View from Philadelphia: Flyers see the future, and it's all Penguins
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PHILADELPHIA -- There is something seriously wrong with a hockey team that blows a 3-0 lead, at home, in a playoff-elimination game. That part is easy.
Figuring out exactly what went wrong with the Flyers in their stunning collapse against the rival Penguins will be much harder. And that is the challenge that faces the franchise's leaders -- all of whom appeared shell-shocked after the team's sudden, breathtaking dismissal from the first round of the playoffs.
Instead of preparing for Game 7 in Pittsburgh tomorrow night, the Flyers are finished. Despite opening a three-goal lead in front of a frenzied sellout crowd, despite controlling play and riding a wave of momentum that went back to Game 2, despite a fan-pleasing fight won by tough guy Dan Carcillo, the Flyers are finished.
"It went against all the hockey rules," said Ed Snider, whose title is chairman of Comcast-Spectacor but who really is the patriarch of the Philadelphia Flyers.
It has been 34 years since Snider's team raised the Stanley Cup. It is going to be the length of Sidney Crosby's career before the Flyers win another one if some serious action isn't taken.
Snider said the team doesn't need major changes, just "tweaks" by general manager Paul Holmgren and coach John Stevens. Snider's comments mean both the GM and coach will return next season, and that is fine.
But, when Snider pointed out that the Penguins and Flyers have young stars at their cores, he didn't seem to appreciate the gap between those two cores.
Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are better than Mike Richards and Jeff Carter. That was never more glaring than in this stunning Game 6 collapse.
"We get a 3-0 lead," Stevens said, "it should be over. I thought Malkin and Crosby almost looked like they took the game over, to be honest with you. Malkin comes right out, and it seemed like he wasn't going to be stopped on that play."
It's true. Malkin charged the Flyers' net with the puck. He changed direction on a dime, took a shot, and then, while falling on his face, poked the puck loose in the crease. Ruslan Fedotenko got credit for the goal, but it was Malkin's play all the way.
Crosby scored the tying goal, batting the puck out of midair past Marty Biron. Finally, Malkin took advantage of another careless Flyers turnover, skated into their zone with the puck, and left a drop pass that Sergei Gonchar boomed for the winning goal.
"I think we lost our focus after we scored that third goal," Flyers center Danny Briere said. "All we had to do from that point on was just play solid hockey, not give them anything. We seemed to lose our focus."
That can't happen. Someone -- whether it's Stevens or Richards, the captain, or a respected veteran -- has to shake a team awake in that situation. But these Flyers have shown the ability to get lost in their own heads all season, and they did it again.
Richards played well for most of this series, including Game 6. He stole the puck in the first period and created the Flyers' first goal. He stole another one in the third and waited too long to shoot. The puck was knocked off his stick and a good scoring opportunity was wasted.
Carter was a cipher all series. He took plenty of shots, including some very good ones, but he wound up scoring just one goal. He made some mystifying turnovers, too.
Malkin, Crosby and Jordan Staal were better than Richards, Carter and Briere. Gonchar and Brooks Orpik were better than the Flyers' top defensemen, Braydon Coburn and Kimmo Timonen. Marc-Andre Fleury ultimately was slightly better than Biron.
.The future isn't bleak. It's blocked. The Penguins aren't going away. If the Flyers hope to get past them, it is going to take more than "tweaks."
Something serious -- personnel, chemistry, leadership -- has to be wrong for a team to blow a game this way. It's going to take something equally serious to fix it.
That, or enjoy sending the Penguins on to the next round every year.
First Published April 26, 2009 12:00 am