Orange & Black Breakdown
by Marc Siciliano on 05/08/12 at 04:28 PM ET
From seemingly the highest of highs to the lowest of lows, the Flyers have seen it all since the regular season concluded. And if we have learned anything from this entertaining postseason ballad full of fresh sounding narratives it would be this: what a difference a week makes.
Now facing elimination and doing so without the overwhelming postseason points leader, the Flyers will have to channel the devil from within if they wish to stay alive in a series and playoff run that has turned hellish in a mere 197 minutes of hockey.
What a difference a week makes.
Doesn’t this feel like an eternity ago?
The bitter first round war versus the Penguins feels like ages ago. Matched up against the perennial cup favorites, The Flyers started the series earning every inch of the ice, taking it one game at a time and dictating the flow of the game while skating to a quick 3-0 series lead. One week removed from being written off as a talented team with an overwhelming matchup, the Flyers were charged with the task of hanging on and getting that last W to move on to the next round. It may not have been as pretty as many would have liked in games 4 and 5, but a convincing Game 6 victory appeared to lay to rest any reservations about how the Flyers managed to send the Penguins packing.
Riding high on inter-division alpha-male adrenaline and a record breaking offensive performance, the Flyers set their sights on bigger things; but it would appear this dream began to take on a menacing life of its own.
Less than two weeks after no one was giving them a chance, the Flyers were now the trendy pick to make a serious run regardless of some clearly unsustainable statistical advantages. Claude Giroux and his league leading point total were the toast of the NHL. Washington then eliminated Boston, forgoing any possible chance the Flyers would matchup against the dreaded Rangers in Round 2 - and that’s if the Rangers could even manage to hang on! Everyone in the East was battling, while it seemed the Flyers were salivating from a safe distance and eyeing up their prey. The Rangers locked up their victory, and soon after the Devils would close out their hard fought series versus the Panthers in 7 games, overcoming a 3-2 deficit in the process. Another Atlantic matchup was set.
One week removed from one of their most dominant home wins of the season, the Flyers took to the Wells Fargo Ice again for their first game verus a Devils team that barely had time to take off their pads after Game 7 and was clearly nursing some key injuries. Meanwhile, the Flyers - the first team to finish it’s series in the East - seemed to be only getting healthier. Guys like Grossmann and Couturier that had been injured in the Pittsburgh series were able to take some time to nurse their wounds. Additionally, the Flyers were welcoming JVR back to the lineup and Meszaros back to the practice rink. In a time where most teams are only getting thinner, the Flyers depth appeared more volatile than ever.
Twenty minutes of hockey later and the Flyers were being booed off the ice.
JVR has returned, but not in 2011 playoff form
It was a somewhat expected slow start for the Flyers since they hadn’t played a game in a week, but the seed was planted in the minds of the Devils that this was a series they could emerge victorious from. The Flyers ultimately got their act together as the game wore on and started to find their legs. They overcame the issues and ended up coming out on top despite a far from ideal level of execution that usually yields success in the playoffs. The warning signs were ignored and the dreams continued on, growing bigger and bigger until the news of Kovalchuk sitting out of Game 2 due to injury seemed to push the bandwagon over the edge and into the next round, regardless of how many wins the team still needed before it got there.
Suddenly the question was no longer ‘How can the Flyers beat the Devils,” but “When the Flyers beat the Devils, can they beat the Rangers? I hope so because a Philly vs LA final would be crazy!”. This was the popular sentiment around Philly (and to a lesser extent the league) just seven days ago; but what a difference a week makes.
Giroux has been frustrated this series
Now down 3-1 after three straight losses that saw the Devils winning almost every individual race, the Flyers only have themselves to blame for their fate. It would seem truly poetic that a team that overlooked its opponent so vastly is easily doing the most watching on the ice, losing puck battle after puck battle en route to getting dominated in the puck possession department. Quotes began to surface out of the locker room that the Flyers weren’t expecting this much bite from the Devils, and it shows up and down the lineup. A powerplay operating at above 50% that was they key to success in the first round stands at a meager 36% (lol), but clearly somewhat out of sync when it matters against the ferocious Devils PK. The Flyers are getting beat in every facet of the game.
Giroux - one week removed from dominating the news cycle and first round of the playoffs with a highlight reel first shift in Game 6 - was facing some struggles of his own. Starting the series as the darling of the NHL, three points and four games later he finds himself in a Wells Fargo Center press box with only his temper to blame. A blatant, cheap headshot on Zubrus after a call didn’t go his way is the cause, and the effect is the Flyers taking the ice in an elimination game without their leading scorer and most dynamic player. While this could serve to fire up the Flyers and give them something to rally around (I think it will), it’s never good to have your best player in the press box for disciplinary reasons with the season on the line, regardless of how many other head shots went unpunished in these playoffs (there are a lot, thus the intense distain from Flyers fans about this particular call - check this tweet for plenty of examples).
As for the others? Through four games, Jagr has six shots - or the same amount of shots that Hartnell took in Game 4 and one more than rookie Gustafsson has taken this series (Gus hasn’t had a shot since Game 2 by the way). Danny Briere didn’t manage a single shot on goal in Game 4. Wayne Simmonds has seven hits total this series - the same total he had in Game 1 versus Pittsburgh. Ironically enough, the only player that seems to remember you have to win four games to advance Bryzgalov, the guy who had the biggest question mark heading into the series. His play has arguably been more supreme than that of his cross ice counterpart and future HOF’er Marty Brodeur, but these performances have been all for naught with little offensive or defensive effort in front of him by his teammates to show for it. Has he let in some stoppable goals? Absolutely - but he has given his team a chance to win every night and that should be recognized.
The fact of the matter is this is a different team from what took the ice almost two weeks ago, because that team believed and initiated and executed with pride. They became a team with everything to lose, because in their minds they had already won the battle that laid before them. Now the battle is almost over, but the outcome that looms is nowhere close to what they had hoped for.
I too fell into this trap. Riding high two weeks ago after Game 6, you could find me walking out of the arena telling any one of my friends that this was starting to feel like the year it might finally work out for our team rather than end in anguish. I was still feeling confident even after Games 1 and 2 just clinging to the notion that this team wouldn’t let this dream go so easily. Now I find myself wondering how much longer this playoff beard has left to live, experiencing the lowest of lows as a fan simply embarrassed for supporting his team with more passion than the players themselves as it would appear to the naked eye. What a difference a week makes.
Can magic strike twice for Lavi and the Flyers?
But there is still hope. Now the Flyers face a daunting but realistic task, and they can draw on their opponent and their history in support of this still achievable goal. The Flyers are no stranger to comeback stories or three game winning streaks. The past few seasons have yielded one of the most memorable comebacks in playoff history and more recently a 3-game winning streak versus an arguably superior opponent in Pittsburgh. Much like the Devils in Game 2 without Kovalchuk, winning without Giroux is a great way to gain your confidence back and take momentum into the next contest.
To say this team has played to it’s capabilities this series is laughable, especially when you consider how well the Flyers played the Devils in the regular season, holding them to under 20 shots on two separate occasions. Furthermore, the Flyers themselves once fell victim to a 3-1 series turnaround that ended up in favor of the Devils in 2000. While it’s obvious no one remains with this current team from that series, pride for the organization alone should be enough to want to avenge that loss in such an appropriate fashion. It’s down to taking it one game at a time and playing like you have nothing to lose, just as they did at the start of the post season versus Pittsburgh.
That is the best the Flyers can ask for right now and ultimately the only step they can take. It’s just unfortunate that they let it get to this in such a disheartening fashion, just one week removed from being the toast of the NHL.
I said when the series started that this couldn’t have worked out better for the Flyers.
What a difference a week makes.
You’ve gotta believe…
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The Orange & Black Breakdown looks to be the ultimate, around the clock source for news and information on the Philadelphia Flyers organization and it’s ever-present quest for the Stanley Cup. Focusing on what the team can do to achieve success is the ultimate goal.
The OBB is written and maintained by myself - Marc Siciliano. I’m a college graduate and media production professional in the sports industry with credits on projects like Hard Knocks: Bengals and 24/7 Penguins vs. Capitals: Road to the Winter Classic. A man of many hobbies, I always seem to find a way to spend a disproportionate amount of my daily routine with two things: Flyers hockey and social media (much to the dismay of my hockey impartial friends on twitter).
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