with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins of Edmonton for the rookie lead in points with 52 while New Jersey center Adam Henrique had 35 assists to lead the rookie cast. He also was third in scoring with 51 points.

Despite his spectacular rookie campaign Read was not nominated for the Calder Cup which goes to the NHL's top rookie.

Voted the top three by the NHL writers were Landeskog, Nugent-Hopkins and Henrique.

In the playoff series against the Penguins the former Beaver contributed two goals and two assists. He also spent only four minutes in the penalty box in a series that featured 304 penalty minutes between the two teams. In 79 regular season games Read was called for only six minor penalties.

"I learned from coach (Tom) Serratore at Bemidji State how to play between the whistles," Read said of his relatively few penalties. "In this series there was always something going on after the whistle, especially in Game 3. But I hate sitting in the penalty box so I kept my mouth shut.

"I play physical hockey but I also enjoy being on the ice and sitting on the bench with the guys so I don't want to be in the penalty box."

The transition from college to the NHL can be too much for many players to make but Read said that he was well prepared to play at the next level.

"Coach Serratore is a great coach and he taught me all aspects of the game and how to play in each situation," Read said.

"In the NHL there are many more bigger, stronger and smarter guys than you face in college and the speed of the game is much faster. You don't have time to act on the ice. You have to let your natural ability take over and just react.

"But in college I was taught how to be a versatile player and how to succeed in all situations. And those lessons help me in every situation I face on the ice."

Against the Penguins Read saw time on the power play, on the penalty kill and on a regular shift. And he enjoys the variety.

"My role with the team depends upon the night," he said. "Lately I've been killing penalties and personally I also want to try to provide an offensive spark. I was taught to be a versatile player and because of that I can be used as a shut-down player against an opponent's top line or, if we need some goals, I can try to provide them either on my shift or on the power play."

Because of Sunday's elimination of the Penguins the Flyers have qualified for the second round of the playoffs and Read will continue his quest of the Stanley Cup.

"It's crazy to think that last year I finished my career at Bemidji and now I'm in the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs," he said. "This is exciting. At Bemidji I learned all I needed to prepare me for the NHL and this playoff run. I'll never forget where I came from."

And only time will tell where the journey will end.

Pat Miller

Pat Miller is the sports editor at the Pioneer.

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