Sunday, April 17, 2011
Posted: 12:33 p.m.
By Jim Jackson
Well, so much for trends. You would have to think long and hard to find two games more different than Games 1 and 2 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinal matchup between the Flyers and Sabres. Game 1 was tight and tense. There was little room for players to work with. Only one goal was the result. Game 2, however, was wild and crazy. Six goals in the first period alone. Power plays galore.
With the first two contests so different, it is kind of difficult to predict what Game 3 will be like. Nevertheless, lets look at some of the developments from Game 2 with respect to what they might mean as the series moves forward:
Blossoming on the big stage?
An argument can be made that 21-year-old James van Riemsdyk has been the Flyers best player through the first two games of this series. He has been involved physically, which is usually the barometer of how the rest of his game is going. The guy they call JVR is using his tremendous skating ability, his developing creativity, and some good old fashioned tenacity to resemble the power forward the Flyers were hoping to get when they selected him with the second overall pick in the 2007 draft.
Its possible van Riemsdyk is blossoming under the harsh glare of the postseason spotlight similarly to the way Claude Giroux and Ville Leino did last spring. However, the key is for van Riemsdyk to establish some consistency with his impressive performance. We have seen some glimpses of his potential over the last two years, but then he fades into the background for a spell.
If he maintains this level of performance for the balance of the playoffs, he will be well on his way to establishing himself as a legitimate top six forward in the NHL.
Let the goaltender carousel begin
The Flyers proved last season that they can go on a long postseason run without relying on just one netminder. Injuries led to much of the transition last year, but the fact is, both Brian Boucher and Michael Leighton played substantial roles in getting the club to within two victories of the Stanley Cup.
This time around, Sergei Bobrovsky gave way to Boucher in the second game of the playoff run. After a frenetic start to Game 2, Boucher seemed to bring a certain calm to the proceedings. He stopped 20 of 21 Buffalo shots and helped the Flyers recover and even the series.
No announcement will be made per Peter Laviolettes policy, but one has to imagine Boucher will get the call for Game 3. Hell be the guy as long as continues to perform well. Leighton is looming in the background, too. As long as the designated starter makes the key saves, he will continue to play. Maybe it will be a group effort again.
Much of the talk after Game 1 was the massive problem the Flyers faced denting the seemingly impenetrable wall that was Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller. One game and five goals later, it does not seem like as much of a dilemma.
The Flyers fired a ton of rubber at the reigning Vezina Trophy winner. They have sent almost 140 pucks in his direction in the first two games, 69 of which have been on goal. Especially in Game 2, they have spent a lot of time in and around the blue paint of Millers crease. No matter how good a goalie is, that kind of traffic is disruptive and can knock him at least slightly off his game.
Futhermore, the Flyers spent much of the season as an explosive offensive club. Their offense has been spotty over the last little while. Potting five against a world class goalie in a critical playoff game should help to reestablish their attack mojo.
A power-play goal
I know. Big deal, they scored a power play goal in Game 2. But it took the Flyers 10 opportunities!
Still, it was a huge goal with the man-advantage tally in a game decided by just one goal. Without the Leino power-play marker, who knows how the game on Saturday turns out?
At least they got rid of the oh-for. Now, perhaps the Flyers can build on their first power play goal and make it an asset instead of an albatross as this series plays out. In reality, the Flyers generated quite a few chances with their man advantages. They hit some posts and made Miller work some. Perhaps its a sign the power play is about to start producing consistently.
The defense never rests
With so much special teams play in Game 2, and Danny Syvret only logging 4:58, the minutes started to pile up for the latest version of Philadelphias Big Four on defense. Andrej Meszaros (26:04) and Kimmo Timonen (25:18) both saw extensive ice time in Game 2. Both were absolute horses.
However, over the course of a long series, there are concerns about wear and tear on these guys. This has been a physical series thus far. Theres no reason to believe it will get any less physical in Buffalo. Can the defensemen hold up? Or will Chris Pronger ride in on his white horse and lend assistance at some point?
So, we shuffle off to Buffalo for the next two games. Who knows what to expect? The one thing we do know is that the Flyers were an outstanding road team during the course of the season. They won a club record 25 games away from home. There should be plenty of confidence that they can, at the very least, split the two games at HSBC Arena, and return home with the series even at worst.
E-mail Jim Jackson at email@example.com