Tuesday, April 26, 2011
Posted: 9 a.m.
By Jim Jackson
It all comes down to this. One game. One team advances and has its Stanley Cup dreams live on. The other goes home to wonder what might have been.
It really does not get any better than Game 7. As dramatic and tension-filled as the first six games of this Flyers-Sabres series have been, Tuesday night should surpass it. There is simply so much at stake. The finality of it makes it so.
As we get set for the 15th Game 7 in Flyers history, lets examine some of the many key issues that should come into play. It seems as though as this series has moved on, the subplots have multiplied.
Orange and black resilience
We have seen this particular core group of Flyers overcome many forms of adversity at this time of the year over the last several seasons. They have shrugged aside major injuries, questionable calls, bad bounces, etc. It comes with the territory in the playoffs.
However, this years group has also had to face three instances when the starting goalie has not made it to the start of the second period. Yet somehow, some way, they are within one win of moving on to the second round. Three different starting goalies have been pulled and the Flyers won two of those games and got to overtime in the other. This is incredible stuff!
These Flyers just plow ahead. Its almost as if they are oblivious to anything but the task at hand. Fall behind by two or three goals. No problem. Just keep plugging. They can never, ever be counted out as the Bruins found out so shockingly last spring. Resilience can carry a team a long way in the Stanley Cup tournament. The Flyers prove that time and time again.
Back to Boosh
The goaltending carousel has been on high speed in this series. It is giving the national media a field day of potshots about the Flyers goaltending over the years. In reality, the Flyers have received some darn good goaltending in playoff seasons past. Marty Biron was spectacular in 08 (he practically won the Montreal series by himself). Robert Esche was outstanding getting the team to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals in 04. Brian Boucher was tremendous as a rookie getting the club to within a win of the 00 Finals.
It is a gross over-generalization to say the Flyers goaltending has been the only reason they havent won a Stanley Cup since 1975. It simply is not the case. True, they havent had what observers call an elite goaltender in quite some time. But neither have most other NHL teams, including several of the recent Stanley Cup winners.
But after getting that off my chest, I must admit the goaltending in this particular series has been a huge issue. Ryan Miller has stolen at least one, maybe two games for Buffalo. Goaltending pretty much cost the Flyers Game 5. The play between the pipes is the main reason the Sabres still have a chance to win a series in which they have been seriously out-chanced.
For Game 7 its back to Boosh. As it should be. His trouble early in Game 5 sticks out like a sore thumb. But, he has also supplied solid netminding in Games 2 through 4 and Game 6. His postseason numbers overall are still tremendous. He wanted his shot at redemption for Game 5. He has it.
The Pronger principle
The Flyers snuck Chris Pronger into Game 6 under the radar. Just when there were reports that he was out for the series, there he was in the lineup in Buffalo.
His contribution in terms of actual time on the ice was minimal. He only played 4:33 and all on the power play. Still, he is one of those rare players that carries a presence with him that can be influential. Two days later, perhaps his hand has improved some more and he can supply more in terms of actual playing time on Tuesday.
Either way, it is a no-brainer to get him in there. Since the Flyers went with seven defensemen, Pronger was basically in the lineup for someone like Ben Holmstrom or Zac Rinaldo. Those youngsters would have seen no more than three or four minutes of ice-time. Dressing Pronger makes absolute sense.
Roy to the rescue?
Now, its the Sabres turn to dust a star player off and hope for a positive impact. Derek Roy, a slick forward who led Buffalo in points when he suffered a serious quad injury in December, is reported to be ready for Game 7. The Sabres are sure hoping he is good to go.
They are suddenly a depleted bunch up front with the loss of Jason Pominville and Tim Connolly to injuries in the last two games. Jochen Hecht is also rumored to have a chance for Tuesday. When Game 7s roll around, it is usually all hands on deck.
How much impact Roy and Hecht could have is the question. They are skilled players, but their timing will be off. Its possible their biggest influence could be in the emotional boost they give their teammates, similar to what Pronger could do for the Flyers.
The Sabres, led by head coach Lindy Ruff and goaltender Ryan Miller, lobbied hard for the NHL to suspend Flyers captain Mike Richards for his hit on Connolly in Game 6. Their pleas have fallen on deaf ears as Richards will play on Tuesday.
In reality, Ruff and Miller were doing what they should have. It made sense that they do or say whatever they could to try and gain an advantage for Game 7. Certainly having the oppositions captain ruled out of the game would have done that. Why not try to put pressure on the league in that direction? Add to that the emotional element of knowing that Connolly had been lost and its not hard to understand why the Sabres reacted the way they did.
Richards hit on Connolly was most definitely a boarding penalty. It was properly called a two-minute minor, which by the way, gave the Sabres a two-man advantage. It was a severe penalty in that sense. However, was it a deliberate intent to injure, deserving a major and a game misconduct or even a suspension? The league says no.
Take it all in Tuesday night. The Wells Fargo Center will be electric. If the Flyers win, they will have overcome some major obstacles to win a memorable series and take another step toward their goal of finishing some business from last season. If they lose, a first-round exit can only be termed hugely disappointing for a team with such great expectations.
Yes, the stakes are very high, as they should be for a Game 7.
E-mail Jim Jackson at email@example.com
Related: Flyers pregame notes: Thriving in adversity Buy Flyers Gear