NEWARK, NJ -- It was a short conversation. Peter Laviolette didnt seem like he was in the mood for chit-chat, idle or otherwise. It was hard to blame him.
It was a few hours before the Flyers faced the Devils in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference semifinals at the Prudential Center on Thursday. That was unusual in itself to have an interview so close to the time the puck was scheduled to drop. Thats probably not any coachs idea of a good time, to take a break and engage the media right before a big game. Compounding matters, there werent a whole lot of new questions to ask Laviolette that hadnt already been asked the day before or the day before that. He knew it. The reporters knew it. The NHL PR handlers in the room knew it. Everyone knew it.
The question-and-answer session, such as it was, lasted barely two and a half minutes as a result. Most of the queries were strained; most of the replies were gruff and truncated. At the end, Laviolette was asked about which team was more desperate to win the game.
I dont know about desperation, Laviolette said. I dont know what switch you turn on. No one wants to go down 2-1 in this series.
It was a simple, quick retort and yet there was raw and real truth to it, even if the exchange was painfully obvious (and just plain painful) for everyone involved.
No one wants to go down 2-1 in this series.
They didnt want it. It happened anyway. The Devils won 4-3 in overtime to take a 2-1 lead in the series (see game recap).
The Flyers had two power play opportunities in overtime. Neither of them produced the game winner (see story). The Flyers power play has been almost as bad against New Jersey as it was good against Pittsburgh, which has everything to do with why the Devils are suddenly comfortable and the Flyers are anything but.
Were down 2-1, I guess the pressure is on us, Claude Giroux said.
Yeah. You could say so. In their history, the Flyers are 7-19 when trailing a series 2-1.
Theres no guy on this team thats going to quit, Giroux insisted. Its going to be a wake-up call to have a good series now. Theyre a good team. They can score goals. They can play good defensively. I think we need to wake it up a little bit.
Laviolette tried to wake it up a little bit by changing three of his four lines, shuffling his players like cards in a deck in the hope of getting a better, winning draw (see story). Maybe Laviolette saw something he thought the Flyers could exploit against New Jersey, or perhaps the tinkering was due to what he didnt see in the first two games. Afterward, Lavoilette said he was just trying to loosen things up.
You wonder now what else Laviolette might try, and you wonder this, too: is it possible that the Flyers underestimated the Devils, maybe just a little? New Jersey finished only one point behind the Flyers in the regular season standings. Laviolette and his guys know full well how good and dangerous New Jersey can be. And yet, after such a dramatic and emotional series against the Penguins, it would have been all too natural, all too human, to exhale for a moment.
Jakub Voracek, who was part of Laviolettes line experiments and played with Giroux and Scott Hartnell, insisted the Flyers knew it was going to be a tough series." But then, in the very next breath, he conceded that everyone thought it was going to be swept. We were the big favorites."
The Flyers were the big favorites in Philly and in Vegas and pretty much everywhere but North Jersey. They arent the big favorites any longer.
The Devils played all sorts of songs on Thursday, many of which were bad hair metal tracks that pandered to the Prudential Center crowd. (Theyre evidently still living on a prayer up here.) One of the tunes the Devils pumped into the sound system carried a not-so-subtle message about whats unfolded in the series. It was by a group called The Heavy. How you like me now? the band kept asking. No one replied. No one had to. The answer, much like the one Laviolette gave before the game began, was obvious enough.
E-mail John Gonzalez at firstname.lastname@example.org