Thursday, May 27, 2010

Stanley Cup Finals Preview and Prediction

Whether you're a fan of the Chicago Blackhawks or the Philadelphia Flyers or any of the other 28 teams that failed to make the Stanley Cup Finals this is a sad and happy time for us all. Sad because yet another fantastic season of hockey is gone and we will all have to wait until the summer is over for hockey to come back. This is also a happy time because this is what we have all been waiting for since the puck dropped in early October. The long and grueling 82 game season and the playoffs have been a strain on the players as well as us fans but this is all why we choose to torture ourselves with the stress because there is nothing that can compare to the excitement and energy that the NHL playoffs bring.

So lets look at these two teams that will fight for Lord Stanley's hardware.

First off let me say I never would have imagined that the goaltending matchup for the Stanley Cup Finals would be Michael Leighton, a guy who has never really found his niche, and Antti Niemi, a young kid with a lot of potential.

The Blackhawks will win if: They sustain their heavy offensive pressure. They need to rattle Leighton's cage. He had a lot of sucess against Montreal but Chicago's offense is a much different animal then Montreal's. Chicago must also be physical with Philadelphia's top offensive forwards. And of course Antti Niemi will have to continue his solid play in net.

The Flyers will win if: Michael Leighton and that defense can continue to silence any offensive threat that faces them. The Flyers cannot let Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews take control in this series otherwise the Flyers will sink. Its a tall task but they got through the playoffs that way and will need to keep it going if they want to walk away champions after its all said and done.

Prediction: Chicago in 5. This may be a little harsh toward the Flyers but I just dont see them being able to slow down the Blackhawks. The Hawks are just flat out better then the Flyers and that will be proven in this series. Maybe the Flyers can extend the series longer than 5 games but dont expect them to walk away with the Stanley Cup.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Sharks' Tank Looking Empty

It looks like the Sharks season has finally come to and end. They are not out of the series yet, but it is a safe assumption that they are already packing for the golf course.

The Blackhawks are on an absolute tear and nothing seems to be stopping them. They are playing great team defense in front of their netminder, Antti Niemi. Niemi has been consistent throughout the playoffs. Rarely would you see him out of position or giving up easy goals. You don't have to worry about their blue liners either. Duncan Keith and Brian Campbell having been playing lights out. The real hero for the Hawks' is Dustin Byfugklien, he has been a force against the Sharks, with 3 GWG's. He is playing with Kane and Toews right now and their line has been performing exceptionally well. Toews now has at least a point in his last 12 games, setting a new record for the Blackhawks organization.

At this point for the Sharks', they must pull off a Flyers'-like comeback. However, I don't see this happening. Chicago is too hot right now for the Sharks' to oust their dominating play. Look for a Flyers/Blackhawks Stanley Cup.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Disappointing Loss for Flyers Allows Montreal to Storm Back into Series

By: Tim Brennan

The way in which Philadelphia dominated the first two games of this series showed that these guys were the real deal and not just some fluke who somehow mustered a 3 games to none comeback to beat the Bruins. The only problem was that that same team didn't show up for Game 3.

Montreal flipped the series upside down by taking it to Philly the exact same way the Flyers took it to the Canadiens in the previous two games. One of the major components for the Flyers success has been the support of the fans on home ice, who create plenty of noise and encouragement for the team so they can feed off of the energy to get them going. Montreal decided to come out with an enormous buzz at home, with the home crowd chanting "Leighton" to try and throw the goaltender off his game along with booing Chris Pronger, Danny Briere and Mike Richards to no end. The Canadiens also needed a strong effort from Halak similar to what Michael Leighton had done in his last few starts.

Along with that, the Canadiens needed to make a few adjustments heading into their first home game in this series. They inserted 6'5 rugged blueliner Ryan O'Byrne to defend against the large forwards from Philly instead of 5'9 Marc Andre Bergeron, who instead played as an extra defenseman and occasionally on the 4th line wing. Montreal also switched out Mathieu Darche and Sergei Kostitsyn for Bergeron and Benoit Pouliot.

If Montreal was going to be able to take advantage, they needed to score a goal and take it to the Flyers physically. The Canadiens had no problem with that as they scored twice in the first period. Mike Cammalleri finally got on the board in this series, creating room for himself near the net and buried a rebound that bounced off the back boards right to his stick. Then close to ten minutes later, the Canadiens best forward in the first two games, Tom Pyatt, gave Montreal a 2-0 lead as he drove to the net and deflected a pass off his skate past Leighton. The goal came as a result of a costly turnover by Chris Pronger, who's errant pass went right to Dominic Moore, setting up the eventual goal.

Philadelphia could not have played any worse in that first period. Every single player seemed to have trouble keeping up with Montreal's speedy forwards and they certainly didn't have their legs under them. Their brains must have been sluggish as well because the Flyers couldn't make a breakout pass to save their lives. The majority of their attempted breakouts were chips out of the zone that went directly to a Montreal player. Defense wasn't something the Flyers did well in that period as well, with confusion over defensive coverage and lackadaisical attempts at clearing the zone.

The Flyers didn't fare well in the second either as they continued to turn over the puck and get out muscled in every puck battle. The combination of Maxim Lapierre's bone crushing hits and Montreal's defense stepping up to take the body caused the third goal of the game. The Flyers went out of their way to make a huge hit but put themselves out of position and allowed Dominic Moore to carry it in, pass it off to Pyatt and take a shot from the high slot that beat Leighton five hole.

Brian Gionta made it a 4-0 lead two minutes into the third when a chip-in went over Matt Carle's outstretched arm and landed right near Gionta as he went in alone and slid the puck low underneath Leighton's left pad. But the Flyers were able to break Halak's possible shutout bid at 8:22 when Simon Gagne scored his 7th of the playoffs and kept his 4 game goal streak alive. A back handed no look pass from Dan Carcillo hit Gagne right on the tape and he whipped around and fired one over Hal Gill and past Halak.

Frustration settled in for the Flyers as with a 3 goal lead, the Canadiens were taking liberties with Philly's star players and a brawl ensued. Scott Hartnell and Roman Hamrlik tussled and eventually fought while Danny Briere got speared by Jaroslav Spacek and went back at him along with Mike Richards. The Flyers would be shorthanded however because Chris Pronger committed interference with the goaltender pulled. The Canadiens would add another goal before the game ended, with Marc Andre Bergeron's powerplay tally with 30 seconds left and allowed Montreal to get back into the series with a 5-1 victory.

Although the blame could be thrust completely on the Flyers defense, the offense didn't help out much either, only 26 shots on Halak and struggling to make plays in the offensive zone once they crossed the opposition's blueline. The team altogether looked slow and sluggish throughout the contest. Any form of offense didn't come to fruition and defense was a struggle all night. The Flyers top pairing of Chris Pronger and Matt Carle combined for a -6 rating and committed 3 turnovers, one of which led to Tom Pyatt's first period goal.

If not for Michael Leighton turning aside 33 shots, the Flyers could have lost this game even worse than 5-1. Montreal missed the net on 13 opportunities with 10 of those from 30 feet or closer. The defense was a main area for concern for Philadelphia in this game and needs to work on that to prepare for Game 4.

The Flyers also need to make sure that Montreal doesn't run all over them in the next game. Maxim Lapierre was a non factor in the first two games but came alive in Game 3 and tormented the Flyers all night long. The Canadiens also resorted to some cheap tactics, like when after Pyatt scored, Lapierre blatantly ran over Flyers forward Darroll Powe on purpose after the puck had been in the net. Another incident was a missed call on Josh Gorges in the 2nd period as he came across and elbowed Claude Giroux in the face. Giroux was bleeding and lost a tooth but no call was made. Then of course there was the battle between Briere and Spacek near the end of the game that led to a gathering of players.

The Flyers should be amped up for the next game after what Mike Richards and Chris Pronger had to say during post game interviews and the anger at not playing well along with laying down in an important game. Dan Carcillo stated that the Flyers will come out strong and with a ton of emotion and seemed quite peeved at an incident where he got into a shoving match with Mike Cammalleri who stuck his tongue out at him.

The Flyers might have Ian Laperriere back for Game 4. The man affectionately known as "Lappy" practiced with Blair Betts and Darroll Powe today and appeared to be good to go. He has been cleared by the medical staff to play after sustaining a brain contusion and facial laceration while blocking a shot from Paul Martin in the Conference Quarterfinals. His return would help spark the Flyers as the rugged role player logs big minutes on the team's shut down line and penalty kill and provides plenty of energy with his well known ability to muck it up with opposing players. Laperriere would replace Andreas Nodl if he is able to be inserted into the lineup for Game 4.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Leighton, Flyers Dominate Again to Gain 2-0 Series Lead

By: Tim Brennan

If you were expecting a different outcome in Game 2 after the Flyers rout of Montreal on home soil, then you thought wrong.

Michael Leighton came out of Game 2 clinging to a shutout streak of 165 minutes and 50 seconds and continues to prove how valuable an asset he is to this Flyers club. Really, the 29 year old goaltender deserves all the credit in the world for picking up another shutout, his 2nd straight and 3rd of the playoffs, after never having played in an NHL postseason game prior to Game 5 of the Conference Semifinals against Boston coming in relief of Brian Boucher.

Leighton continued to dominate, facing 16 shots in the 1st period compared to Philadelphia's measly 6. Surprisingly one of those 6 shots for the Flyers found it's way past Jaroslav Halak, with Danny Briere picking up yet another powerplay goal. Another undisciplined penalty by Scott Gomez cost his team big time as Briere received a back hand pass from Claude Giroux entering the zone and used Hal Gill as a screen to put it low past Halak. A goal barely 4 minutes into the game on home ice with the crowd behind your back is a strong catalyst to victory.

Briere's 9th of the postseason put Philadelphia along the right direction to another win over the Canadiens. A powerplay tally by Simon Gagne in the 2nd crippled Montreal and ultimately vanquished their spirits. Ville Leino rushed to keep the puck deep in Montreal's zone with the man advantage and was able to hand it off to Gagne. Gagne went down behind the net and passed it to Richards, who's saucer pass landed right on Leino's stick for a quick back hand shot. As Leino swatted at the rebound, Gagne came in shoveled it past a sprawled Halak for a 2-0 lead. Oddly enough, Philadelphia got on the board for a 2nd time after only putting 7 shots on net the entire period.

As the third period rolled around, the Flyers buckled down defensively in order to secure the lead. The pairing of Chris Pronger and Matt Carle continued to shut down Montreal's offensive dynamo Mike Cammalleri, limiting his opportunities and forcing the leading goal scorer in the playoffs to take shots from the outside. The combination of the top two defense pairing for Philadelphia against the Canadiens' top lines has proved to be a major component to the Flyers two game lead in the series. Even though it was defense first in the third, the Flyers poured on the shots with 10 in the last stanza to Montreal's 4 and to make matters worse, Ville Leino scored to put a comeback out of the picture. Leino's goal could be considered ugly, as he entered the zone with speed to the outside and unloaded a regular looking wrist shot that managed to go past Halak, who didn't even move to stop it.

So Philadelphia looks pretty set for the time being after gaining a two game lead and the unbelievably spectacular play from Michael Leighton. In 4 starts in these 2010 playoffs, the unbeatable Leighton has posted a ridiculous .962 save percentage along with a .96 goals against average. Wow, now that is Conn Smythe caliber numbers right there. The Flyers got outshot again in this game, 30 to 23, so it was up to Leighton to shut down the high powered Canadiens offense and let the Flyers back him up with a couple of goals. The turning point of the game could have easily been Briere's back breaker only 4 minutes in but Leighton's big save on Tom Pyatt in the early stages of the first was just as important. Tomas Plekanec went behind the cage and attempted a wrap around with a rebound kicked right to the stick of Pyatt, who's point blank opportunity was blocked away by Leighton.

The Flyers will look to Leighton to keep his strong play going and continue to shut down the Montreal's quick forwards and rattle Halak's cage. They now have to enter the unfriendly confines of the Bell Centre and that means that they need to bring forth the same effort they did in front of their own fans. The two players to keep your eye on will be Danny Briere and Simon Gagne, two hometown boys who will be mercilessly booed and usually thrive under pressure in Montreal.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Flyers Slaughter Montreal in First Battle of Conference Finals

By: Tim Brennan

Following a history making comeback from a 3-0 series deficit to the Boston Bruins in the conference semifinals, the Flyers were flying high and got set to take on another surprise team in the Montreal Canadiens. Both teams couldn't have scripted a better story, with Montreal going the distance twice to defeat the East's superpowers in Washington and Pittsburgh. Meanwhile, Philadelphia was making a tremendous run as well, knocking the Devils out in 5 games then the historic comeback that will be cemented in the memories of many.

When looking at this series, the Flyers have an considerable advantage in size and physicality while Montreal seems to be front runners in the speed and agility categories. Matchups are going to be difficult for Montreal as they were able to slow down Ovechkin and Crosby but with the Flyers, there isn't one superstar player on the team and all four lines contribute. Two of the biggest defensive factors for Montreal in the first two rounds was Hal Gill, who did an excellent job of shutting down Sidney Crosby and Pittsburgh in the semifinals and limited chances for Washington, and P.K. Subban, who came into the Pittsburgh series and rattled the Penguins cage. Jaroslav Halak and Mike Cammalleri have been the best players for their team and arguably the playoffs so it's up to them to continue that success.

On the other side, Philadelphia would look to have towering defenseman Chris Pronger match up against Mike Cammalleri, who leads the playoffs with 12 goals. The second pairing of Kimmo Timonen and Braydon Coburn would go up against the 2nd line of Scott Gomez, Brian Gionta and Travis Moen. More than likely the Flyers will also want to have the Betts line up against the Canadiens top line because Betts, along with Darroll Powe and Andreas Nodl, have done a great job shutting down the opposing team's best forwards. And of course, Michael Leighton would be a huge factor for Philadelphia as he enters the series with just 4 goals against on 70 shots in 2 1/2 games.

If anyone thought that the Flyers push to overcome Boston was a fluke, they showed the doubters wrong by racking up 6 goals on Montreal to set the tone for the series. Michael Leighton collected his 2nd shutout in his 3rd playoff game start and frustrated the Canadiens all night. The offense was nothing short of spectacular as 7 Flyers posted a multi-point effort. Other factors that helped Philadelphia to a huge victory was a strong net presence, that led to the first 4 goals and Jaroslav Halak's departure from the contest. The Flyers also looked to be alot quicker than Montreal during the course of the game and were dominant in the physical department, racking up 27 hits to Montreal's 19. The Flyers shut down line of Betts, Powe and Nodl contributed 8 hits to the cause and played tight defensively against Mike Cammalleri and Tomas Plekanec.

Braydon Coburn started the game off with a bang as the blueliner swooped in from the point to jam in a lose puck for an early powerplay tally. A maze of players converged on the Montreal net after Ville Leino's toe drag shot and while a few player whacked away at it, Coburn came in and rammed the puck home for a 1-0 lead. It's a little surprising that Philadelphia left the 1st period with the lead after Montreal barraged Leighton with 13 shots, but the man who saved the Flyers season was up to the task.

The Flyers pounced on the Canadiens early in the 2nd when James van Riemsdyk, rejuvenated in Game 7 versus Boston after struggling in the first two rounds, got his own rebound and slammed it home for a 2-0 lead just 30 seconds in. The credit might as well have gone to Claude Giroux, who beat Scott Gomez on the offensive zone face-off and poked it in between the Montreal center's legs, where Giroux laid it off to van Riemsdyk. A short while later, Danny Briere scored with a quick slapshot to put Philadelphia up by 3. The Flyers worked the puck around until Briere gave the puck off to Matt Carle, who sent it right back and Briere tallied with Scott Hartnell screening Halak.

Montreal's fate was sealed when Simon Gagne scored a powerplay goal towards the half point of the game. Gagne's shot through traffic found it's way just inside of the right post and was the last goal that Halak would give up for the night. Montreal called on Carey Price to come in a relieve Halak after only stopping 10 of 14 shots. The change in net should have at least sparked the Canadiens, but all it did was get worse from there.

The Flyers outshot Montreal in the third and added two more goals of the sticks of Scott Hartnell and Claude Giroux, cruising to a 6-0 win. The fans were going insane throughout the tilt and at one point started to serenade the Canadiens with an "ole-ole" chant that Montreal fans use when they are winning a game.

The Flyers capitalized on the Canadiens' mistakes as Montreal took undisciplined penalties that led to powerplay tallies for Philadelphia. Scott Gomez and Andrei Kostitsyn's over aggression forced Montreal to have to kill off penalties at the wrong time. And not only did penalties ruin their night, but the team's best player thus far got schlacked, leading to a change in goaltender. Mike Cammalleri wasn't even a factor in this game and mustered only 1 shot. The team's top two defensemen, Gill and Subban, combined for a -5 rating and were invisible the entire game. If Montreal is going to battle back, they need the whole team to work as one instead of individuals.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Flyers Make History to Rally Past Bruins

By: Tim Brennan

Every year the NHL unveils a slogan for the playoffs, this year that statement was "History Will Be Made". The Flyers took this to heart and completed the comeback Friday night to place themselves among few in NHL history.

The start of the game wasn't ideal for Philadelphia as they surrendered 3 goals on 14 shots and were absolutely smothered by a different Bruins team determined to bury the Flyers. Yet again Milan Lucic made an impact by potting two goals just 5 minutes apart. Michael Ryder got the Bruins off to a good start with a powerplay tally a little over 5 minutes into the game. The Flyers took two foolish penalties that hurt their chances early on, with Ryder and Lucic capitalizing.

In the aftermath of Lucic's second goal to push the Bruins to a 3-0 lead, Flyers head coach Peter Laviolette called a timeout to wake his team up and get them into the correct mindset to battle back. Whatever he did worked out well as rookie James van Riemsdyk scored on one of the weirdest plays in NHL playoff history. Flyers captain Mike Richards threw his body into Dennis Wideman and the puck squirted to Claude Giroux who forwarded a pass to van Riemsdyk. As JVR rumbled in, he took a wrist shot that hit Mark Stuart's stick, breaking it, and bouncing in off the bottom region of Tuukka Rask's right leg pad. The rookie's goal was the first in 17 games and proved to be the turning point in the deciding game.

The Flyers best line in Game 5 stepped up in the second period to bring the score to a tie. After the Flyers kept the puck in, Danny Briere chipped the puck over to Ville Leino who spun around Matt Hunwick and got a shot on net. Rask deflected the puck away but it came right to Scott Hartnell, who chipped it over the sprawled Bruins netminder. At this point, it looked to be a picturesque comeback for the Flyers and their amazing battle to crawl back into this series. Danny Briere tied the game at 3 when he pulled a wraparound and surprised Rask by beating him to the post. The puck actually ramped up Matt Hunwick's stick and into the net.

The Flyers destiny looked to be victory when several players whacked at a loose puck in front of Rask with 5:14 left in the second period, but referee Kelly Sutherland signaled no goal. The puck looked to creep over the line on one of the many replays and could have given the Flyers a 4-3 lead to enter the third but the folks at Toronto waved off the goal, stating that the puck had not crossed the line.

As the teams battled for their lives and an opportunity at playing against Montreal in the Eastern Conference Finals, the Bruins made the first mistake in taking a too many men penalty. Now the Bruins were #1 in penalty kill efficiency during the course of these playoffs with a rating around 91%. But they couldn't fight fate when the one person who's return changed the series, Simon Gagne, scored the game winner on the man advantage. It really couldn't have been anyone else as Gagne continued his success since coming back from a broken bone in his foot. The pure bred goal scorer added his 4th of the postseason with only 7 minutes to spare. The Bruins continued to press but were ultimately defeated when Claude Giroux burned almost a minute by keeping the puck along the boards and warding off Bruins defenders.

And just like that the rally to overcome a 3-0 deficit was complete. It's interesting how the final game unfolded similar to how the series played out: Bruins gain 3-0 lead before the Flyers storm back and put up 4 to get past them.

After a shaky start, Michael Leighton settled back into his comfort zone, stopping 22 shots and a possible game breaker when Marc Savard fired a shot almost point blank which was turned aside leading to Philly making history. Never did the Flyers need players to step up as James van Riemsdyk and Scott Hartnell did in such an important game. Both scored goals and provided plenty of energy and finesse to push this team over the top, combining for 2 goals, 1 assist, +3 rating and 5 shots on goal. All of the members on this team contributed in their own ways during this game and was a complete team effort through and through.

The Flyers became the 3rd NHL team and 4th professional sports team to rally back from a 3-0 deficit to win a playoff series. They now join the company of the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs and 1975 New York Islanders in NHL history books as the only teams to accomplish such a feat. The Flyers could be considered a Cinderella team after being counted out late in the season as a team that wouldn't make the playoffs but has powered past the Devils and Bruins en route to a matchup with the Montreal Canadiens, the team that really is a Cinderella team or Smurf team whichever you prefer, in the Eastern Conference Finals.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Flyers Win Third Straight to Force Game 7

By: Tim Brennan

The Flyers answered the bell once again by beating the Bruins 2-1 to take the series to a Game 7. Boston once led 3 games to none but have succumbed to Philly's high powered offense and relentless defense in route to a deadlocked series. The first playoff start in Michael Leighton's career was a memorable one as he collected the win and only allowed one goal while making 31 saves.

The home team's inspiration before huge games during the playoffs is a combined effort of anthem singer Lauren Hart and Kate Smith, an important piece to Flyers folklore, in singing "God Bless America". The Flyers record after the Kate Smith rendition has been tremendous and they added another win in the column.

Philadelphia's captain Mike Richards got the team on the board first and added to the intense atmosphere in the Wachovia Center when he swooped in and picked up a rebound after Simon Gagne and Dan Carcillo battled in front for the loose puck. Richards scored his 5th of the postseason, and 3rd of the series, just 6:58 in to continue his strive to dominance. Richards has comprised 8 points in 6 games and hasn't fallen short of expectations.

The Bruins continued to take undisciplined penalties and paid for their mistakes when Danny Briere scored to push Philadelphia ahead 2-0 after Bruins forward Dan Paille blatantly elbowed Scott Hartnell in the chin. Briere's attempted pass to Mike Richards down low was blocked off by a Bruins defender right back to the diminutive center who fired a snapshot over Tuukka Rask's glove hand. Later in the tilt, Vladimir Sobotka pulled down Ville Leino, leading to a penalty shot. Although Leino wasn't able to score, the Flyers proved that this was their game and that the Bruins weren't playing disciplined enough.

Flyers backstopper Michael Leighton was just 1 minute away from getting yet another shutout in the game and part of one that he has played until Milan Lucic spoiled the party. As I stated before, Lucic is tailor made for this series and it's no wonder that he has awoken after a slow start to the playoffs. Lucic battled out in front to get some space and was able to whack home a rebound coming from a point shot by Dennis Wideman. Not only has Leighton played well in coming in relief for Brian Boucher, the defense in front of him has been coming up with saves of their own, racking up 30 blocked shots.

The Flyers however would have the last laugh by winning 2-1 and ultimately pushing the series to a pressure filled Game 7 at TD Garden in Boston. It's an interesting point to bring up that the Flyers won the game while being outplayed in their own end for the majority of the game. The Bruins did a splendid job of moving the puck around in the offensive zone and pressuring the Flyers to turn it over or blindly throw the puck up the boards. The only problem was the Bruins couldn't figure out Leighton until it was too late.

The stage is set for what might be one of the best Game 7's in the history of the league. Maybe not that much but it will be a must see based on how closely these two teams match up against one another. The last team to accomplish such a feat of battling back after a 3-0 deficit was the 1975 New York Islanders, who were able to beat the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 7 of their quarterfinals series to move on. The Flyers are hoping for the same fate but need to continue with their strong offensive attack combined with a blinding defensive effort and continued success on the powerplay.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Flyers Push Through Injuries to Win Game 5

By: Tim Brennan

Another do or die situation for the Flyers and another victory under pressure. The Flyers overcame injuries to Brian Boucher and Claude Giroux to dismantle the Bruins in Game 5 in route to a 4-0 victory. The Flyers second line of Scott Hartnell, Ville Leino and Danny Briere provided plenty of offense and were the main reason for Philadelphia crawling back into the series.

Prior to the game, Michael Leighton was named as Brian Boucher's backup after Leighton practiced several times since a high ankle sprain on March 16th. Many considered this move to be crucial to Boucher's confidence for Game 5 in terms of whether he'll feel that the team doesn't have faith in him to continue on or having to compete with Leighton for the starter's job. The move turned out to be a stroke of genius for Peter Laviolette and the Flyers.

Arguably the team's MVP during the quarterfinals against the New Jersey Devils, Boucher blocked away a Marc Savard scoring chance and attempted to cover the puck until Ryan Parent and Miroslav Satan fell on top of him, with his left leg pinned underneath his body. The result of the play came to be a Grade 2 MCL sprain in his left knee which will knock Boucher out for a month. It's a shame that Boucher's season ended in this way because as surprising as this may sound, Boucher was one of the best players on the team during these playoffs and was an inspiration to the team and the fans. The man nicknamed "Boosh" would end up sharing the shutout with Michael Leighton, the first time such an event has occured since 1955 when Jacques Plante and Charlie Hodge of the Montreal Canadiens blanked the Bruins.

The Flyers were propelled to victory in this game by the elevated play of Scott Hartnell and Ville Leino along with the continued success of Danny Briere. The line combined for 2 goals, 2 assists and a +6 rating while taking 9 shots on goal. This combination was all over the ice, cycling the puck, going to the open areas to generate chances and making the Bruins defense run around.

As Flyers color analyst Bill Clement coined it, Game 5 was the "Ville Leino Show". Leino dazzled with moves and passes that no one had seen nor thought could come from the 2nd year NHLer. Leino was acquired on February 6th from the Detroit Red Wings for rugged defenseman O.K. Tollefsen and a 2010 5th round draft pick. The insight on Leino was that he was a gifted playmaker with a variety of tricks and is very versatile. The 2008 free agent signee of Detroit tried to fight his way onto the Flyers lineup after the trade but only managed to play 13 games. Leino stepped into the lineup after injuries to Jeff Carter and Simon Gagne and although he struggled at first to provide offense, this series has thrust the young Finland native into the spotlight.

As a result of Leino's emergence, Scott Hartnell tallied for the first time since March 18th, breaking a 21 game goalless drought. Hartnell showed up for the first time in the playoffs during Game 4 with some hits to spark some energy for the Flyers but put a stamp on the series when he scored in the 2nd period and could have gotten credit for the Flyers first goal if not for the active stick of Ville Leino. Leino's goal proved to be the game winner coming just a little over 6 minutes into the game. Hartnell added a much more physical element that wasn't visible prior to this game and even drew a few penalties. Briere continued playing strong, picking up an assist and playing his best hockey as a pivot since his Buffalo days.

Don't forget the impact of Simon Gagne on this series since coming back from an ankle injury in Game 4 of the quarterfinals that kept him out until Game 4 of this series. Gagne scored twice, a powerplay tally in the 2nd period and the other on a breakaway in the 3rd period due to Dennis Wideman's turnover. Michael Leighton also provided a steady presence in net after Boucher went down, turning aside 14 shots to get the shutout. Another surprise was the addition of Andreas Nodl to the Flyers first line after an impressive effort during Game 4 that led to the promotion. Not known as a physical player, Nodl played against type to give the Flyers a spark and replaced Dan Carcillo who hadn't been performing his role well enough.

The aspect that killed the Bruins chance of even coming close in this game was the huge amount of undisciplined penalties taken at inopportune times. The biggest surprise was the mental breakdown of Bruins center Marc Savard, who twice retaliated on Flyers players after receiving a clean body check. In the second period, defenseman Kimmo Timonen laid into him near the boards so Savard came back at Timonen and not only got a stick up in the defender's face, but also threw a couple of punches. Near the end of the game, Mike Richards merely shoved Savard into the boards, leading to Savard jumping and repeatedly punching Richards while he was unaware.

Another player who resorted to dirty tactics was Steve Begin who drilled Flyers forward Claude Giroux from behind near the end of the 2nd period, which led to Giroux leaving the game and his status being unknown. Giroux was shook up on the play, laying on the ice for some time before leaving looking woozy.

A bold prediction from this contributor is that now that Michael Leighton is backstopping the Flyers and since the team has gained a lot of confidence off of these two wins, Philadelphia has a strong chance of beating the Bruins in 7 games.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Gagne's Return Keeps Philadelphia Away From Elimination

By: Tim Brennan

The attitude around each team was drastically different before Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals; the Bruins were in a good position being up 3 to nothing in the series and wanted to push forward and sweep Philadelphia while the Flyers needed the best effort they could put forth so that their season wouldn't end on such a bad note.

Injuries were a key issue before the start of this game as both teams received big news. Simon Gagne was cleared to play for the Flyers in Game 4 after breaking a bone in his foot that required surgery. Gagne was injured in Game 4 of the quarterfinals against New Jersey after blocking a shot from Brian Rolston. This was extremely good news for the Flyers considering that Gagne was thought to be lost for the rest of the playoffs. Gagne is a major part of the Flyers high powered offense so getting him back in time for a possible comeback could boost the team's spirits.

The news for the Bruins wasn't as uplifting. Boston lost left wing Marco Sturm for the playoffs in Game 1 due to torn ligaments in his knee and got even worse news upon hearing that center David Krejci would undergo season ending surgery. Krejci suffered a dislocated wrist when Mike Richards checked him out in center ice after passing the puck off to Milan Lucic. Krejci ended up with an assist on the game winning goal coming from Miroslav Satan. Defenseman Adam McQuaid was also injured, leaving during the first period after sustaining a lower body injury.

In order for the Bruins to overcome the long term injuries sustained by Sturm and Krejci, they were going to need offensive contributions from different sources. One of those happened to be former Flyers forward Mark Recchi. Recchi notched his 5th goal of the playoffs near the latter stages of the first period. Dan Paille received a breakout pass from Dennis Wideman and flipped it over to Patrice Bergeron who broke through the defense and fired a shot that was blocked away by Brian Boucher. As Boucher was laying on the ice, Mark Recchi gobbled up the rebound and fired the puck into the empty top of the net.

Philly's Danny Briere tied things up late in the first off a quick snap shot to Tuukka Rask's left. Briere received a short pass from Claude Giroux and was able to fire one off before Rask had a chance to recover with the shot going right through the legs of the young goaltender. The back and forth play of both teams continued through the second period, with numerous scoring chances going in the Flyers favor. Chris Pronger gave the Flyers a 2-1 lead off a tic-tac-toe passing play. Simon Gagne came in to take the faceoff after Mike Richards was kicked out and subsequently won the faceoff to Dan Carcillo. Carcillo then passed it back to Matt Carle who gave Pronger a soft pass for a one time blast.

Shortly afterwards, Dan Carcillo took an undisciplined penalty that gave Boston some time to recuperate. The Bruins only mustered two shots and ultimately added to the deficit when Claude Giroux put Philadelphia up 3-1 halfway through the middle stanza. The Flyers cycled the puck around until it reached the goal mouth where Scott Hartnell kicked the puck in a soccer type manner over to Giroux who buried it into the empty net.

Just when the Flyers thought they had a strong lead on the Bruins, Michael Ryder scored to push the score to 3-2. A costly turnover in the defensive zone led to several passes to set up Ryder in the slot who fanned on the shot and broke his stick. The puck caromed off the back boards and somehow found a way to squeak past Boucher, who was sprawled out trying to cover it.

Philadelphia's problems with maintaining a lead continue early into the third when Milan Lucic scored a powerplay goal to tie the game up. What seemed to be a simple shot from the point by Dennis Wideman turned into an adventure for Boucher as Lucic was able to get a small piece for the tally. Boston continued to barrage the net with pucks while the Flyers tried to set up in the offensive zone and fight to gain a lead and win their first game in the series. The Flyers broke through the barrier as Ville Leino gave them a 4-3 advantage on a mirror image of Lucic's tying goal.

The Flyers got what they wanted by gaining momentum and giving Boston only a short amount of time to rally back but unfortunately Mark Recchi had other plans. Recchi scored his second goal of the game with only 32 seconds left.

The Flyers would get the last laugh however when Mike Richards fed Matt Carle who had jumped up into the play who fired a pass over to Simon Gagne to deflect it past Tuukka Rask and clinch Game 4 for Philadelphia. Gagne was the x factor in this game, who basically started the play that led to Chris Pronger's second period goal and led the team in shots with 7. Although Gagne was suffering from a broken toe and didn't see much ice time in the third period, he told head coach Peter Laviolette that he was good to go for overtime and ended up winning the game for the Flyers.

Not only was Gagne in the spotlight, but the emergence of Matt Carle continued in Game 4. Carle's confidence seems to have spiked this year with the addition of Chris Pronger and the offensive contributions from the 25 year old have been timely. Carle ended the game with 4 assists and a +5 rating. Carle's ability to jump into the play offensively has helped give the Flyers more scoring chances than they could think possible. The impact of both Carle and Gagne in this game helped propel them past Boston and will give them plenty of momentum going into Game 5 on Monday.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Flyers in Deep Trouble as Bruins Take Commanding 3-0 Series Lead

By: Tim Brennan

The Flyers returned to Philadelphia for the start of two games on home ice already down two games to none to the Bruins. Several factors stuck out through the first two games: 1) The Flyers hadn't once gotten a lead, 2) The lowest scoring team in the regular season was outscoring Philadelphia, who were 8th place in goals per game and 3) Both teams defenses underwent difficulties in covering opposing players. In order for the Flyers to take control of their fate, they were going to need to get on the board first and maintain a lead along with getting more shots on Tuukka Rask. They also would need to feed off the energy of the crowd as Philly's fans are considered the most rambunctious and loudest in the NHL.

The Flyers also needed a few players to step up and contribute to the cause with those being mainly Scott Hartnell, who only mustered 2 points and had a -5 rating up till this point and Claude Giroux, who went pointless through the first two games and was easily the team's best player in their first round upset of New Jersey. The Flyers could use the help from rookie sensation James van Riemsdyk, who only has 1 point in the playoffs while collecting 11 shots and numerous point blank scoring chances.

Philadelphia gained an advantage early on when Arron Asham fired one past Rask just 2 minutes and 32 seconds into the game. The Bruins attempted to keep the puck in the offensive zone but Blair Betts broke up the play and shoveled the puck up to Claude Giroux leading to a 2 on 1 with Asham and a tally. Finally, the Flyers gained a lead in this series. As quickly as that thought entered the minds of the fans and commentators, Boston tied it up when a turnover from Lukas Krajicek led to a point shot that was deflected out in front by Blake Wheeler. The Flyers first lead of the series only lasted 1 minute and 39 seconds which wasn't a good sign for the rest of the game. As if to prove a point, Miroslav Satan gave Boston a 2-1 lead only a minute and 34 seconds after Wheeler's goal. For those of you that may have lost track, this all happened in the first 6 minutes of the game.

The activity slowed down in the second period with the edge in shots going to Philadelphia 15-9. The Bruins strong defensive play and the tremendous spectacle that was Tuukka Rask in net kept Boston in the lead.

Entering the third, Boston gained a powerplay to allow them to put this game away and take a 3 game series lead. Mark Recchi answered the call as he potted his 4th of the playoffs on the powerplay against his former team to give Boston a 3-1 advantage. The Flyers tried to claw their way back in as they gained two man advantages in the third but failed to score on either opportunity. The Bruins utilized the trap to maintain the lead and didn't allow Philadelphia to do much with the puck. The Flyers had a difficult time entering the offensive zone and at times had to circle in their own defensive zone to figure out a way to set up a breakout without getting pushed back. Needless to say, Boston commanded the third and gained more success with the trap against Philadelphia than the team that is famous for using the defensive style, the New Jersey Devils. That isn't much of a surprise seeing as the bench boss happens to be Claude Julien, a former New Jersey Devil head coach who always incorporated a defensive style.

Patrice Bergeron would add an empty netter to seal the Flyers fate on home ice and giving the Bruins a 3-0 lead in the series.

The Flyers looked defeated in the third once the Bruins buckled down defensively and one of the main reasons for that was Tuukka Rask. There is no doubt that Rask was a surprise this year, dethroning the reigning Vezina Trophy winner Tim Thomas in route to a 22-12-5 record and leading the league in goals against average and save percentage. Rask stood on his head in this game, turning aside 34 shots, a departure from the previous two games where Boston outshot the Flyers. The Bruins gained tons of momentum in the first half of the game because Rask was able to come up with big saves at key times and use his 6'3 frame to block anything Philly threw on the net, or near it for that matter. Without Rask, the Bruins might be in a different situation.

Even though they lost the battle and are at a disadvantage going into Game 4, there was a bright spot for the Flyers. It seems that Arron Asham provided the most energy for the team and has since Ian Laperriere's injury. Asham forechecked hard, threw his body into most of the Bruins players, including Zdeno Chara twice and knocking him over. Any hockey fan knows how hard it is to take down Chara so Asham accomplished plenty in this game. Asham also got on the scoresheet with the first goal of the game and was even rewarded with getting some playing time on the powerplay.

In what will be the most important game of the year for the Flyers, look for them to try and get ahead of the Bruins early and get traffic in front of Rask to pester him into giving up goals. An all around effort needs to be brought out by the Flyers and it's important that they use their speed and physicality to get past the defensive barriers set up by Boston. The powerplay also needs to improve having gone 2 for 13 thus far as opposed to 8 for 27 in their dismantling of the Devils in the quarterfinals.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Lucic's Late Game Heroics Propel Bruins to 2-0 Series Lead over Flyers

By: Tim Brennan

After what was an exciting finish for the first game of this series, the Bruins and Flyers needed to regroup for another go at it in Boston. Each team picked out each others weaknesses in exploding for a 9 goal game to set up the series. It couldn't have been a better ending for the Bruins as Marc Savard potted the game winner in overtime after the first round against the Buffalo Sabres and the final 18 games of the regular season due to a high blindside hit from Matt Cooke leading to a concussion.

So what could possibly be in store for fans and viewers in Game 2?

The Bruins went to the box early when Blake Wheeler committed hooking just 47 seconds in. The Flyers powerplay didn't capitalize however due to the strong penalty killing from the Bruins who allowed the Flyers to go through the neutral zone but pressured the puck carrier as soon as they got to the Bruins blueline. The Bruins would continue to use this throughout the game to shut down the playoff's best team with the man advantage.

The Bruins tallied soon after killing off the penalty as Johnny Boychuk fired a slapshot past Brian Boucher five minutes in. Just like almost every other playoff game this postseason, a referee kicked one of the centers out of the faceoff, in this case Mike Richards, leading to Scott Hartnell taking the faceoff against one of the best faceoff men in the postseason Patrice Bergeron. This disadvantage for the Flyers led to a clean win by Bergeron that gave Boychuk the opportunity for a quick shot before the Flyers forwards could pressure him. The Flyers would tie it up before the end of the first when Mike Richards worked his way from the corner to the slot and shot the puck over Tuukka Rask's shoulder. In the previous game, the Bruins gave up two goals because of poor defensive coverage and on the Richards goal, no one pressured the Flyers captain leading to the goal.

Neither team seemed to have an advantage over one another, with shots, scoring chances and hits around even. The Bruins were able to pounce on an opportunity when the Flyers were in the middle of a line change. Boston kept the puck in the zone, tiring the players who had wanted to get off but couldn't because of their responsibilities in the defensive zone. As the Bruins worked the puck around, Miroslav Satan found himself wide open at the top of the circle left to Boucher and let one go that squeezed through Boucher's leg pads.

The whipping boy from Game 1, Danny Briere, redeemed himself near the end of that game by tying the game up late. But Briere was scrutinized for his poor defensive coverage and lackadaisical play. The high priced center/wing picked the right time to prove his critics wrong when Briere fired a shot to the far top corner with 25 seconds left in the second period, knocking the wind out of the Bruins sail.

To keep the game tied in the third, both teams put on their best defensive efforts to cast aside any chances the other team mustered. The Bruins would outshoot Philadelphia 11-5 in the final stanza but the strong play defensively kept them deadlocked. The Flyers would have to kill two penalties during the middle stages of the third, which didn't help give them any offensive momentum and kept Philly on the defense. The Bruins once again chose a great time to pick apart Philadelphia when head coach Claude Julien sent out his best line in Game 2 of David Krejci, Miro Satan and Milan Lucic to match up against the Flyers' third line and weakest defensive pairing of Ryan Parent and Lukas Krajicek. Boston's big three cycled the puck around in the Flyers zone and caused the defenders to run around where Lucic picked up the bouncing puck and simultaneously turned and fired beating Boucher low and to the stick side.

The thing that makes this such a great moment for Lucic is the fact that the 2nd round pick from 2006 only played one game against the Flyers this season because of his injury woes and needed to pick up a goal to get the monkey off his back. Lucic plays a Flyers style game, hitting everything in sight and even checking players so hard they go flying through the glass (just ask Mike Van Ryn). Lucic is tailor made for this matchup because he provides the Bruins with energy and grit and seems to play better when facing more physical teams. The late tally only helped Lucic's confidence and look for him to produce more than he has in the first seven games.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Exciting Back and Forth Battle Leads to Bruins Taking Game 1 Over Philadelphia

By: Tim Brennan

Who could have known that the two teams who battled each other in this year's Winter Classic and shared similar ups and downs during the season would go head to head in the semifinals?

It's fascinating that these two teams ended up in the situation they find themselves in. Both teams are tough, physical teams who thrive on the rough stuff and are equipped with plenty of offensive weapons, sturdy defense and strong forechecking. Both teams also had a hard time staying consistent during the course of the year and high expectations were planted upon the Flyers and Bruins to dominate a weak Eastern Conference, seeing as Boston was the defending President Trophy winner and The Hockey News picked Philadelphia to win the Stanley Cup this year.

If anyone tracked their progress this year, they would be absolutely bewildered at how much of a step back these teams took. The Bruins went from being second in goals per game last season with 3.29 to this season where they ranked last in the league with 2.39, a significant drop off. The powerplay was mediocre this year, ranking 23rd at 16.6%, which is disappointing considering the personnel. A 10 game losing streak during late January to early February didn't help out the cause either. Throw in the departures of team cornerstone Phil Kessel, 20 goal scorer Chuck Kobasew, defensive minded forward P.J. Axelsson, faceoff expert Stephane Yelle, along with veteran defensemen Steve Montador and Aaron Ward and that spells trouble for a team's depth. It didn't help matters that power forward Milan Lucic missed 32 games due to several injuries that hindered his progression as an offensive force to be reckoned with.

The Flyers on the other hand were so inconsistent that their playoff hopes and aspirations came down to the final game of the season. The Flyers underwent stretches of extended losing streaks, recording 3 3 game losing streaks and a couple of 5 games. The team dug themselves a hole at the most critical time, going 14-12-3 in the final 3 months to barely keep them afloat above the Rangers and Thrashers. Philadelphia's curse with goaltenders continued this year as they allowed Martin Biron and Antero Niittymaki to walk and signed Ray Emery and Brian Boucher to replace them. Emery was brought in as a wild card and needed to prove himself so that he could get a job after his one year deal was up. The result of Paul Holmgren's gamble on the so-called "Team Killer"? A 29-16-11 record with 2.64 goals against average and .905 save percentage to go along with a penchant for giving up soft goals late in games and a late season injury that ruined his season. The Flyers would use 5 goaltenders this year, the best being waiver pickup Michael Leighton who picked up 27 wins in the orange and black before a season ending injury struck. The Flyers also had problems scoring in some games even though they have one of the most potent offenses in the league.

So it's safe to say that this matchup was suitable because of what both teams endured during the 2009-10 season.

The 6th seed Bruins and 7th seed Flyers brought everything to the table in Game 1: Fast pace, plenty of goals, large quantity of shots, odd man rushes, penalties and of course, a plethora of hits and physicality. The Bruins got on the board first when Steve Begin blasted home a rebound just 2:39 into the game. After a slew of chances from the Bruins, Patrice Bergeron added to the lead to make it 2-0.

The second stanza proved to be action packed after the Bruins dominate the first period. After leaving the penalty box, Mike Richards helped set up the Flyers first goal when his determination to get the puck led to Arron Asham feeding the point and Ryan Parent blasting one past Tuukka Rask. Dan Carcillo and Marc Savard were involved in a scrum in front of the net at 9:58 and Mike Richards was given an extra penalty for roughing. So on the ensuing powerplay, Miroslav Satan picked up a rebound and fired it past Boucher to give the Bruins a commanding 3-1 lead. With the crowd fired up and behind them, the Bruins gained the edge and all they needed was to continue battling in the dirty areas to pounce on rebounds. Chris Pronger had other plans when he took a one-timer that flew past Rask and in on the powerplay.

This wide open game continued on in the third as David Krejci dangled his way past Boucher to put Boston up 4-2 with less than 8 minutes left. The lead would only go so far when Mike Richards tallied, you guessed it, on the powerplay to keep Philadelphia in the game. The wheels on the Bruins wagon must have come off in the latter stages of the third because with 4 minutes to go, the Bruins allowed Danny Briere to sneak between two defenders and deke his way past Rask to tie the game up. Other than a weak second part of the third period, the Bruins kept Philadelphia in check. In the final seconds, the Flyers almost put the game in the basket as Arron Asham's long range shot surprised Rask, leading to a huge rebound and a possible scoring chance for Darroll Powe but the opportunity was thwarted by the quick stick of Rask.

The overtime session gave fans first class entertainment. Within the first two minutes of the extra stanza, Boucher faced 3 quality scoring chances that he was able to keep out of the net. The Bruins continued to fire anything on Boucher in hopes that he would let his guard down. Finally past the halfway point of OT, Marc Savard came in and fired a shot that handcuffed Boucher leading to a Bruins victory on home ice in Game 1. This couldn't have been a better moment for Savard after missing 24 games due to a Matt Cooke blindside hit to the head.

The return of Savard took the spotlight but the strong play of the goaltenders was a huge factor in this game. Rask stopped 32 shots while the Flyers MVP from their quarterfinal matchup, Brian Boucher put aside 41 shots. Another thing to take from this game was bad defensive coverage. Danny Briere was responsible for two of the Bruins goals as he wandered aimlessly and didn't pick up a player to guard, especially on David Krejci's third period goal because Briere was supposed to cover Krejci. The shuffling of the lines due to injuries to Jeff Carter, Simon Gagne and Ian Laperriere affected Briere the most because instead of his usual post on the right wing on the Carter line, Briere was centering a line by himself and his poor defensive coverage showed. On the other side, the Bruins didn't do a good job of picking up Mike Richards on his goal and were embarrassed by Danny Briere on the game tying goal as #48 squeezed himself in between two Bruins defenders, who decided to not lay a body or stick on him, and put it in.