Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Fly With Us

The Flyers are 10 wins away from a Stanley Cup championship! Okay, that might be getting a little head of ourselves, but there's a lot to like about this year's Fly Guys. After a one year hiatus from the playoffs, a core of young, gritty players are ushering in a new era of Flyers hockey. Forwards like Mike Richards and Jeff Carter are leading the team at the ripe young age of 22, and I'm going to look forward to watching them skate against the likes of Crosby, Malkin, and Ovechkin over the next 10-15 years. Puck-moving defenseman Braydon Coburn is a future all-star, and in Martin Biron the Flyers have finally found a reliable playoff goalie. What has been their undoing in past campaigns has become their greatest strength, as Biron has outplayed both Washington's Cristobal Huet and Montreal's Carey Price thus far in the playoffs.

Last night's 3-2 victory over Montreal was everything you'd want from playoff hockey. After cobbling together a 3-0 lead in the 2nd period, the Flyers once again made the game more interesting than it had to be when Derian Hatcher was sent off for a boarding penalty. The Canadiens were awarded a 5 minute power play, and scored 2 goals on the suddenly fragile Flyers. All throughout the Wachovia Center, the Phaithful were thinking, not again. Game 1 was still fresh in our minds, a monumental collapse that robbed the Flyers of a pivotal game 1 victory.

That night, I was working late and couldn't watch most of the game. I finally got out around 9:30, and immediately left with my boss to find the game at a bar. Three bars later, we finally found an Australian joint that was showing the game on CBC. Mike Richards was heading to the box with less than a minute to go and the Flyers up, 3-2. The Habs scored the tying goal to send it into overtime, and then sent the Molson Centre crowd into a frenzy with the game-winner :48 into the extra period. In the span of 2 Stella Artois and less than 2 minutes of hockey, we had seen 2 goals and my hometown team blow a crucial, crucial game.

But the Flyers, as they did in the 1st round against Washington, bounced back. They jumped out to another lead in Game 2, and held on for the win this time. That brings us back to Game 3, with the Flyers up 3-2 with a healthy 12 minutes left to play. Montreal was whizzing around the ice, going on rush after rush with quick passes through the zone. Marty B had shown terrific form up to that point, but it seemed like only a matter of time before the Canadiens would tie the game. But the Flyers expertly killed the rest of that penalty, and played the kind of smart hockey than could potentially carry them to Stanley Cup glory.

One final observation - Versus kept showing the replay of Mike Richards faking a jab to the face of backup Canadiens' goalie Jaroslav Halak, as if to show what a dirty play it was. Watching the game with no sound, I didn't know what the commentators were saying, but I had no problem with the play. Richards embodies everything the Flyers represent as a franchise: toughness and machismo, with a bit of gooniness thrown in there. Ever since the days of Dave Schultz and Bobby Clarke, the Flyers have had the reputation of being a dirty, rough, imposing squad. Richards is the perfect combination of the Broad Street Bully past and the new-look, fast and furious Flyers. His faux jab to the face was more an intimidation tactic than a dirty play, and in the context of Tom Kostopoulis's punch to the back of R.J. Umberger's head in Game 2, it could barely be considered retaliatory.

Game 4 in Philly on Wednesday. Prediction: Flyers 5, Canadiens 3. Anyone got tix?

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