Wednesday, April 14, 2010

So You're Telling Me There's a Chance

On Friday, I implored the Flyers not to flush the entire season down the drain in the most horrifying fashion, by losing twice to the New York Rangers. They did their damnedest to give me a heart attack, but ultimately, in dramatic fashion, they got in. But they sure as shit didn't make it easy on themselves, or me for that matter.

In the first of the final two meetings of the season, both against the Rangers, I was pumped as could be when Mike Richards stole a pass, went in on the breakaway and beat Henrik Lundqvist to give the Flyers a lead just 40 seconds in. Then I departed for my softball game with my roommate and silver fox, listening on the ride. Halfway into the ride, we hear Chris Drury score, and just minutes after that, Jody freakin Shelley scores his first goal of the entire season — in game 81 — to give the Rangers the lead. Fuck. Ing. Gay. Chris Therien was lambasting Richards on the goal, discussing how he gave up on the play after the stick was knocked out of his hands the draw in the biggest game of the entire season. He was just giving it to Richards. Not a smart play by the captain, that's for sure.

Periodically throughout our game, which didn't end so well either, we get updates: 3-1 Rangers, 3-2, tied, 4-3 Rangers. We listened to the ending and when the final seconds ticked away, I was certain the Flyers were on their way to ending their season. A 4-3 loss to the Rangers gave New York all the confidence in the world and the Flyers still searching. To add to the tension, both the Canadiens and Bruins won Saturday, meaning the final playoff spot was really on the line Sunday. The Flyers and Rangers both entered with 86 points. Winner moves on, loser goes home.

Again on Sunday I had some baseball to attend to, which got done just in time for the start of the Flyers game. We listened in the car as Jody freakin Shelley scored again to give the Rangers a 1-0 lead in the first. What the fuck? The guy hadn't scored a goal all season long, then in the last two games, he gets a goal in each against the Flyers with a playoff berth on the line. It's the guy's 11th year in the NHL, and he's now scored a total of 16 goals. Ridiculous.

But not as ridiculous as the play of Lundqvist. The Flyers outshot the Rangers 18-4 in the first period, yet trailed 1-0. Then they fired 12 more shots at Henrik in the 2nd, still nothing. The Flyers were dominating, outshooting New York 30-13 after two periods of play, but they just couldn't get the puck by Lundqvist. The guy is amazing, and he was playing amazing. It looked like he was primed to steal this one for the Rangers and send New York to playoffs.

As luck would have it, after getting some food and continuing our ride, we got to silver fox's house as the third period got under way. Despite the score, it was more than evident who the better team was. The Flyers were swarming the puck, attacking the zone with speed, firing shots from all angles; they were in complete control. But there was still the matter of that pesky goaltender. No matter how hard the Flyers tried, they couldn't get the puck past Lundqvist. It was incredibly frustrating, for the team to be playing so well but a netminder keeping them at bay, especially since it's something we aren't accustomed to seeing from our goaltenders here in Philadelphia. But then finally, on the power play, Matt Carle scored his biggest goal of his Flyer career, perhaps of his entire life:

It was poetic justice at its finest. Carle was having a fantastic game, playing smart, sound defense and jumping up into the play at every opportunity. He looked like the player that began the season on a phenomenal tear, not the one who has played as inconsistently as this team. When he deposited that backhander in the back of the net, I jumped up for joy, screaming, yelling, pounding the couch with my fist. The wall of Lundqvist had shown a crack. Now it was there for the taking.

Until the clock wound down the game was still tied. It had taken the Flyers nearly 47 minutes to get one by Lundqvist, now they had to manage to get another by him in 5 minutes or it was on to the dreaded shootout. I suddenly didn't like the Flyers' chances. Despite dominating from start to finish, despite outshooting the Rangers 45-23 through three periods of play, I was nervous. Beyond nervous. And when the game finally went to a shootout, I gave the Flyers about a -75 percent chance of winning. I mean, the Rangers had Lundqvist in net, the goaltender who had just stoned the Flyers on 46 of their 47 shots, a guy who thrives in the shootout, while the Flyers had a shaky, unproven Brian Boucher and a slew of shooters who don't exactly thrive in the shootout format.

Then, this happened:

Danny Briere started it off with an absolutely absurd move that even Henrik the great couldn't stop. I don't think I've ever seen a player's hands move so fast at the end of that move. It was a thing of beauty, and I started screaming, "FUCK YEAH, DANNY!!!!! FUCK YEAH!!!!" And when Boosh stopped Erik Christensen, suddenly I felt good again. Richards a was up, and he had already scored on a semi-breakaway against Lundqvist on Friday night and then scored on him again to tie that game before ultimately losing. It was the captain's time to step up and move his team on. But he didn't, putting forth a pretty porous effort if you ask me.

To make matters worse, P.A. Parenteau beat Boucher on a shot that should have been stopped. It wasn't even a remotely impressive shot, Boucher got his glove on it, and he was as upset as anyone when it fluttered in. Yikes. The tension was building yet again. I was certain the Flyers were going to go with Jeff Carter, even with him far from 100 percent, because he's the team's best goal-scorer. But Peter Laviolette threw me a curveball by sending out Claude Giroux, and the moment he did, I had a great feeling about it. After all, the guy is my favorite Flyer. And Claude did not let me down, ripping one right through Lundqvist to put the Flyers ahead 2-1 in the shootout.

It all came down to this, Olli "Frankenstein" Jokinen one on one with Brian Boucher. Advantage Boucher, who went on to do funky chicken dance of some sort.

And with the victory, the Flyers didn't just secure a spot in the playoffs, they didn't just end the Rangers' season after giving them hope, but they wound up with the most favorable match-up possible for the first round. Yes, by securing that wild victory Sunday, the Flyers earned the 7th seed, meaning they'll take on the Devils in the first round. While taking on the No. 2 seed with historic Flyer foil and Hall-of-Fame bound goaltender Martin Brodeur in net is never an ideal situation, the Flyers couldn't have asked for a better scenario given the circumstances.

This season, the Flyers went 5-1 against New Jersey, seemingly flipping the script on a division rival that has owned them the past two decades, spearheaded by Brodeur in net. But this year it was the Flyers getting the best of Brodeur. In those six games, the Flyers scored 20 goals, 19 of them coming in the five wins, outscoring the Devils 20-10 overall and 19-6 in their wins. Brodeur started all six for Jersey, and his play was uneven. The Flyers defeated Brodeur 5-2 on 27 shots in the first meeting, then won 3-2 with Brodeur stopping 32 of 35 shots. In the lone loss, the Flyers fired just 23 shots at the Jersey goaltender, losing 4-1. Then the Flyers came back from a 2-0 hole to win 3-2 in back to back games. And in the final meeting of the season, the Flyers trounced the Devils 5-1, chasing Brodeur from net after he surrendered four goals on 19 shots. In those six games Brodeur's save percentage is a paltry .878, even worse if you take out the lone victory (.865).

It hasn't been a stellar year for Brodeur against the Flyers. This, of course, doesn't mean all that much come tonight, when the Flyers kick off the playoffs in New Jersey. Brodeur is notoriously awesome in the playoffs usually, and the Devils aren't simply a team dependent on their goaltending anymore. With players like Ilya Kovalchuk, Zach Parise and Travis Zajac, this team can score as well. It won't be an easy match-up. But given the way the season series went, the Flyers couldn't have asked for a better situation. It's not likely that a No. 7 will defeat a No. 2, but there's definitely a chance.

BallHype: hype it up!

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