Monday, April 19, 2010

'When Is This M-----F---er Gonna Retire?'

Those were the exact words that came out of my mouth in the closing minutes of the third period last night. "When is this motherfucker going to retire?" As the Flyers were dominating every facet of the game late in the third period, throwing everything but the kitchen sink at the soon-to-be 38-year-old Martin Brodeur, the old goalie didn't come anywhere near showing his age, stopping any and all comers. It was maddening. It's something we as Flyers fans have been watching for the past decade and a half, and frankly, I'm tired of it. Martin Brodeur has been haunting our dreams since the early '90s.

And last night, it looked as though he was going to steal a victory in a game in which, barring the barrage of penalties, the Flyers did just about everything right. That is, until Dan Carcillo (with a helping hand from Simon Gagne and Mike Richards), saved the day.

Brodeur was magnificent last night, the only reason that game even went to overtime, but no goaltender alive had a chance to stop that one, not with a wide open Dan Carcillo there, completely unmarked and forgotten, to tap it in.

But let's back up for a minute. Back to Friday night. The Flyers, having already taken game 1 thanks in large part to the play of Brian Boucher, had a golden opportunity to put a stranglehold on this series. So what do they do? They come out and give up a shorthanded goal less than three minutes into the game to fall behind 1-0. For all the magic Matt Carle displayed in game 1, he was beyond awful in game 2. The shorty by Zach Parise was 100 percent his fault, whiffing on a perfect pass back to him at the point as Parise was baring down full speed toward him to thwart a power play shot attempt. Yes, the puck hopped slightly, but it was hardly a difficult play to keep the puck in. Yet Carle couldn't, and Parise was off to the races, easily beating the slow-footed Chris Pronger, who was trying his best to get back. But he stood no shot, and Parise, a lethal goal-scorer, beat Boucher with a gorgeous backhander on the breakaway. Great start, guys.

I was furious, but before the period was through, my mood would change due to one man — my favorite Philadelphia Flyer, Claude Giroux. With the Flyers trailing 1-0, Giroux made one of his patented seeing-eye passes to Arron Asham, who tapped in the tying goal.

Minutes later, Giroux deflected a Matt Carle blast from the point past Brodeur to give the Flyers a 2-1 lead. From the moment the puck was dropped Friday night, Claude was the best player on the ice for either squad. He got to every loose puck, won every battle along the boards, shook off checks, created chances, defended with fury — he did everything better than everyone. Yet for some reason, despite playing exponentially better than any other Flyers, than any other skater on either side, Giroux only saw 15 minutes and 37 seconds of ice time. Meanwhile, Jeff Carter and Danny Briere, a tandem that did very little in game 1, each received over 20 minutes of ice time. Yes, they were better on Friday than they were last Wednesday, but they were playing nowhere near the level Giroux was. But Peter Laviolette didn't find a way to get him on the ice more.

And that cost the Flyers. Big time. Colin White — who was taking runs at Giroux and a couple other Flyers all night including a blatant, textbook boarding on Claude that somehow went uncalled — somehow scored a goal, something he never does. Andy Greene, who was by far the best defenseman for the Devils, then scored on the power play to put the Devils ahead, and after Chris Pronger tied it on a beautiful deflection on a 4-3 power play, setting up his 6'6" frame in front of Martin Brodeur (I really love the Pronger screening the goalie thing, the Flyers should do that more often on the power play), former Flyer Dainius Zubrus put the Devils ahead for good — at least according to the official scorekepers, because that goal was definitely scored by Zach Parise. I have no idea how they could possibly miss that.

Seriously, did they just get No. 8 and No. 9 confused? Someone explain to me how Zach Parise still hasn't been credited with this goal. Anyway, that's not the point. The point of Friday's game was that so far in this series, the best skater for the Devils has been the former Flyer, the one who replaced Mikael Renberg on the Legion of Doom line, skating alongside Eric Lindros and John LeClair as a rookie.

Zach Parise is unquestionably New Jersey's best player, Brodeur the team's backbone, Ilya Kovalchuk — who, empty-netter aside, has been a complete nonfactor after game 1 — its best sniper, Travis Zajac a young star and Jamie Langenbrunner the veteran presence, but it's been Zubrus that has given the Flyers the most problems. Not only did he score the game-winner Friday, but he has used his size and strength to protect the puck, work the cycle and screen Brian Boucher with regularity.

The guy has been a horse this series, seemingly playing his best hockey against the Flyers, using his size and strength to give Philadelphia fits the same way Jordan Staal does when the Flyers play Pittsburgh. He's the type of front-of-net presence the Flyers could really use, especially with the departure of Mike Knuble to Washington before the season.

I did not take Friday night's loss well. Not even one bit. All season long, even with the Flyers underachieving once again and faltering down the stretch, I kept up the refrain that while some of the players on the Flyers drive me crazy, there's really no one I hate — even if I didn't really believe myself. Well, after Friday's loss, my real feelings came out, via a message I sent to Adam EatShit:

You know how i said i don't hate anyone on this team? I hate hartnell and coburn

Now hate may be a strong word, especially when it pertains to Braydon Coburn. Truth is, I want to like Coburn. I used to really like Coburn. When he came over from Atlanta, he was awesome, young, fast and talented, and I was sure he would become an all-star defenseman for years to come. Now it's a few years later and Coburn is still fairly young, still fast and still talented, but he hasn't gotten even a little bit better. In fact, you could argue he's regressed. Yes, he has moments of brilliance and games here and there where he's the best defenseman on the ice, but overall, he's been a disappointment. And on Friday night, he played like shit. But still, I don't really want him traded, and I want to like him. I really do. But he's just not living up to expectations. He hasn't the past two seasons. Though he's still only 25 and still has a world of talent and all that speed, so I'm sticking by him, even if I'll let out an occasional outburst toward him.

Hartnell on the other hand, well, I've had enough. Truth be told, I've had enough of him for a while now. Last season, he pissed me off to no end with his idiotic, inopportune penalties. Dumb penalties. Lazy penalties. Something he really never corrected this season either. But last year, it was slightly tolerable because the guy was scoring goals. This year, he's been horrible from the start, and it was evident early on that he wasn't going to be helping the Flyers much. Hell, in December I suggested the Flyers should trade him.

The truth of the matter is he's been terrible from game 1 to 82, with an occasional bright spot here and there but far too few. After netting 54 goals in his first two seasons as a Flyer and playing at a +16 rate, he had just 14 goals this year and finished a -6, failing miserably to pick up any of the slack left by the departing Mike Knuble and Joffrey Lupul. He continued to take bad, lazy penalties, make horrific, unnecessary cross-ice passes and couldn't stay on his skates for the life of him.

Friday night, it all came to a head. He was by far, in my humble opinion, the worst player on the ice. He was falling down left and right — honestly, I don't think I've ever seen a hockey player with worse balance on his skates. On the go-ahead goal, the whole reason the puck got in the Flyers' zone in the first place for that long, sustained shift by the Parise line is because at the other blue line, Hartnell made an atrocious, blind drop pass that sprung the Devils the other way when the smart play, the right play, the only play was to dump the puck down low deep.

He's just not a smart hockey player. There's no two ways around it. And I've had enough. Yes, he was better last night, and he's another guy who isn't old and has some good talent, but frankly, if he's not scoring goals, the bad outweighs the good. Hopefully he can wise up and turn it around, but the evidence suggests this is who Scott Hartnell is. And frankly, I don't like him.

Thankfully, Friday night wasn't a complete wash. While the Flyers were battling the Devils before ultimately falling, Roy Halladay was simultaneously pitching another gem, this time for the first time in Citizens Bank Park as a member of the home Phillies. It was a glorious thing to watch during breaks in the action of the Flyers-Devils and during the intermissions.

Halladay was his typical brilliant self, pitching 8 innings of 2-run ball with four strikeouts and no walks even in the rain. He left after 8 with a comfortable 8-2 lead, putting on an efficient, effortless performance for his new home fans to commit to memory. When David Herndon came in to take the mound for the 9th with a 6-run lead, I went back to the Flyers game. When I flipped back, it was 8-5 with just one out, and Ryan Madson was coming into the game. Unreal. If the bullpen blew this one, I was ready to break everything in the room.

Here was Roy, handing over the bullpen a six-run lead with just three outs to go, and now it was a save situation? What. The. Fuck. Luckily, Madson came in with allowing just one of his two inherited runners to cross home plate, giving the Phils an 8-6 win and making Halladay a perfect 3-for-3 on the season. Twenty-five wins seems in the realm of possibility, especially since he's now won 100 percent of the games he's started as a Philadelphia Phillie. Then again, given the atrocious performance by Herndon and a scary slew of arms in the bullpen, not even a Roy Halladay gem is safe without him finishing it off himself. Luckily, he's been known to that quite a bit.

On Saturday, I spent most of the day sleeping or drinking outside, though I did see this:

LeBron is not human. There is no other explanation for his awesomeness. He is an alien. I'm sure of it.

Then there was yesterday. For the first time since what seems like the 2008 postseason, Cole Hamels pitched an excellent game … and he lost. Baseball makes no sense sometimes. In his first two outings, Hamels was somewhere between shitty and not altogether terrible, yet he got wins in both of them. Yesterday, he pitches a fantastic 8+ innings, giving up just two runs on seven hits while striking out 8 and walking no one, yet he picks up the loss as the Phillies offense, which was scoring more than seven runs a game, failed to get a single batter home. Unreal. But hey, at least Cole looked good. If he can limit the opposition to three runs or less, he and the Phils will win a lot of games. This team won't get shut out or shut down very often.

That finally brings us to last night, the 6 p.m. start for game 3 between the Flyers and Devils right here in Philadelphia. I was so amped up for this game, it was eating at me all day. Finally, the puck was dropped, and almost immediately, the Flyers were in the penalty box. Great, it was going to be one of those kinds of games. I already have enough trouble staving off heart attacks during playoff games, now I have to deal with the Flyers steadily marching to the penalty box. And that's exactly what happened.

A minute and 20 seconds in, Mike Richards was off for hooking. Two minutes and 13 seconds later, Ian Laperriere gets called for tripping. The Flyers were excellent on the penalty kill, but eventually, if they kept it up, you just knew the Devils were going to capitalize. Some three minutes and 24 seconds after Laperriere went off for tripping, Kimmo Timonen headed to the sin bin for a hook, and finally the Devils took advantage. Dainius Zubrus planted his big body in front of Brian Boucher again, set up an awesome screen and distracted Boosh enough that Brian Rolston was able to fire a laser from the point by him, 1-0 Devils. Fuck.

Definitely not the start you want, especially at home: three quick penalties, a power play goal for the Devils and a quiet building. Luckily, the Flyers faithful weren't quiet much longer. With a power play of their own, Timonen took it upon himself to make up for his penalty, winding up to take a shot from the point when out of the corner of his eye, he spotted Giroux heading toward the net. Mid-shot, Kimmo adjusted his plan and fired a slapper not toward the net but in the direction of Giroux. The perfect slap pass made its way right through Colin White and on to Claude's tape, who tapped it into the wide open net to tie the game.

It was an absolute thing of beauty. And after that early barrage of penalties, the Flyers settled in and started to take over. One of the key reasons was the best display I've ever seen from this group of players in the faceoff circle. In the first period alone, the Flyers won 14 out of 18 draws, and the whole game, they won just about every crucial draw. It was a nice change of character for a team that has struggled to win face-offs the past three seasons, and it highlighted just how important and overlooked face-offs are.

With the momentum rolling, it didn't take long for the Flyers to take a lead in the second period. In fact, just 1:15 in, the Gagne-Richards-Carcillo line put forth the type of fore-checking effort Peter Laviolette craves, manufacturing a goal that wasn't there out of sheer will. Simon Gagne flew in with reckless abandon, knocking Mark Fraser off the puck. Carcillo came in with the support, scooping up the puck, and then fed Richards, who was all alone in front of the net, and the captain didn't miss, beating Brodeur to the stick side, 2-1 Flyers. I was beyond pumped up, screaming, slapping the couch, and slightly hurting my hand in the process. That was a picture-perfect forecheck, and it resulted in a beautiful goal. All three forwards had a hand in it, with Gagne going in hard, Carcillo coming to support and Richards heading to the net. You couldn't have drawn it up any better.

With the lead and the ice tilting in the Flyers' favor, I was beginning to feel good. But then the penalty bug crept up again. After giving the Devils four power plays in the first period, the Flyers went shorthanded three more times in the second. On the second power play of the period and the sixth of the game for New Jersey, the Devils simply spit out a carbon copy of their first power play tally. Zubrus planted himself directly in front of Boucher, Rolston fired from the point, and just like that, game tied. Boucher never stood a chance, getting shielded completely by Zubrus. He never saw it, even for a second. Poor job of clearing the porch by Timonen, and great job by the former Flyer. He didn't even register a point on either goal, but he was every bit as responsible for each one as Rolston was. And I was pissed.

But my level of anger was only beginning to boil. Because once the third period happened, I simply couldn't take it. After Jersey tied it, the Flyers turned it up another notch, completely taking over the game. The Devils went some 11 minutes or more without getting a single shot on net. Ilya Kovalchuk was completely invisible — in fact, he didn't even get one shot on net the entire game. The Flyers were going all out, taking it to the Devils in every aspect of the game. They stopped taking penalties and started taking command.

The entire third period was played in Jersey's zone. The Flyers fired shot after shot at Brodeur. Yet everywhere the Flyers turned, every shot they let loose, Brodeur was there to make the save. There was the breakaway for Scott Hartnell who passed to Danny Briere, only to be denied by Brodeur.

Incredible save no doubt by Brodeur, but I was going ballistic at Hartnell, who slammed his stick in frustration after the play. I hope he was frustrated by his decision. Yes, Briere had a nice shot that was turned away, but he also had two defensemen near him, one that may have affected his release a bit. Hartnell, on the other hand, had the puck on his stick with no one between him an Brodeur — in other words, a breakaway. I'm sorry, but when you have a clear path to the goaltender, you take it yourself; you don't pass it off to a guy who has someone skating his butt off to backcheck him. That's not to take away from the great save by Brodeur, but it does highlight another thing that agitated me about Hartnell. He should have shot the puck. But hey, this is about Brodeur, who kept making save after save after save just like that.

The Flyers did just about everything they could think of to try and slip one by the old goalie, but Brodeur just wouldn't give. When Giroux, who again was probably the best player on the ice but still couldn't crack the 20-minute mark in ice time (though he did get more this game, upping his mark to 17:10 — he should be getting 20 minutes of ice time), sprung James van Riemsdyk on a mini break and Brodeur sprawled out and poke-checked it away, that's when I uttered those words: "When is this motherfucker gonna retire?" The Flyers were doing everything right, winning every battle, pinning the Devils deep with relentless forechecking, forcing turnovers, winning faceoffs, throwing big checks, firing shots, making crisp passes, but Brodeur simply shut the door on them.

The longer the game went, the more you began to worry. It looked like this was going to be a game that Brodeur was going to win himself. One bad bounce, one misplay, one mistake, one penalty would be all it would take for the Devils to take this one despite the dominance by the Flyers. And when the game went to overtime, my fears grew even stronger.

This was exactly the type of game the Flyers have been losing all season, all the way up until their dramatic, unexpected shootout victory over the Rangers on the final day of the regular season to knock New York out of the playoffs and secure themselves a playoff spot. Prior to that, the Flyers always found a way to lose these types of games, games where they dominated play but couldn't finish. But this time, the wouldn't let that happen.

The overtime was simply an extension of the third period, of the entire game. The Flyers outshot the Devils 12-3 in the third, 28-18 in regulation, and in overtime, they kept it rolling, keeping the play in Jersey's end and outshooting the Devils 6-1. And that sixth shot was the one that finally did Brodeur and the Devils in, coming from Dan Carcillo of all people, a guy so astonished he netted the playoff overtime winner to give the Flyers a 2-1 series lead that he looked around in disbelief, not sure where to turn or who to hug first before getting tackled by his teammates.

And wouldn't you know it, it all came off a face-off win. Who would have ever guessed it? The second the goal went in, I leapt up off the couch, ran around the house and celebrated. I got myself so excited I couldn't get to sleep for hours despite being completely and utterly drained. In fact, I stayed awake pretty much all night, watching every second of the Blazers-Suns game as former Philadelphia 76er point guard Andre Miller led Portland to the surprising upset victory in Phoenix without Brandon Roy.

Now the Flyers have the upper hand. They took Brodeur's best and still came out victorious. Two more wins and a team that literally needed until the last day of the season to even make the playoffs would be moving on to the second round. A win tomorrow sure would be nice.

And seriously, I can't wait for Martin Brodeur to retire. It will be one of the best things to ever happen to the Flyers. The sooner the better. Though for now, I'll settle for simply ending his season.


BallHype: hype it up!

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