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The Holiday Weekend Goes Sour

June 1, 2010

Saturday had the potential to be among the greatest days in Philadelphia sports history. 

In Saturday night’s Phillies game, pitcher Roy Halladay pitched a perfect game.  It could be argued that it was the best pitched game ever.  It was not only just the 20th perfect game in history, but even more remarkable was that it didn’t even require many great defensive plays.  In a typical no-hitter or perfect game, you’ll see one or two amazing defensive plays made, but in Halladay’s performance, there was nothing especially worthy of the highlight reel.  Sure, Halladay was getting the benefit of a large strike zone, especially at the end, but that happens pretty much anytime a pitcher has a perfect game going in the late innings.

The Flyers had a chance to make it a historic night as they were playing the Blackhawks in game one of the Stanley Cup Finals.  I’m guessing no city has ever had a perfect game pitched the same night as a finals victory.

The Flyers started off well as they took an early 1-0 lead.  But they could not hold the lead, nor could they hold the other two leads they had later in the game.  In fact, it appeared that no lead in this game would be safe as the teams kept trading goals.  But ultimately, the Blackhawks scored one in the third period that the Flyers could not match, and Chicago escaped with a 6-5 victory.

So much for the greatest night in Philly history.

Then again, compared to the remainder of the holiday weekend, Saturday night was a bright spot.

The Phillies baffling offensive slump continued, as they were shut out on Sunday, and then scored three late, meaningless runs on Monday.  Halladay’s performance overshadowed the fact that the Phillies were only able to score one unearned run of their own on Saturday night.

Their offensive struggles merit a blog post of their own, but the team has learned that it is hard to win games without scoring runs, and because of it, they’ve fallen into second place.

It would be up to the Flyers to redeem Monday.  They knew that if they played the same type of up-tempo game that they did in game one, their chances wouldn’t be great.  While the Flyers were able to score five goals in that game, the style of play was much better suited to the Blackhawks.  The Flyers would need to play a much tighter, defensively focused game.

And the Flyers did exactly that.  Unlike the high scoring game one, game two was a tight defensive battle until midway through the second period when the Blackhawks scored the first goal on a rebound that the Flyers’ defense wasn’t able to clear. 

Still, a one goal deficit wasn’t debilitating.  What happened next was the killer.

28 seconds after that goal, Chicago’s Ben Eager – a player not known as a great scorer – fired a long shot that somehow eluded Flyers’ goaltender Michael Leighton.

For Flyers’ fans, the goal seemed hauntingly familiar.

Over the years, a major reason why the Flyers haven’t been able to win the Stanley Cup is because their goaltenders have not come up big.  Obviously, the Flyers’ lack of Cups since 1975 can not just be blamed on the goalies, but they haven’t had a goalie play well enough to carry them to a title either.

For the most part, the Flyers goalies have  played adequately, or even “good enough to win.”  And yet, in every series that they’ve lost,  there always seemed to be one key goal – while not necessarily soft – was one that a Cup winning goalie needs to make.  No matter who the goalie has been – Hextall, Vanbiesbrouk, Boucher, etc. – they always seem to let in that one killer goal that sabatoges the team’s chances.

And typically, in the games where the Flyers goalie would give up that goal, the opposing goaltender would play extremely well.  That happened last night as Chicago’s Antti Niemi was stellar, especially in the third period.  The Flyers had many quality scoring chances, and some shots that seemed destined to be goals, and yet they couldn’t get the tying goal past Niemi.

It’s way too early to give up on the Flyers.  The teams have looked fairly even, and with the next two games at home, the Flyers can, and I think will, win them.  But that second goal just seemed way too familiar, and felt like a sign that this year they’d once again be coming up short.

I hope I’m wrong.

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