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.

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