Archive for May, 2010

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Thirteen Years

May 29, 2010

The Flyers finished off the Montreal Canadiens and are headed to the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time since 1997.  When I realized that it had been 13 years since they played in the finals, it surprised me.  Had it really been that long?  It didn’t seem that way, but the calendar doesn’t lie.

Looking back, that finals appearance in 1997 would end up being the pinnacle of the Eric Lindros era in Philly.  Lindros was a one-time hyped prospect who was supposed to be the next great player in the NHL.  And with a solid team around him, it looked like he would finally fulfill his supposed destiny in leading the Flyers to the Stanley Cup. 

But the Flyers ran into a great Detroit Red Wings team and collapsed.  It would have been one thing to have simply lost to a superior team.  But it was the way they collapsed against adversity that was especially distressing.

Every time they fell behind, they seemed to noticeably sag.  After losing the first three games of the series, Murray called the team out, saying they were choking.  They responded by playing dreadfully in game four, and lost the series in a sweep.

The team underacheived for the next few seasons.  The Lindros era finally ended in 2000 after too many concussions, too many conflicts with team management, and too many disappointing playoff performances forced the team to trade him. 

Even without Lindros, the team was never able to make it back to the Stanley Cup finals.  They seemed close at time, most notably after a loss in the Eastern Conference finals in 2004.

Unfortunately, the Flyers were unable to build off this near-miss as the next season was cancelled due to the players’ strike.  When play resumed the following year, there were also some rule changes made to promote more open play.  The Flyers’ roster was not well suited for this new style of play.  After losing in the first round of the playoffs in the first season back, the team completely collapsed in 2006-2007, finishing with the worst record in the league.

General Manager Paul Holmgren did a good job of trading some of his veteran players to spark the rebuilding process.  And the team had an influx of talented young players come up from the minor leagues such as Mike Richards and Jeff Carter.  Behind this new core, the team made it to the conference finals in 2008 where they fell to the Pittsburgh Penhuins – led by their young star Sidney Crosby.

After the Flyers fell to the Penguins again last season, Holmgren realized that he would need  to make some changes.  He responded by trading for defenseman Chris Pronger, recognized as one of the best defensemen in the league.  This was a clear sign that the Flyers were ready to win now.

The trade seemed like it would be a waste until the team went on its miracle run through the playoffs.  Now, for the first time in thirteen years, the Flyers are only four wins away from holding the Cup.

How long has thirteen years been?  Babies born during the Flyers’ previous finals appearance could conceivably be getting Bar Mitzvahed this weekend. 

To illustrate how long thirteen years has been, I’ll take a quick look back at the weekend of May 31, 1997 and how life was like back then:

I was down in DC for a weekend, visiting my girlfriend who was taking summer classes at The George Washington University.  We were staying in her dorm room, which did not even get cable reception.  (If you told today’s college students that their rooms wouldn’t have cable, they’d probably shudder in fear.) 

To watch the game, I had to go to my fraternity house to watch it on a big-for-its-time 40-inch screen.  High definition TVs weren’t around, so we didn’t expect great quality, so nobody really cared that much.  As long as you could see the screen, you’d be fine.  I remember that TV well, since we would sometimes have to move it around the fraternity house.  Back, then, large TVs came equipped with large cathode ray tubes and were therefore very heavy.

I got to read coverage of the game on the internet.  At the time, I thought that it was the coolest thing ever that I could actually read the Philly newspapers on an internet browser.  Of course, since I was reading the paper on a dial-up connection, each page took a few minutes to load, so the whole process took about an hour.

One big impediment to using the internet was that you had to have a phone line free.  We used to have arguments about phone lines being tied up due to people being online.  Cable connections were just about unheard of for private use, so in order to get connected, you’d have to dial-up an ISP like AOL.  How many people do you know who still use AOL?  My mother-in-law still has it, and we always ask her why.

For those of you who live in DC, here’s a good example of how things have changed.  The night before game one, I went to the movie theater at Union Station to watch The Lost World (Jurassic Park 2).  At the time, you didn’t have many options for watching movies in Washington DC.  There were a few small theaters spread throughout, but these often had small screens.  If you wanted a big screen, Union Station was pretty much your best bet.  Now, thanks to Gallery Place and Georgetown opening large theaters, Union Station is closed.

After the movie, my girlfriend and I actually walked back from Union Station to her dorm on GW’s campus.  Why did we walk?  Well, we were college students and didn’t have cars.  And taxis were expensive.  And it was a nice night out.  But the most important reason was because the Metro only ran until midnight on weekends.  So if you went to a late movie, chances are, you’d be walking home.

Later that summer, my friend Johnny came to visit.  Johnny wasn’t especially familiar with big cities, and we did that walk with him.  He was absolutely terrified.  I think he’s still a bit traumatized, even though we did stick to nicer neighborhoods. 

Although really, maybe not.  We did walk through Chinatown which wasn’t the nicest area in the city.  The MCI Center wasn’t open yet (It would open later that year), and the surrounding area hadn’t been transformed into the social center it is today.

On a bright note, Johnny did think it was awesome that we could order delivery food at 1 AM.  The big city giveth, the big city taketh away.

So obviously, things have changed quite a bit.  Hopefully, the team doesn’t go another 13 years between finals apppearances. 

Do the Flyers have a chance to succeed where they failed thirteen years ago?  Of course.  They are underdogs in this series against the Chicago Blackhawks.  But being the favored team hasn’t really helped anyone this postseason, and being an underdog certainly hasn’t hurt the Flyers so far.

I’d make a comparison between now and the last time they won the Stanley Cup in 1975, but that would be difficult to do since I wasn’t even alive then.

Go Flyers!  Bring home the Cup!

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Cold Weather Superbowl? Why Not?

May 26, 2010

Yesterday, the NFL owners named the location of the 2014 Super Bowl: The new Meadowlands stadium in New Jersey. 

Up until this point, all previous Super Bowls had been played in either cities with warm winter climates, or enclosed stadiums.  The new Meadowlands stadium will not have a roof, and as anyone who has lived in the Northeast United States can tell you, February in New Jersey is generally not warm.

Why did they break from the precedent and award the Super Bowl to New Jersey?  Mostly because NFL owners are jealous people.  The majority of owners saw the big game always played in cities like New Orleans, Miami, and San Diego, and were disappointed that they would never have the opportunity to host.

But now that a precedent has been set, there’s nothing stopping teams like Washington, Philadelphia, and Denver from being awarded the big game as well.

So is this a good thing?  There was a vocal opposition to the move, and here are their main arguments:

The Super Bowl should be played in a destination city

Some claim that the Super Bowl game is merely the culmination of a weekend long celebration.  The city is also responsible for hosting parties and other Super Bowl related events.  Because of this, they argued that the Super Bowl city should be one where people would want to visit, especially in February.

I bought into this argument for a while until I realized that the people making this argument were the sportswriters and others who would actually be going to the game.  And why should I care if sportswriters get a nice vacation in February?

For the rest of us who will probably never have the opportunity to go to a Super Bowl, why would we care?  By giving more cities the opportunity to host the game, it will allow more people across the country to have a chance to experience the Super Bowl atmosphere.  I’m probably never going to get to go to a Super Bowl, so my only chance to get to go to Super Bowl related events would be if the game was played at FedEx Field. 

And really, the precedent of having the game in a destination city has been removed long ago.  They’ve held games in Minnesota, Detroit, and Jacksonville, and I don’t think any of these cities qualify as “destination” cities.

The weather

People are concerned about the game being played in adverse conditions.  They are worried that it might be bitterly cold or snowing, and that the weather might affect the outcome of the game. 

Even if you play the game in a warm city, weather still might play a part in the game.  Unless the game is played indoors, you still run the risk of wind and rain, as we saw three years ago when it rained during the game in Miami.

And since when was football supposed to be played in pristine conditions anyway?  Some of the greatest football games ever played have been played in sub-zero temperatures.  Many playoff games are played under extreme weather conditions, so why should the Super Bowl be any different?

If the fans don’t want to sit out in the cold to watch the Super Bowl, then I suggest they don’t go.  I don’t think anyone would pass on the opportunity to go to the Super Bowl because it was “too cold.”  Then again, considering that many of the spectators are rich, maybe they would.  Hey, they’re free to give their tickets away to someone who’d appreciate it.

Some may look at the weather we had this past winter and use that as reason why the game shouldn’t be played in a cold weather city.  Once again, I point out that games have been played in cities like Minnesota without incident. 

The snowpocalypse was not something that happens every year.  If the game had been scheduled for the DC area this past season, it would have been a problem, but I’m sure they would have found a way to pull it off.

So yes, I think a cold weather Super Bowl could be a good thing.  Here’s to hopefully seeing the big game being played in the DC area in 2018 or so!

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Sealing the Deal

May 24, 2010

With a 3-1 series lead over the Montreal Canadiens, the Flyers have this series well in hand, and have nothing to worry about, right?

Obviously, based on the way that this year’s playoffs have gone, this is not the case.  For evidence, simply look at what happened to the Capitals and the Bruins.  Both teams had seemingly commanding leads, and only needed to win one more game to put away their opponents.  They both eventually lost the series, dropping a game seven at home.

Since the Flyers were the team that came back against the Bruins, they should know very well that no lead in the playoffs is safe.  And if this Flyers team is capable of coming back from an 0-3 deficit, they’re probably capable of blowing a 3-1 lead as well.

They need to remember that everything that has happened in this series up to now means nothing.  It doesn’t matter that the Flyers have shut the Canadiens out in three of the four games.  It doesn’t matter that they dominated the Canadiens on their home ice in game four.  Once the puck drops tonight, the score is 0-0, and both teams have an equal chance to win.

I’m hoping that they learned their lesson from game three.  In that game, they didn’t seem ready to play and the Canadiens jumped on them from the start.  The end result was a convincing Montreal win by a score of 5-1.  The Canadiens aren’t going to simply give up.  It will take full effort from the Flyers to put them away.

And each game that goes by without the Flyers sealing the deal will just increase the pressure on them.  If they lose game five, then they have to return to Montreal and face the Canadiens at home.  And if they lose that one, then they’re facing a do-or-die game seven.  And based on how these playoffs have gone, do the Flyers really want it to come down to an “anything can happen” one game series?  It would be best for them if they just took care of business tonight.

So here’s to a well fought victory tonight and the Flyers earning their first Eastern Conference championship since 1997.  Otherwise…things might start to get a bit nervous.

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Fixing the Sixers

May 23, 2010

Last week, the Philadelphia 76ers received some good fortune as they won the lottery for the 2nd pick in the upcoming NBA Draft.

Good fortune is not something the 76ers have had much of lately.

Two seasons ago, the Sixers looked like a team on the rise.  They had a  young core of players and an exciting run-and-gun style.  Fueled by their transition game, the Sixers made the playoffs for two consecutive years.  According to General Manager Ed Stefanski, the team was coming along according to plan and was on its way towards a title.

Last season, things didn’t seem to go according to any plan whatsoever as the Sixers suffered through a miserable 27-55 season.

Part of the problem has been Stefanski’s insistence in making the Sixers into a halfcourt-based team.  To a point, I understand the logic.  In 2007-2008, the Sixers lost in the first round of the playoffs because once the pace of the game slowed in the playoffs (which it almost always does), their transition offense was much less effective.  Teams that are successful in the playoffs generally need to have an effective halfcourt offense, and the Sixers did not.  They didn’t have a strong low post presence, they didn’t shoot well from outside, and they didn’t have a go-to scorer.

To counter this, Stefanski signed power forward Elton Brand.  This signing deserves a blog of it’s own, but I won’t rip the move too much because I thought it was a good idea at the time

Unfortunately, Brand wasn’t fully recovered from an achilles tendon injury, and the Sixers had trouble integrating his  game into their fastbreaking style.  When Brand was on the court, they seemed determined to work him into the offense to the detriment of the other players.  This ceased to be an issue halfway throughout the season when Brand suffered another injury and in his absence, the Sixers reverted to their transition game and qualified for the playoffs. 

Stefanski was still determined to make the Sixers into more of a halfcourt-based team.  The team needed a new coach, and Stefanski hired his old friend Eddie Jordan. Jordan had moderate success in Washington a few years earlier, but most people didn’t think this was a good choice.  Jordan was known for running the Princeton style offense, and said that he planned to utilize it in Philadelphia.  However, the Sixers’ personnel didn’t seem to be a good fit for the Princeton offense.

Another key decision was allowing point guard Andre Miller to leave as a free agent.  Already burdened with a few high salaries, they didn’t want to pay a lot of money to Miller who they didn’t see as part of their long term future, and who they claimed was on a slow decline.  Instead, they went with former backup Lou Williams.  While not a bad player, he doesn’t appear to be a true point guard which is one thing that the Princeton offense requires to be effective. 

The ensuing season was a disaster.  The Princeton offense never seemed to click with the team, and eventually it was scrapped.  In emphasizing his new offense, Jordan seemed to neglect worrying about defense, and the team suffered in that area as well. 

Worse, the Sixers had lost their fastbreaking identity which is what had made the team successful in the first place.  They rarely looked to run, and without Miller leading them, they weren’t very good at it when they did.  One key to a good transition game is having a point guard who can control the offense.  The Suns are so effective in transition because Steve Nash is running things.  While Miller might not be a elite point guard, he was very good at running the fast break, and the Sixers definitely missed him.

All of the young players who had seemed so promising took a step backwards:  Andre Iguodala proved that he can’t be the focal point of an offense, and doesn’t shoot well enough to play guard; Thaddeus Young’s shot abandoned him, and he rebounded poorly; Lou Williams played decently, but was not a successful point guard; Mareese Speights showed no inclination to play defense.

Elton Brand might have been the biggest disappointment of all.  His play was inconsistent (somewhat understandable coming off two straight injury shortened seasons) but Jordan’s treatment of him didn’t seem to help him find a rythym either.  Sometimes he was a starter.  Sometimes he came off the bench.  Sometimes he was their go-to guy in the 4th quarter.  Other times, he didn’t play in the 4th.  And while he showed occassional flashes of his old ability, he certainly was far from a star.  His frustration with his play and the coach became obvious as the season progressed.

Towards season end, as it became clear that the team was going nowhere and that Jordan was a lame duck, the players simply tuned him out.

To replace Jordan, the Sixers hired Doug Collins.  Collins is an experienced NBA coach, and is known as a disciplinarian, which is probably what the team needs.

So now that they have their coach in place, what can be done to get the Sixers back on track? 

To start, Collins has to set up a steady rotation.  Part of the problem with last year’s team was that players often didn’t know what their roles were.  Guys would go from riding the bench for weeks at a time to then playing heavy minutes in the fourth quarter without much explanation.  It often seemed that Jordan simply tried every combination in hopes that something would work.

Here would be my rotation:

At point guard, last year’s first round draft pick Jrue Holiday was one of the bright spots of the past season.  While he might not be a star, he looked to be a viable NBA starter, and a piece that you can build with.

With the #2 pick in the draft, the Sixers are expected to draft shooting guard Evan Turner.  Turner was one of the best players in college basketball, and should be a good fit at shooting guard.  Some say that his game is too similar to Iguodala’s, but from what I’ve read, Turner has more of a guard’s mentality than Iguodala.

At small forward, I would start Iguodala.  Once considered a rising star in the league, he has suffered a little bit in the past two seasons serving as the team’s offensive focal point.  And while he isn’t someone you can build an offense around, he is a very talented player, contributing in all areas of the game.  If he can stay at his natural small forward position, that should help him tremendously.

Many people want to trade him because of his large contract.  They feel that he is paid like a top star when really he is best suited to be a secondary player.  While this may be a burden on the Sixers’ current salary cap, it’s not like they were going to be pursuing any top free agents anyway, so I’m not too concerned for now.

At power forward, they have to go with Brand.  Despite probably no longer being the force that he was a few seasons ago, he is their most skilled low post player.  With his contract, there’s no way to get rid of him anyway, so they might as well try to utilize him.  And now that he is supposedly fully recovered from his injuries, he  will hopefully play better.

At center, I suppose that Samuel Dalembert is their best option.  Sammy has been the target of Sixers’ fans scorn due to his ridiculous contract (notice a trend?) and inconsistent play.  However, he’s the team’s only real defensive and shot blocking presence at a power position, so he does serve a purpose.

That lineup should be solid defensively.  Holiday looked like he was capable of defending most point guards last year, and Iguodala has shown the ability to be an excellent perimeter defender.  Dalembert – when not in foul trouble – can anchor the interior defense, and Turner was known as a solid defensive player in college.  The only weakness is Brand, and there is mild hope that since he was a decent defender pre-injury that he can regain that form.

As for the bench…

I’m still a fan of Lou Williams if used as a sixth man off the bench.  He can come in the game and play either guard position and provide bursts of offense.  Because he’s a “tweener” guard, you wouldn’t want him as a long term solution at either guard position, but as a backup, he should be an asset.

I’d also keep Jason Kapono in the rotation.  He’s the only Sixer who can actually shoot consistently well from the outside.  He’s somewhat limited in that he can’t create his own shot, and he isn’t a good defender, but it’s nice to be able to provide at least an outside threat to keep defenses honest.  He was buried on the Sixers bench for most of last season, but played well when given the chance down the stretch.

The first big man off the bench should be Mareese Speights.  As a rookie two seasons ago, Speights looked like a future star with scoring ability.  Last year, hampered by injuries and inconsistent playing time, his game suffered.  If he can improve his effort on the defensive end, he could be a future starter.

The biggest problem with bringing those three off the bench is that while they may add offensive capability, they are all defensive liabilities.  If this proves to be too much of a problem, the Sixers can always use either guard Willie Green or swingman Rodney Carney.  They have both been effective players over short periods of time in the past.

That should be the main rotation for next season which means that the odd man out is Thaddeus Young.  Two years ago, he looked like a steal of a Sixers draft pick.  Last year it became clear that he is too much of a “tweener” forward.  He has moved between both small and power forward for the past two seasons, and has done some good things at both positions, but has also shown some major weaknesses.  He isn’t quick enough to defend most small forwards, and doesn’t really shoot well enough either.  He doesn’t rebound or have the bulk needed to play power forward.

Basically, it comes down to whether they’re better off with Iguodala or Young.  While Young is younger and cheaper, Iguodala is a better fit at small forward and brings more to the table.  With his youth and price tag, Young should be a tradeable asset for the Sixers. 

Based on that rotation, what should the Sixers game plan be?

I would try to get back to the transition game that was so successful two years ago.  They need to look to run at every opportunity, since that is what their personnel is best suited for.  Hopefully Holiday continues to improve and can begin to run things as effectively as Miller once did.

Some may say that Brand’s presence eliminates the Sixers ability to run since he’s not a fast player and clogs up the middle.  But he shouldn’t need to slow them down.  After all, fast breaks usually only involve two or three players.  And if he can improve at throwing outlet passes, he might actually become an asset for their transition game.  And as they’ve learned, the fastbreak isn’t always going to be there.  When a running opportunity is not available, then they should run the offense through Brand (or Speights) in the post.

The team clearly needs some more pieces, and for future success, they’ll need their young players to develop.  But for the upcoming season, if the Sixers go with the rotation and philosophy I have laid out, they can at least get back to the playoffs, and possibly make even advance.

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4-3: The Flyers Make History

May 15, 2010

I said that it could happen.  I said that if any team was capable of winning a series that they were losing 0-3, it was the 2009-2010 Philadelphia Flyers.

Some people will say the comeback had more to do with the Bruins than the Flyers, and they might have a point.  While the Flyers will certainly celebrate this win as a historic comeback, in Boston the loss will be remembered as a monumental collapse.  The Bruins had four chances to win one game, and they simply could not get the job done.

I was slightly concerned that after the Flyers came back to tie the series they might suffer a letdown.  In any sport, you’ll often see that after a team makes a comeback from a large deficit, once the score gets tied they tend to relax a little.  So now that they were back even at three games each, would the Flyers feel a bit self-satisfied, and stop playing with the intensity that allowed them to make the comeback?

The Flyers certainly seemed like they might have been a bit self-satisfied at the game’s beginning.  They took a few penalties, and the resulting power plays allowed the Bruins to score the first goal.

Most people figured that the team that scored first would have a huge advantage.  If the Flyers scored first, the Bruins’ home crowd would probably go into full panic mode, and it would hard for the Bruins to not play a little nervously.

But if the Bruins scored first, it would lift the team and the crowd, and the momentum might carry them to victory.  This certainly appeared to be the case as the Bruins also scored the next two goals to go up 3-0.

At this point, most Flyers fans might have consoled themselves thinking “If they can come back from a three game series deficit, then a three goal deficit shouldn’t be much of a problem.”  However, most Flyers fans were probably just angry, figuring that the amazing series comeback would all be wasted.

The Flyers themselves did not give up.  Despite the imposing deficit, the Flyers continued to play hard.  But regardless of effort, comebacks from 0-3 don’t happen unless the leading team makes some mistakes to give the trailing team an opportunity.

The first mistake came late in the first period when Flyers forward James Van Riemsdyk put a soft shot on goal.  It seemed like an easy save for Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask, but somehow, it bounced off his pad and into the goal. 

Giving up a cheap goal was probably the worst thing that could have happened to the Bruins.  If the 3-0 lead had pushed the “Oh crap, we’re on the verge of a monumental choke job” feelings to the back of their minds, the goal probably brought them back to the forefront.  At the very least, it certainly killed the crowd’s energy.

In the second period, the Flyers continued to play hard and dominated the action.  The dominant play was soon reflected on the scoreboard as the Flyers scored the next to goals to tie the game at 3-3.

While the soft first goal was the mistake that opened the door for a Flyers comeback, the Bruins gaffe in the third period essentially slammed that door in their own faces.  A little past midway of the third period, the Bruins were called for a too many men on the ice penalty.  This is the type of penalty that is utterly avoidable, and Bruins fans will probably ponder for years as to how it could have happened.  The Flyers made the most of the opprtunity, scoring a power play goal that gave them a 4-3 lead.

The Bruins made a furious attempt at a comeback, but when the final horn sounded, the Flyers had won what will certainly go down as one of the greatest games in their history.  Not only were they the first team since the 1975 Islanders to come back from an 0-3 series deficit, but they had to overcome a 0-3 goal deficit in game seven to do it.

Amazingly enough, in the conference finals, the Flyers will actually have home ice advantage.  The 8th seeded Montreal Canadiens topped not only the top seeded Washington Capitals, but the defending champion Pittsburgh Penguins as well.

While the matchup against the Canadiens seems much more favorable for the Flyers than a series against the Penguins would have been (The Flyers simply have not matched up well against the Pens the past few seasons), the Caps and Penguins probably thought that the Canadiens were a favorable opponent as well. 

Keep in mind that the Canadiens probably think that the Flyers are a team that they can beat as well.  After all, once you’ve taken out two of the best teams – and arguably the league’s best two players – why would the Flyers seem intimidating?

The Flyers need to come out in this series with the same intensity that they showed in making the comeback.  They need to remember that they’re still missing some key players, and have a third string goalie in net.  They need to play as if the previous two rounds meant nothing.  Because once that puck drops on Sunday night, everything that happened up to this point is moot.

It’s hard to believe that despite everything they’ve been through, the Flyers are still only halfway to a Stanley Cup.  Two rounds down, two more to go…

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Ohhhhhh, We’re Halfway There….

May 11, 2010

After being in the impossible situation of a 3-0 deficit in their playoff series against the Bruins, the Flyers have won the last two games and are now halfway to winning the series.  While they’re still underdogs, things still look a lot brighter for them than they did at the end of last week.

Really, they looked cooked at the end of regulation in game four.  Facing elimination with a loss, they allowed the Bruins to tie the game in the last minute of play.  It seemed assured that the Bruins would find a way to win the game, but unexpectedly, Simon Gagne (playing well in his return from injury) scored in OT, and kept the series alive.

In game five, the Flyers dominated and shut the Bruins out 4-0.  By getting this far, the Flyers have already defied the odds.  Of the 155 teams that previously started a series 0-3, only 11 even made it as far as game six.  Now, the task ahead of them is to simply win two straight games.  Doesn’t seem too imposing when you look at it like that.  And you have to figure that if they can win game six at home, then the Bruins will be more than a little nervous for game seven.

Of course, since this is the Flyers, they have to do everything with an added degree of difficulty.  In last night’s win, goalie Brian Boucher suffered an injured knee and will likely miss the remainder of the series.

Goalie injuries are nothing new to the Flyers this season.  Projected starter Ray Emery suffered an injury early in the season and was replaced by Boucher.  Boucher soon got hurt and was replaced by Michael Leighton who the Flyers picked up on waivers in the middle of the season.  Surprisingly, Leighton went on to play very well, only to suffer an injury of his own in March.  A few others stepped in for a game or two, but down the stretch, the starting job belonged to Boucher.

But now it looks like Boucher (who really hadn’t been playing very well in this series) won’t be back, and Leighton – just returned from a long absence – will be in the net the rest of the way.  Can Leighton lead the team to victory?  He played very well in his stint earlier in the season.  But he also hadn’t seen live game action since the middle of March.  It might be too much to ask for a cold goalie to carry a team to two straight wins. 

But as I said last time, nothing about this year’s Flyers team has made much sense.  If there was ever a team that could come back from a 3-0 deficit behind a backup goalie who hadn’t played in months, this is the team.

The story continues Wednesday night…

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0-3: The Flyers Face Off Against History

May 7, 2010

How quickly the fortunes of a hockey team can change.  For the Flyers, the thrill of easily getting past the New Jersey Devils in the first round has been replaced by the despair of being down three games to none in the second round.

Most people do not expect the Flyers to come back from this 3-0 deficit.  Teams have won a series after being down 3-0 only twice in NHL history, and it hasn’t happened since 1975.  Of course, just because something hasn’t happened before, doesn’t mean it won’t happen.  And you could make the point that since it’s been 35 years, it’s due to happen soon.

Regardless, the Flyers haven’t played as horribly as the 3-0 deficit would indicate.  Game one, they got off to a slow start, which was somewhat understandable since they had a nine day layoff between playoff rounds.  (Sometimes winning a series quickly can be detrimental)  They came back to tie the game, but after seemingly seizing momentum in the game, they were flat in overtime, and the Bruins overwhelmed them en route to victory.

In game two, the Flyers once again fell behind early only to come back and tie the game.  And once again, they couldn’t do anything with the momentum, losing on a goal late in the third period.  Most Flyers fans will wonder why defenseman Ryan Parent was on the ice late in the game, since it seems that every time he plays late in a close game, bad things happen.

In game three, they finally got off to a good start, taking their first lead of the series.  The lead was shortlived, as the Bruins scored the next four goals.  The Flyers seemed to be outplaying the Bruins, but in hockey (OK, in any sport) outscoring is more important than outplaying.

It feels like the many injuries suffered by the Flyers are taking their toll.  They’re down to their third string goalie (who has played surprisingly well), and are missing two of their best scorers.  While other players have picked up the slack a bit, the team’s lack of depth is showing a bit.

Then again, the Bruins have had some injury problems of their own, so the Flyers shouldn’t lean too heavily on that excuse. 

So do the Flyers have any hope?  Well, if their regular season is any indication, I’d have to say yes.  Considered by some to be Cup contenders before the season, the Flyers had a very uneven season.  They got off to a solid start, making the lofty predictions look accurate.  But by December, the team was in free fall, eventually leading to coach John Stevens to get fired.

Under new coach Peter Laviolette, the Flyers rebounded and were playing like one of the best teams in hockey when the season went on Olympic hiatus.  After the hiatus, the team failed to recapture that momentum, and went into another tailspin, nearly falling out of playoff contention.  Eventually, they had to defeat the Rangers in a season finale shootout just to make the playoffs.

So based on the way their season has gone up to this point, it wouldn’t be that shocking to see them rebound and win the next four games.  Considering how the playoffs as a whole have gone so far, there’s a definite “anything goes” feel to the proceedings.  After all, the top three seeds in the Eastern Conference have already been eliminated.

Olympic years are always a bit screwy.  Taking a two week break in the middle of a season can really disrupt a team’s energy.  Not to mention that the top teams are often weakened since they typically have several players on Olympic rosters.  Basically, those players have gone through an intense playoff-like tournament, and are then asked to do it again a couple of months later.

So while it’s improbable that the Flyers make a comeback (and I certainly wouldn’t put any money on it) don’t be too amazed if it does happen.