Thursday, May 6, 2010

Sold Their Souls to the Devils

The Flyers easily disposed of the Devils in the opening round, but they must have sold their souls to the Dark Prince in order to do so. And those souls came in the form of Simon Gagne, Jeff Carter and Ian Laperriere.

In the huge game 4 victory that I was at, things couldn't have been going any better … until word broke that Simon Gagne and Jeff Carter suffered broken bones, Gagne's coming on a shot block and Carter's on a goal he scored by taking a Chris Pronger point blast off his leg. That was a crushing blow, shelving Carter indefinitely and Gagne for the foreseeable future (though there's word he could be back for game 5, if there is one). Two forwards from the top line, gone. Two penalty killers and power play contributors, gone. The team's best goal-scorer and consistently best player throughout the season, gone. Tough price to pay for a 3-1 series lead.

Then things got even worse. Yes, the Flyers trounced the Devils in game 5 to advance to the Eastern Conference semifinals, but it couldn't just be that simple. No, because Lucifer took another victim, this time Ian Laperriere, who once again sacrificed his body to block a shot, taking it right off his face for the second time this season. Only this time, it put him on the shelf for good, as he suffered a brain contusion and mild concussion. The Flyers' chances to advance any further were already greatly diminished without Gagne and Carter, and they got even worse without Laperriere, who played brilliantly against the Devils, forechecking with reckless abandon, blocking damn near every shot he was near, bearing down on the PK and playing generally great, physical defense. Missing a full line's worth of players, I just didn't see the Flyers standing much of a chance, whether it was against Boston or Washington.

Now that's all coming true. The Flyers played tough and close in games 1 and 2, but they were undermanned, outplayed and got worn down, dropping both. And last night, they gave everything they had, outshooting Boston 12-8 in the first period and continuing to outshoot them every period thereafter, but they couldn't solve the riddle of Tuukka Rask. At least, not after the first three minutes, when Claude Giroux and Arron Asham found themselves in a 2-on-1 as Claude laid a perfect pass to Asham, who put the Flyers ahead 1-0.

But then less than two minutes later, Blake Wheeler made an absurd deflection to tie it, and just 1:34 after that, the Bruins went ahead as Satan continued to seek his payment, as in Miroslav. Mike Richards made a great open-ice hit on David Krejci, knocking him right out of the game, but it led to a breakout the other way for Boston, which led to a breakaway from Satan. Great hit, but bad hockey play by the captain. Hard to fault him, and the guy has played tremendous hockey this postseason, but that was killer. Satan's goal turned out to be the eventual game-winner, as Satan continued his relentless assault on the Flyers.

The guy played just 38 games this year, scoring a grand total of 14 points — 9 goals and 5 assists. Yet here we are through three games, and Satan has at least one point in each of them. He scored a goal and had an assist in game one, assisted on the game-winner in game 2 and scored the game-winning goal last night. He really is Satan reincarnated against the Flyers. It's unreal. Sabres, Penguins, Bruins, doesn't matter. The guy freakin kills the Flyers. I hate him. I hate him so very much.

Satan's goal was definitely a heart-breaker, but it was Tuukka Rask who really saved the day for Boston. The Flyers outshot the Bruins in every period, finishing with a 35-19 shot advantage for the game. Yet Rask stopped all but one of them. In the first, the Flyers came out with more energy than Boston, outplayed the Bruins, but found themselves trailing largely because of Rask. He faced 15 more shots in the 2nd, and stopped them all. And the Flyers closed with an 8-2 shot advantage in the third period, but still couldn't slip one by. This kid has been unbelievable, outplaying every single goaltender this postseason.

I mean, what more can you say about the guy? He's been awesome. Not that Boucher has been bad, because he hasn't. But Rask has outplayed him, just as the Bruins have mostly outplayed the Flyers thus far, even if just slightly. Though that wasn't the case last night, it was just simply that Rask stole the show. Now the Flyers are running on life support, down 3-0, with little hope of even thinking about Simon Gagne coming back for a game 5. I don't anticipate them rolling over and dying the way the Devils did in their elimination game, but I just don't think these guys have enough left in the tank. Not when you're asking just about everyone to play more minutes than they're accustomed to, not when you're relying on getting some quality shifts from guys who barely even sniffed the NHL before this series. Sometimes, you just run out luck, run out bodies and run out of time. That's what's happening here for the Flyers.

The end of a tumultuous season is near. At this point, it looks an awful lot more like a matter of when, not if. And when you look back, it's incredibly tough to gauge where this team is at. It all began with a loud statement in the offseason, trading Luca Sbisa, Joffrey Lupul and two first-round picks for Chris Pronger, suggesting the Flyers were going all in to try to take the next step following a disappointing end to last year. But that was followed by the baffling gamble in goal, taking a HUGE risk on the troubled Ray Emery, sort of making the Pronger move puzzling. Why bring in an aging superstar defenseman to take the next step only to sign a giant question mark in goal? It was beyond baffling in my opinion. Say what you will about Martin Biron, but at least you knew what you were going to get with Marty in net. A bit of inconsistency, but a goaltender who would make all the stops you expect, plus the potential to get on a hot streak. Not to mention the fact he played pretty well in the postseason for this team.

The move backfired, no matter how you look at it. No, Emery didn't implode in net or cause problems, but he did get injured. Not something you can foresee, but not all that surprising given that the guy hasn't been in the NHL in while. Yes, he was playing overseas, but still. The move didn't work out. The Flyers started slow, canned their coach and hoped it would provide the type of spark that worked for Pittsburgh the year before. At first, it did not. At all. The Flyers continued to skid, Brian Boucher got hurt, and the team was without a goaltender.

But then came a rejuvenation of sorts. Peter Laviolette got his players to buy in to his system, Michael Leighton came out of nowhere to play out of his mind (even if he very often had no idea where the puck was), and the Flyers began to get on a roll. Then the Olympic break came and interrupted their flow. The Flyers came back after that break and played well at first, then sputtered down the stretch. They played so poorly that they almost missed the playoffs completely. It took a shootout victory of all things on the final day of the regular season just to get in. And there were plenty of folks who thought the team should have just folded, being better off not making the playoffs at all. Then all they did was go out and whoop the second-seeded Devils in 5 games, continuing the one constant of this absurdly up-and-down season for the Flyers: beating the Devils. For once, Philadelphia owned New Jersey and Martin Brodeur, defeating the Devils 5 out of 6 times in the regular season and then 4 out of 5 times in the playoffs. Brian Boucher regained the form he showed as a rookie 10 years ago, playing strong in the final few games of the regular season in place of Leighton (after initially struggling mightily), and then completely dominating the Devils.

But the Flyers entered this series an unhealthy team running on fumes. And now here we stand, with the team facing elimination and a canyon-sized 3-0 hole. So really, what did we find out about this team, about these players? Can these guys really be the foundation of a team that can compete with the upper-echelon of the NHL — the Pens, Caps, Red Wings, Canucks, Blackhawks, Sharks, teams of that caliber? Or are they the underachievers we've seen the past two regular seasons, and definitely last year in the playoffs? I don't even think I can begin to answer those questions.

I do think they have the right man for the job now on the bench. I love everything about Peter Laviolette. But are all the players in place, or at least a really strong foundation? I hope so, but I don't know. Can Scott Hartnell figure out how to score and contribute again, or is he a lost cause? I'd say trade him no questions asked, but really, after the horrendous season he just had, what sort of trade value can he even command? Will Braydon Coburn ever return to the promising young defenseman who looked like a steal, or has he regressed to the point of no return? Where will this team find a goaltender? Because as well as Boucher played this postseason, and as well as Leighton played before his injury, those guys aren't the answer. Do they have enough depth on the blue line beyond Pronger/Carle, Timomen/Coburn? I don't know the answers to these things.

What we do know is Pronger and Mike Richards aren't going anywhere, nor should they. Jeff Carter is an attractive trade piece, but he was also the team's most consistent offensive player and leading goal-scorer. It'd be tough to part with him. Danny Briere's contract is pretty much untradeable. And the promise of Claude Giroux makes him a guy that must stick around. I think the future is bright for Giroux and James van Riemsdyk in Philadelphia, but admittedly, the two didn't produce enough during the regular season. They were expected to help pick up the slack from the losses of Mike Knuble and Joffrey Lupul, but they didn't. Claude was great in the postseason; now it's time for him and JVR to take the next step and become reliable scorers for a full 82 games. You know you can rely on Kimmo, and the fourth line of Ian Laperriere, Blair Betts and Darroll Powe was excellent all year, even they didn't all play as a unit the entire season. Dan Carcillo still did some dumb things, but he has matured a good deal and become a fan favorite. Those are all good things, but I don't know that any of it makes it clear just what the Flyers have going forward. Only time will tell I guess, but you can bet Paul Holmgren will have his hands full.

On a brighter note, the Phils beat the Cardinals again, as Kyle Kendrick miraculously morphed into a pitcher that doesn't suck, putting forth his best start of the season, given his struggles and the opponent. Kendrick went 7 innings of shutout ball, scattering 6 hits while striking out three and walking just 2, dramatically dropping his ERA to 5.87 on the season. Yes, dropping his ERA to 5.87.

Placido Polanco and Shane Victorino homered for the Phils in the 4-0 win, and Greg Dobbs doubled in Wilson Valdez. Also, Colby Rasmus stupidly tried to steal third on Curbball Brian Schneider, who promptly made him pay with a strike to Placido Polanco (even if he may have been safe — incredibly close play). You don't run on Chooch Allentown's finest, young fella. You know, unless Brad Lidge is on the mound.

The Phils can clinch the series with a victory today, and I have to say I like their chances. The Phils send out super-star stud ace Roy Halladay and his tidy 5-1 record and 1.47 ERA to face former Phillie Kyle Lohse and his Kyle Kendrick-esque 5.28 ERA. Of course, that probably means Lohse will pitch awesome and shut down the Phillies offense, but who the hell cares? We got Roy on the mound. Three out of four from the previously red-hot Cardinals would look mighty nice.

BallHype: hype it up!


  1. Chooch wasn't catching last night - the one they call Brian was.

  2. Oh shit, yeah he was. Shows you how much I was paying attention to the Phils game during that first period with the Flyers. Sometimes it's damn hard to watch two TVs at once.