Flyers fans couldn't be blamed for taking a cautious approach with their optimism this season.

Last season's run to the Stanley Cup finals was fueled by two journeyman goalies who got hot, a trio of forwards who nobody wanted just a few months earlier, and a defenseman in his mid-30s who needed knee surgery in the offseason.

But the Flyers found a budding star, Sergei Bobrovsky, to replace those journeymen between the pipes. Danny Briere, Scott Hartnell and Ville Leino have picked up where they left off as one of the league's top lines. And the Chris Pronger-led defense has continued to be one of the league's best.

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As a result, the Flyers are contending with Washington for the best record in the Eastern Conference.

And they are for real.

This team doesn't have Alex Ovechkin or Sidney Crosby. But it's as deep as any in the league.

The Flyers are built around Jeff Carter and Mike Richards, who both have contracts that will keep them here for at least 10 years.

But Carter and Richards are no Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. They're no Ovechkin and Alexander Semin, or even Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk.

That's not a problem anymore. The Flyers don't need a super duo because of their depth. Briere, Hartnell and Leino have been just as good as they were in the playoffs last year, giving the Flyers a legitimate top line before you even get to Carter and Richards.

Then there's Claude Giroux. Ex-Flyer and radio analyst Chris Therien said two years ago that Giroux would end up being the Flyers' best player and one of the top five in the NHL. The way he's played this season, that might not be far off.

If immensely talented underachievers Nikolay Zherdev and James van Riemsdyk ever pick it up -- and Van Riemsdyk was impressive Monday against Ottawa -- the Flyers' offense gets even scarier.

Then there's the defense. Chris Pronger is back to his dominating self after offseason surgery. And while the third pairing was a weakness last season, new acquisitions Sean O'Donnell and Andrej Meszaros have been among the league's best pairs, making the Flyers' blue line even more daunting. Come playoff time, this will be the last group that any forward wants to face.

Goalie was the biggest question entering the season, as it always is with the Flyers. Ever since Ron Hextall in 1987, seemingly every quality goalie in the NHL has entered the league with another team. Time after time, Flyers prospects have failed to pan out, leaving them to rely on the Sean Burkes, John Vanbiesbroucks, Jeff Hacketts and Ray Emerys of the world.

No more. Sergei Bobrovsky is the real deal. The kid's raw talent has never been in doubt. His lateral quickness was on display in an excellent outing Monday against Ottawa.

The question with Bobrovsky was how he would adjust to the NHL. On top of the main challenge facing any talented young goalie -- can he be unflappable at the highest level? -- Bobrovsky never had played on an NHL-sized rink before this season.

But from watching Bobrovsky, you'd think he had been playing in the NHL for years. Out of nowhere, the Flyers appear to have finally found a quality home-grown goalie.

The Flyers are piling up points right now, running away with the Atlantic Division title. But the scary thing for other teams is they are built more for the playoffs. Their unique scoring depth, impenetrable defense and stud goalie give them as good a chance as anyone to bring another Cup celebration to south Philadelphia -- and this time, instead of the Blackhawks, it could be the Flyers celebrating.

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