Thursday, June 3, 2010

One Down, Three to Go

During games 1 and 2, I was surprisingly calm given the circumstances. Sure, I got pissed at times, and I was into the game for sure, but I wasn't completely blowing my lid at every little thing, even with the Flyers losing two very close, very hard-fought games out in Chicago to begin the Stanley Cup Finals.

That all changed last night.

From the drop of the puck until Claude Giroux's redirection in overtime, I was a raving lunatic — yelling, screaming, blowing my lid. It was me in prime form, miserable for 66 minutes of game action. I actually feel sorry for my roommates. Each time Matt Carle made a mistake, each time the Flyers failed to make the simple play, each turnover, each bad call, each Jeff Carter shift, each little misfire and I was going off, fuming. Even when the Flyers led, I don't think there was a single second of joy — it was all anger all the time, until Claude ended it at least.

Though the Flyers did give me an early reason to celebrate. In the first few minutes, the Flyers came out storming like you'd expect them to do at home, feeling the desperation. They looked good and strong and were working hard. But Chicago weathered the storm, as they say, and started creating chances of their own. Halfway through the first, it was pretty evident this game was going to be a lot like the first two, a tight-fisted affair that comes down to the very end — not the easy 4-0, 4-1 Flyers victory I was hoping for for my heart's sake.

As the tension was building and the game settling in, the Flyers finally caught a break. Marian Hossa got called for a slash, putting the Flyers on the man advantage. Braydon Coburn, who recovered from a very poor game 1 to play an excellent game 2 and even better game last night, started the rush up the ice. He found Briere who entered the zone with speed, got a return feed, fired a shot that was saved by Niemi but gathered by Claude Giroux. Giroux fed Coburn, who launched a one-time laser. Niemi made that stop too, but couldn't control the rebound with his glove. That's when Scott Hartnell, who has been as good as anyone in these Stanley Cup Finals, pounced on it and made a ridiculous blind, almost behind-the-back pass to Danny Briere, who buried the puck in the wide open net.

Once Hartnell made the pass, before it even hit Briere's stick, I was leaping up off my couch and screaming, yelling, "GREAT PASS, SCOTTIE! GREAT FUCKING PASS!" Of course Briere buried it, and the Flyers went up 1-0. It's been unreal just how good this line has been, whether it is Briere, Hartnell and Giroux on the power play, or Briere, Leino and Hartnell at even strength. Easily the best Flyers line offensively this postseason. And they came through again to give the Flyers the all-important first goal in a pivotal game 3.

But my joy wouldn't last long. Already, the referees had blown a play dead for losing sight of the puck on a mad scramble in front of Niemi when the puck was never anywhere close to being covered. The puck was loose with the Flyers buzzing. Yet the referee lost sight of it, which is just inexcusable. I know officials aren't perfect and have a really tough job, but this is the Stanley Cup Finals. It should be the best of the best out there. And it's the referee's job to fight for sight lines to see the puck. You don't blow the whistle when the fucking thing isn't covered. And that was just one of many instances where the referees were awful.

The next came just minutes after Briere's goal. After missing a blatant hook on Briere as he was fighting through the neutral zone, Dan Carcillo jumped over the boards and absolutely plastered a Blackhawk along the boards, with the puck right at the player's feet. It was a perfectly clean, legal hit, a really good hit and great hockey play actually … but the refs blew the play dead and called Carcillo for charging. That was it. I had enough. And I went off on a huge, HUGE tirade. If he had any other name on the back of his jersey (besides, say, Avery), there is absolutely no call there. Why? Because it wasn't a penalty. Not even close. That bogus call was made because it was Dan Carcillo who made the hit. It was fucking terrible. Peter Laviolette had the exact same reaction as me, losing his shit, berating the officials and slamming the glass. It was a fucking horrendous call, and it came with just 1:55 remaining in the first period and the Flyers holding a one-goal lead. I was beyond furious. I mean, come the fuck on. If you're gonna make a call, make a real fucking call. Not some pussy-ass charging shit on a play where the guy took two or three strides before the hit. Un-fucking-real.

Thankfully, the Flyers killed off the penalty with the fervor they have all postseason, with incredible work by Blair Betts and Darroll Powe specifically. And to put the icing on the cake, Dustin Byfuglien and his fat ass made a ridiculously bone-headed play as the horn sounded, getting a little too aggressive in the scrum that ensued as the first period ended. Byfuglien, who has been a complete nonfactor by the way, stupidly threw the much, much smaller Danny Briere to the ice for no apparent reason, earning himself a roughing minor. What a dumb tub of lard.

I fucking hate Dustin Byfuglien. With all my being. And Patrick Kane too. Little fucker with that faggy mullet, chewing on his god damn mouthpiece. I hope something absolutely horrible happens to him. Damn, playoff hockey really does bring out the hate.

After the five seconds on Carcillo's penalty were up to start the 2nd, the Flyers had another power play. They didn't score, but holy fucking shit did they look dangerous on it. Gagne, Richards and Leino were out with Pronger and Timonen, and that quintet was buzzing. Niemi made a ridiculous save on Gagne, but the Flyers got the puck back, and Leino, who was the best skater on the ice for either team last night, made a great feed to Richards. Richie had a wide open net, went down for one of his patented knee blasts … and fucking missed the net. I couldn't believe it. The fucking thing was set up on a tee for him. Leino made an incredible pass. Niemi was down and out. But the captain missed the fucking net. Inexcusable. I started going off, yelling that you have to bury that. You just have to. And boy did it turn out to be an enormous momentum swing.

The Blackhawks dodged that bullet, then got themselves an offensive zone draw seconds later. The Flyers won it back to Matt Carle, but Carle took his good old fucking time making a decision, failed to move the puck and got taken over by a Blackhawk. The turnover kept the play in Philadelphia's end, and Chicago went to work. Seconds later, Duncan Keith beat Michael Leighton thanks to a deflection by Jeff Carter, giving Leighton no chance. As much as I'd like to chastise Carter, who I thought had an absolutely horrendous game with the exception of maybe a two-minute stretch, this one was 100 percent on Carle. His teammates won the faceoff back to him. It was his job to make the right play, get the puck out and out of harm's way. He did the complete opposite, turning it over, and the Blackhawks tied the game because of it.

In a span of a minute, the Flyers went from being up 2-0 to being tied 1-1, all because of two huge mistakes. Richards missed the net when it was wide open, inexcusable for an NHL player, especially an all-star and Olympian in the Stanley Cup Finals. Then Matt Carle failed to clear the puck, turned it over, and it led to a goal. I was beyond pissed off, and I was out for blood. Carle has been fucking terrible so far. He was the worst player on the ice in game 1, still had the jitters in game 2 and was bad again last night. I don't know what the fuck happened to this guy's confidence, but he doesn't have it right now. I couldn't stop getting on him, jumping on his every mistake, of which there were many. Though I do have to give the guy credit, he got better as the game wore on, and he made a huge play to save a goal on a 2-on-1, stripping the puck, and did make some excellent defensive plays throughout. He also made a lot of mistakes, which are driving me fucking insane.

Combine that with Jeff Carter literally not doing jack shit, and I was calling for some changes. Yes, Carter got some shots on net and a few pretty good chances, but you could see him at times not going all out, making lazy passes, looking nonchalant with the puck. It was at the point where I was calling for Carcillo to get back on the ice, begging for Claude to get some shifts for Carter, anything. He was a total nonfactor in the first two periods, and in the first two games. But Laviolette did stick with him, and eventual, just like Carle, Carter got better later in the game. That didn't stop me from getting on those two all fucking night.

Pissed, blowing my lid and watching the officials miss penalty after penalty, high stick after high stick, both ways, I was struggling to calm down. Even with the AC blasting, I was sweating I was so mad. I needed something good to happen just so I could release some tension. That's when the Flyers finally caught a break. Byfuglien — who is very clearly frustrated by Chris Pronger, the first defenseman who's actually pushed back on him — took a cross check by Pronger that wasn't called. In retaliation, he whacked Pronger's stick, breaking it into pieces and getting called for a slash. Stupid, stupid penalty by an increasingly stupid man. Did I mention I hate Dustin Byfuglien? Maybe I should rethink that, because he hasn't done shit so far but hurt the Blackhawks, and he did again here with that dumb penalty.

The Flyers had already scored one power play goal and should have scored another, looking tremendous on both man advantages to that point. And once again, thanks to a vastly improved performance in the faceoff circle and great work along the boards, the Flyers were able to get set up. Claude got the puck back to Pronger, who fired from the point. Hartnell got his stick on it for a great redirection, and the puck trickled by Niemi near the goal line. From the reaction of many players, it seemed to go in, but my initial thought was that it didn't completely cross the line, at least upon first sight. Play continued until there was a stoppage, the play was reviewed … and it was close. Really close. About as close as it could be. But Eddie Olczyk was pretty confident it would be a goal, astutely pointing out that the puck went up on its edge and there was a sliver of white between it and the goal line. I still had doubts, but Olcyk proved to have a keen eye, and the Flyers were awarded the goal.

I was ecstatic. Electrified. Ready to go nuts. Hartnell-Briere-Giroux again cashed in on the power play, Pronger did his thing and the Flyers regained the lead. Peter Laviolette could sense the importance even more. After the first period, he sat Dan Carcillo and Oskars Bartulis, instead opting to go with five defensemen the rest of the way and double-shifting guys to make the lines work up front. In the second, it was Leino who was getting most of the double duty, an honor the former Red Wing definitely earned. Leino was all over the ice, making magical plays with the puck, creating opportunity after opportunity after opportunity. He had that great setup to Richards. And he had many, many more great plays. Laviolette recognized Leino was on another level last night, so he kept sending him out there. Sometime during his tremendous second period, I said to my roommate, "Imagine how awesome it would be see to see Leino out there with Giroux, and a shooter, with what those two guys can do with the puck." Talk about a case of foreshadowing …

Anyway, I was still on edge, obviously. It was a one-goal game, and the Blackhawks have shown they can score. The Flyers needed to play smart, sound hockey the rest of the way to hold on. Instead, they took a delay of game penalty as Scott Hartnell slightly nudged Michael Leighton, who backed into the net and knocked it off during a very dangerous sustained attack by Chicago. Not good. Thankfully, the Flyers killed off yet another penalty, again thanks in large part to Blair Betts and Darroll Powe. I know I've said it a lot this season and these playoffs, but damn, these guys are good at what they do. Betts is relentless at hounding the puck, and he rarely misses an opportunity to clear. His stick is so active it's absurd, and he just has a knack for where the puck is going. He and Ian Laperriere were as good of a penalty-killing duo this season as I've ever seen. And when Lappy went down, in stepped Powe to team with Betts … and the Flyers haven't missed a beat.

Powe has picked up right were Ian left off. Last night, he was one of the best Flyers on the ice. Powe worked incredibly hard to support Betts on the PK, got to many pucks and dished them out, and he was just as good even strength. Powe used his speed and aggression to create turnovers, to get the puck deep, to backcheck, to create things. He was playing so well that he started earning extra shifts himself, skating with Giroux and Asham a bit, and even with Gagne and Richards at times. Laviolette was doing a tremendous job rewarding the players who were playing well with more ice time. That's what a good coach does, especially with his team's back against the wall.

Though even with the strong penalty kill, the Flyers couldn't escape the period with the lead. And I was pissed. All night long, the Flyers were doing the best job I've seen all postseason in the faceoff circle. Claude Giroux was winning damn near every one. Richards and Carter were both getting wins, Briere was improved, everyone. But when the Flyers really needed a win in their own zone late in the period, they didn't get it. Joe Quenneville sent out former longtime Devil John Madden, a man known for his faceoff prowess, to take the draw against Richards. Madden, one of the five faceoff guys I said the Flyers should have targeted in the offseason, won it clean to Brent Sopel. Sopel wasted no time, sending the puck to the net, and the god damn thing somehow found its way past Leighton. I was furious. Furious at Richards for losing the draw. Furious at Gagne for not going down to block the shot. And furious at Leighton for not making the save. He may have been screened a little by Lukas Krajicek, but he should have been able to get around him or tell him to move. It was a pretty good shot, near the far post, but one Leighton should have saved.

Note to the Flyers, faceoffs are fucking important. Seriously, sign an elite guy in the faceoff circle this offseason … and Richie, Carter, Briere, Claude, even Betts (who is actually pretty damn good at draws), take a cue from Sidney Crosby and work your ass off at winning faceoffs. It can be done. And should be. Those fuckers are vital.

So after two periods, we were right back to where we started. The Flyers coughed up two one-goal leads in the second. Not good. And certainly not a good omen. Laviolette had already shortened his bench, planting Carcillo and Bartulis to the bench, and limiting the time of Laperriere, Betts and Krajicek. Could the Flyers sustain their energy for the third period? I sure hoped so, but I was still fuming. Fuming at the refs. Fuming at the Flyers. Fuming at that goal. Really, really, really fuming at Matt Carle and Jeff Carter, who had done absolutely shit until that point. I was saying how if the Flyers aren't even going to play Bartulis, why not just dress five d-men and suit up JVR? Or why bother having Carcillo in the lineup if you aren't going to play him? Yes, van Riemsdyk had an awful game 1 and hasn't exactly been scoring at will, but the line of Giroux-Asham-JVR had been clicking all playoffs, and at least he brings the threat of offense. Carcillo did anything but that last night, falling over himself, turning the puck over a the blue line to lead to a break the other way, showing no hands to play with the playmaking Giroux. It was a bad night for Carcillo. Guess that's why he found himself with the best seat in the house.

I wasn't sure my heart could take the third period. I really wasn't. I was literally a raving lunatic. I couldn't stop going off on tirades, talking a mile a minute, raising my voice louder and louder, feeling like my head was going to explode. Then less than three minutes into the third, with the Flyers buzzing and taking it to the Blackhawks, this fucking happened.

Kimmo Timonen pinched to keep the puck in and did just that. Then he retreated back to his post, only he didn't do it fast enough, sort of lazily striding back even as Patrick Kane was behind him, just looking to get sprung with an outlet. Well, just like that, Leino couldn't get control, Toews did and Kimmo was caught flat-footed. In an uncharacteristic lapse, Timonen didn't get back in time, Toews hit Kane with a perfect pass, and Kane found himself on a clean breakaway. A hundred times out of 100 Kane is going to beat Michael Leighton on a breakaway, and of course he did. After all that work, all that effort, the Flyers found themselves down 3-2 in the third. I lost my mind, going off about blowing two leads, about Richie missing the net, about that goal before the end of the 2nd. I couldn't take it. I had lost it completely. I thought the Flyers just dug their own grave. And I actually wanted to murder someone. I'm not even kidding. I could kill I was so out of my mind.

Luckily, I didn't have enough time to let those thoughts fester. Because just 20 seconds later, the Flyers tied it up. And wouldn't you know it, it came on a play by Claude Giroux and Ville Leino. I seem to recall saying something about wanting to see these two guys on the ice together. Clearly, Peter Laviolette heard me.

Instead of trying to do some fancy shit, a problem the Flyers had struggled with throughout thus far, Giroux just made the simple play, throwing the puck toward the net. The puck went off the defender and in on Niemi, who made the save but kicked it out to Leino, who buried it in the empty net to tie the game, just 20 seconds after Kane's breakaway goal. I was relieved, excited … yet still pissed. And I wouldn't get any less pissed.

The rest of the way, the Flyers completely dominated the third period, just like they had in game 2. They outshot Chicago 15-4 again, put a ton of pressure on, but Niemi wouldn't budge. With each save, I had visions of game 2, with Niemi coming up with big stops, and worried that Leighton wouldn't do the same at the other end. But it was clear the Flyers were hungry, and they were flat-out taking it to Chicago. Yet they couldn't score, even with chance after chance after chance. I was struggling, and Jeff Carter put me over the edge one last time. With seconds left, the puck went down to Chicago's end as Duncan Keith went back to retrieve. Carter should have been busting his ass to pressure Keith, but instead he was gliding. Yes, he did force Keith to ice the puck, or so it seemed, but Carter's lazy skating wasted valuable seconds for an offensive zone draw. Though that turned out to be moot because the god damn officials somehow waved off a very clear, very blatant icing, which almost fucked up everyone's world. Carle went back for the touch-up and rightfully expected an icing call. When it didn't come, Jonathan Toews wound up with the puck in a dangerous position as time winded down. Horrible, horrible decision by the refs that almost cost the Flyers. Luckily time ran out. The game went into overtime, and I was certain I was going to die of heart attack.

During the intermission between the end of regulation and the start of overtime, I was still a complete mess. I turned to the owner of the house and told him if our asshole roommate walked in and even uttered one fucking word at me, I was going to throw a god damn glass at his fucking stupid fuck head. And I would have, and probably would have told him I hope he gets hit by a fucking 18-wheeler. And I would have meant it. Luckily, that asshole never walked through the door. Good thing for him.

Also during the intermission, my other roommate asked who I think was going to score. I said, "Probably Carter, or Carle, because I've been shitting on them all game long."

That premonition almost came through, as Jeff Carter put on the forecheck to retrieve the puck, it squirted to Gagne and Simon fired. It went along the goal line, and several players put their hands up and the horn sounded. And Carter, ever aware, saw the puck wasn't in the back of the net but under Niemi and took a swat, eventually burying it in the back of the net. Even if Gagne's tricky shot didn't go in, I thought, it didn't matter, Carter had poked the rebound by Niemi and in, game over.

The only thing that could keep the game going at this point would be if the whistle blew before Carter deposited it in the net … or the horn had sounded beforehand.

Well guess, what, the god damn horn sounded before Carter whacked away at it. No fucking goal.

If that horn never sounds, the game is over right then and there. No, Gagne's shot didn't go in, but Carter's rebound stuff did. And I don't think Niemi had it covered long enough for a whistle to have blown, meaning had the goal judge simply not had an itchy trigger finger, Carter would have walked away as the hero in a game and in a series where he's been dogshit. Either way, it was great work by Carter, and he actually played decently in the third, with the exception of lollygagging in the final seconds.

I didn't think the Flyers could afford to miss anymore chances. The longer they let Chicago hang around, the worse off they would be. That's when Danny Briere and company came up huge again.

Claude won the faceoff, got it back to Pronger who sent it over to Carle. Carle made a perfect outlet pass to Giroux, who rumbled up ice before spotting Danny Briere at the Chicago blue line. Giroux fed it to Danny and headed straight to the net, and Carle, making the single biggest play of his career, joined the rush. Dave Bolland was left out to dry, and compounded that by making the wrong decision. Skating with Giroux, Bolland left Claude and went toward Briere. Briere saw Carle joining, and made the right play, feeding it to him. Carle wasted no time getting it to Giroux, who found himself all alone in front of Niemi thanks to Bolland's defensive error. And Claude smoothly redirected it right past Niemi, game over, 4-3 Flyers, now a one-game series.

We all jumped out of our seats, going crazy. As I usually do, I started going bonkers, hitting anything in sight out of joy. I got so overexuberant that I completely missed the soft padding on my couch as I wound up for a big slap, whacking my bare hand on the solid wooden corner of the couch. Now my hand right below my thumb is all black and blue and swollen. I hurt myself during a celebration like my name is Kendry Morales.

Speaking of baseball, Jim Joyce should fucking kill himself for blowing that call last night, ruining Armando Galarraga's perfect game. And seriously, Jason Donald (former Phillies prospect traded to Cleveland in the first — see, good — Cliff Lee deal last season), did you really have to run that hard? OK, hard to blame you. If anyone, besides umpire Jim Joyce, we should blame Miguel Cabrera for going way too far off first to get that ball. The second baseman could have easily gotten that and tossed it to you at first. Though clearly, Donald was out. Jim Joyce should kill himself, especially after Austin Jackson made that ridiculous catch to keep the perfect game intact to start the ninth. But whatever.

None of that is important. What's important is that the Flyers won last night, a must-win game at home. What's important is that they are now just three wins away from hoisting Lord's Stanley Cup. Just three more wins. Might as well make it four in a row, end this thing at home, just like you won four games in a row against Boston, which would make it four straight series wins in a row. Just three more wins. Three more.


BallHype: hype it up!


  1. I agree that Coburn played well, but when I checked the box score to see the TOIs I was surprised he was a -3.

    I like how in virtually every post that recaps any game, you always have a sentence like: I turned to my roommate and said "What if blank did blank right now". Then the next paragraph is "well what do you know, he did exactly that!"

    Still, I really enjoy your Flyers commentary more than anywhere else.

  2. I only print the predictions I make that come true or close to true so I look smart. But of course I make plenty of wrong ones, fo sho. And I honestly don't make any of them up. I just make a lot of guesses. (And I admit when I'm wrong plenty, too, such as wanting to get rid of Scott Hartnell, etc.)

    Thanks for the compliment.