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.