After a series where they dominated Stanley Cup favorite Pittsburgh Penguins in six games, the Flyers were flying high. They waited almost a week to find out their second round opponent, the New Jersey Devils who struggled in their series against the Florida Panthers, winning in overtime in game seven. Many experts picked them to cruise easily to the Eastern Conference Finals
The rust was apparent, as New Jersey took a 1-0 lead three minutes into game one, but the Flyers battled back and won in overtime. It looked like Philadelphia was in control of the series as they lead game two through two periods before imploding and losing 4-1. The Devils have imposed their will on the Flyers for most of the series since late in game two. What could be the reasoning that the Flyers haven’t seemed like their dominant selves from the past series?
Maybe the team is beat up, injured? Most players in the NHL playoffs are hurt to some degree. Ilya Kovalchuk, for example, sat out game two with a reported herniated disc. He returned for game three, scored a goal and assisted on two, including the overtime game winner. After teams are eliminated, we see long lists of players who need various surgeries. Injuries aren’t a great excuse at this time of year.
Perhaps the team is fatigued? They’ve been losing puck battles and are being outskated. Coach Peter Laviolette cancelled practice Monday, perhaps in an effort to rest some of his weary warriors. However, this is the same team that has only played four games in the last 15 days. They seemed fine in game one, just one week ago.
It’s been pointed out that the ice at Prudential Center was awful. On the nights before both games three and four, there were concerts (Bruce Springsteen and the Red Hot Chili Peppers) resulting in the less then stellar ice. But both teams had to play on this ice and the Devils don’t seem to be hindered by it much.
Some have pointed the finger at goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov, but the Flyers goalie has been arguably the best player for the orange and black in this series. Despite allowing three or more goals in every game this series, he’s stopped 120 shots (.902). Many of the Devils goals he hasn’t had much help from the Flyers’ skaters.
It’s possible the Devils haven’t let the Flyers get comfortable. In game four alone, they forced 20 Flyers giveaways. They seem to always be around the puck, no matter which zone it is in. They’re winning races to the puck. When a Devil is wide open, even for a split second, they’re capitalizing. Their power play only has three goals, but they have been important, such as game four’s answer to Claude Giroux’s short handed goal. The Devils have capitalized on their chances and that’s a big reason they’re leading this series.
Perhaps the Flyers felt like beating Pittsburgh was their Stanley Cup; that they exerted so much energy into beating their rivals and were almost content with that series victory. Whatever the case may be, the real Stanley Cup might be out of their grasp if they don’t turn it around.