Thursday, April 22, 2010

Flyers Dominate to Eliminate Devils in 5 Games

By: Tim Brennan

Before the playoffs even started, the Flyers were fighting for their lives in the last stretch of the season just to secure a position and now they can say that they took down a playoff contender in the New Jersey Devils. Even though the Devils haven't won a playoff series in four years, New Jersey accrued 2 Stanley Cup championships and 6 Atlantic Division titles in the 10 years prior to this post season. The pressure was on the Devils this year to finally break the pattern and bowl over teams in the playoffs but not only did they succumb to the pressure, but were also outplayed by the Flyers the entire series.

The Flyers needed just one more win over the Devils in Game 5 of their quarterfinal series to accomplish what many felt wouldn't happen. There was plenty of doubt about both teams: whether Brian Boucher could really backstop the Flyers to any postseason victories since he wasn't the starter for the majority of the season and if the Flyers inconsistency would continue into the playoffs; and for the Devils could they break out of their current funk and get past the first round or fall again and if their acquisition of Ilya Kovalchuk would pay off in getting over that hump to compete for the Stanley Cup.

Those questions were answered after Philadelphia defeated the Devils 3-0 in Game 5, giving New Jersey yet another first round exit and making the Flyers the first team to move on to the next round.

The Flyers were going to be without forwards Jeff Carter and Simon Gagne due to right foot fractures that required surgery so head coach Peter Laviolette put Ville Leino and David Laliberte in the lineup to replace them. But it wasn't just this that helped propel the team to victory. Laviolette decided to use Danny Briere, Claude Giroux and Laliberte on a rotation for the vacant spot on Mike Richards line, forcing the Devils to be sharp and aware of which player was going to be heading out onto the ice with the top line. The extended ice time for Giroux and Briere was successful for the Flyers as the two combined to score all 3 of the Flyers goals.

The animosity kicked up in this game as well, leading to 11 penalties for the Flyers to the Devils 9. With numbers like that, the game is dependent on special teams to get the edge. The Flyers cashed in twice on the powerplay, with Danny Briere's back handed tally in the first and Giroux slamming home a rebound in the second on a double minor. Giroux also tallied midway through the second with a slapshot over Martin Brodeur's right shoulder. There is a strong case that can be made for Claude Giroux as the best player for the Flyers in round 1 as the 22nd pick in 2006 delivered 6 points in 5 games after struggling down the stretch during the season. The combination of precision passing, dazzling moves and physicality make Giroux a complete player and a huge asset for the Flyers now and in the future.

The Flyers other valuable player in this series was goaltender Brian Boucher, who stopped 28 shots to shutout the Devils in the victory clinching game. The great thing about all of this is that Boucher was signed to backup Ray Emery this season and struggled when he played, leading to the Flyers acquiring Michael Leighton via re-entry waivers and leaning on him until an injury struck and the Flyers season dependent on the one guy that many had counted out as being past his prime (I know I did). Boucher proved everyone wrong when he came up with a few strong wins at the end of the season and propelled Philadelphia into the postseason. The defense in front of him has been excellent, blocking a total of 85 shots in the series, so Boucher doesn't need to carry the team on his back. What made Boucher such a strong contributor to the team's success is when the pressure mounted on, Boucher came up big and produced some stellar saves. In other words, Boucher hasn't needed to play like a superstar goaltender, just good enough to give the Flyers stability on the back-end but he has played better than most thought he would.

The unsung hero for the Flyers throughout the series was rugged forward Ian Laperriere. If he isn't nominated for the Selke then there must be something wrong with the selection process. Laperriere lays everything on the line whenever he is on the ice, from fighting to defend teammates or rile up the team to setting the pace with hits to laying down and blocking shots. Not only does he provide a huge physical presence to the team, but he also chips in offensively, brings leadership and is one of the best penalty killers in the league. That's why Flyers fans were horrified when Laperriere went down to block a Paul Martin slapshot on the penalty kill and took the puck off the face, cutting him over the right eye. Laperriere received 70+ stitches to close the wound and in a post game interview stated that from now on he will wear a shield. This is the second time this season that Laperriere took a puck off the face, the first incident happening against the Sabres when he blocked Jason Pominville's slapshot off the mouth, leading to seven lost teeth and a huge cut on his face. The surprising part was that Laperriere returned later that game. The extent of the injury is uncertain at this time so the Flyers defeating the Devils in 5 games will give "Lappy" plenty of time to heal.

The Flyers came into this series looking to prove a point that they weren't going to lay down in front of the Devils and give them a game like they did at some points of the season. If anything, the series gave the Flyers an identity that they didn't have for most of the season: a strong willed team with everyone giving their best effort every game.

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