Commentary: Flyers running out of gas
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PHILADELPHIA -- The heart still beats.
The legs might be dead.
The Flyers skated off their own ice bent over and beat last night, conquered again by a Pittsburgh team that is now 11-1 in this postseason, a team that has made a parody of the parity the Eastern Conference standings seemed to suggest.
The margin between the second-seeded Penguins and sixth-seeded Flyers was seven points at the end of the regular season. The Flyers beat the Penguins five of eight times in the regular season.
It means nothing now. Not without Kimmo Timonen in the lineup, not without Braydon Coburn or with rookie Ryan Parent playing more than 18 minutes on defense, not with Steve Downie playing anything resembling a key role.
The Penguins have been the best team in these Eastern Conference playoffs by a large margin, able to get a big goal any time they have needed one, able to poison you with your own adrenaline and desperation. They are hotter and they are healthier, or at least they were until Downie pummeled Petr Sykora with a cheap shot well after Sykora assisted on the third goal in the Penguins' 4-1 victory last night -- a punctuation mark of their fate if ever there were one.
Downie's turnover led to that goal, the second time this series his presence has underlined how quickly a team's postseason confidence can evaporate into desperation. The rookie's insertion into the lineup was supposed to give the Flyers jump, not make them more jumpy. The last thing this team's depleted defense needs is the most skilled team in hockey coming at them in numbers.
But that's the description of this series, and the return of Coburn tomorrow will not alter that. That last night's game was even close entering the third period was a testament to the still beating heart of Mike Richards and Jeff Carter and Randy Jones and Mike Knuble.
Of the Flyers' 18 shots, Knuble and Carter split 10. Richards had 26 shifts, playing as if he were Alex Ovechkin, which in this series, maybe he is.
"I really liked the way Vinny [Prospal] and Danny [Briere], and Hartsy [Scott Hartnell] played tonight," Flyers coach John Stevens said, but Scott Hartnell was the only one of them who had a shot on goal. It's a reflection of the Penguins' depth as much as it is of any lack of desperation on their part. Even with the last change, the Flyers just aren't getting much room to operate this series.
They're also not getting sprung much by a depleted defense that is doing all it can to keep the Penguins' barrage of talent from setting tees in front of their net.
"Our puck-support execution is just, it's not where it needs to be," said Stevens. "And I think you have to give them some credit for it. They're checking us into turnovers. We're not executing with the pressure that we're receiving, and they're feasting on the turnovers."
At times in the second period it was like "The Matrix," Agent Smith coming in multiples of two, three, four, bouncing back into play over and over again. You went here, they were there. And when the puck did find your stick, something irregular always happened. Mike Knuble slid a puck through the goal crease behind Marc-Andre Fleury. Fleury fell awkwardly into his net and the jittery Flyers pushed the puck into his pads.
As well as Martin Biron played, that 2-1 score after two periods was attributable to the sweet tooth the Penguins' talented group of skaters displayed, trying too hard to feather that slam-dunk goal rather than firing it at the net, particularly in the second period.
Needing their best period of the series, the Flyers instead were outshot, 9-3.
"I mean, they're on a roll," said Stevens. "Can you just see it?"
Well, yeah. And the Flyers are out of ways to halt it.
First Published May 14, 2008 12:36 am