After losing both Game 4 and Game 5 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals to the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Flyers knew there was a great deal they needed to improve upon.
Their goaltending needed to be sharper, certainly, but they also needed to work on playing consistently for all 60 minutes and winning battles in even-strength situations. A number of the Flyers pointed to those facets of their game as issues that needed to be addressed before theyd be able to move on to the playoffs next round.
Scott Hartnell, however, assessed the circumstances a bit differently. The Flyers, Hartnell said last week, simply needed to put more effort into blocking shots. If they did, theyd find success.
At the time, the concept made enough sense all year, the Flyers have been at their best when theyve played strong defensively. But it almost seemed like somewhat of an afterthought. Yes, blocking shots is important, but was it really the difference-maker in the Flyers Game 5 defeat?
Considering the outcome of Game 6, if blocking shots and getting in the way of traffic wasnt the primary game changer Sunday afternoon, it was certainly one of the biggest.
In their commanding 5-1 Game 6 victory at the Wells Fargo Center that eliminated the Pens, the Flyers blocked 40 shots 30 more than theyd gotten in the way of in Game 5. Rookie Erik Gustafsson led the way with seven blocks, followed by Andreas Lilja, Braydon Coburn and Matt Carle, who each had six.
The traffic that they created in front of the Penguins offense was a huge part of what made the Flyers so successful for all 60 minutes of the game.
Whether or not Bryzgalov is injured, inconsistent or simply off his game, the Flyers can make his job easier by getting in the way of shots sent in his direction. They made a commitment to doing so ahead of Game 6, and, well, you saw the results.
It was something that was addressed, something that was brought up, and guys bought into that, Hartnell said. I feel confident in this group if we continue that effort, that sacrifice, that good things are going to happen for this club.
No matter who we play, weve got to take a look at this game and play the same way.
Before Sundays effort, the most shots they blocked this season was 28 which felt impressive at the time on Nov. 3 against New Jersey.
Bryzgalov, who stopped 30 shots in Sundays win, looked a lot better than he did in Game 4 and Game 5, but he hasnt looked much like the goaltender who occupied the Flyers net through March. He finished the series against the Penguins with a .871 save percentage and 3.89 goals-against average not exactly figures to write home about.
When your goalie plays well, you dont necessarily need to block shots every time, Timonen said. But a lot of teams are doing it, you look at the Rangers and how many shots theyre blocking and how they finished the season. But if theres a way we can help Bryzgalov, thats one way blocking shots and letting him see the puck.
With the absence of defenseman Nicklas Grossmann, who sustained a concussion in Game 4, the Flyers lost their primary shot-blocker, the player whos done the best job in getting in the way of shots since arriving in Philadelphia ahead of the trade deadline.
Grossmanns loss was felt heavily in Game 5 and it took all of the Flyers making a commitment to getting in the way of the Pens snipers to come out on top Sunday. They answered the call, clamping down on the Penguins offense once they got the early lead, and never letting up.
And if they want to continue playing into the spring, theyll have to keep it up.
Thats what you have to do, especially when you get the lead, Jaromir Jagr said. Some crazy bounces can happen, and you have to make sure you block the shots if you have the chance, because you can never know whats going to happen.