Rookies' inexperience could spell Flyers' end

654026.jpg

Rookies' inexperience could spell Flyers' end

The reason to love the Flyers going forward is the same reason why they can only go so far this spring.

Their rookies have scored 62 goals, helping them to the NHLs third-best team goal total and probably its most relentless shift-after-shift attack. These kids are good, fast, and perhaps just as important in a capped NHL will work cheaply over the next several seasons. With or without Chris Pronger, this nucleus can bring Philadelphia a long awaited Cup sometime over the next few springs.

For this one, though, we have our doubts. As sustaining as has been the play of Matt Read, Sean Couturier, Brayden Schenn and Eric Wellwood through four months of substandard goaltending and one of the leagues higher totals of man-games lost, a year from now these kids likely will be telling us there was no way their first NHL regular season could fully prepare them for their first playoff.

We wouldnt be in this situation if wasnt for the way those guys contributed through the course of the year, insisted Peter Laviolette Monday. I have absolutely no doubt that they are going to play a good hockey game for us.

From Ken Morrow to Patrick Roy to Jaromir Jagr to Laviolettes own Cam Ward in Carolina, the history of Stanley Cup winners is filled with rookie heroes. So perhaps there is strength in the numbers or in having only one first-year player Schenn playing on one of the first two lines Wednesday night in Pittsburgh.

Like Scott Hartnell said Monday, every team is only as good as its first line. But we have seen enough first lines choke from the scrutiny of game plans, fans and media to also believe that the only thing more important than a first line in the playoffs is scoring support from a second and third line. And going against a Pittsburgh team without a rookie, the first step of four for these Flyers, is going to be slippery.

Considering the entire NHL playoff experiences of Wayne Simmonds and Jake Voracek were one-time one-and-dones for Los Angeles and Columbus, the team resume doesnt report too many battle tests. The Flyers have exactly five forwards who have ever won a playoff series, going up against a team with 11 players who have won a Stanley Cup.

The Flyers have three: Jagr 20 years ago with Pittsburgh, Max Talbot with the 2009 Penguins and Ilya Bryzgalov, who played four playoff games for the 2007 Ducks. Thats a massive difference in experience that likely will overcome whatever doubts the Penguins sustained in substantially losing the season series to the Flyers, or the failure to beat them in a meaningful game at CONSOL Energy Center in the two years since it opened.

To a man, the Flyers marched in front of the microphones to announce the need for discipline against the team of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Obviously, this is the dominant talking point by Laviolette and his assistants. The Penguins, likewise, may feel they have nothing to fear but the Flyers potent power play, so indeed may the smartest team win. Pittsburgh has not played as carefully since Crosbys return, and of course, Philadelphia has a punchers chance.

The Flyers can get after you over the course of a game more than any team in the league, said an opposing coach. But I dont see the structure I see with most of the top teams.

Too many outnumbered breaks, too many guys left alone in the defensive zone. I dont know if you can win in the playoffs that way.

The defensive play got better over the last month with the acquisition of Nick Grossmann, his badly needed physicality and shot blocking working hand-in-hand with an improved Bryzgalov. The vise will have to crank one full rotation tighter to beat Pittsburgh, Boston or the Rangers, much more mature teams than the ones the Flyers beat on their 2010 Final run.

This series is going to be decided by decisions at the blue lines. And the Penguins have a much longer track record for making good ones.

Jay Greenberg covered the Flyers for 14 years for the Daily News and Evening Bulletin. His history of the Flyers, Full Spectrum, was published in 1996. He can be reached at jayg616@aol.com.

NHL Notes: Predators' P.K. Subban rides whirlwind to Stanley Cup Final

NHL Notes: Predators' P.K. Subban rides whirlwind to Stanley Cup Final

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- It has been an extraordinary 11 months for P.K. Subban.

The defenseman moved from the Eastern Conference to the Western Conference. Left his native Canada to live in the American South. Blended in with new teammates, created a new home and learned a new system of money, too.

Oh, and along the way the former star for the Montreal Canadiens played a key role in Nashville's stirring run to the Stanley Cup Final.

The best way to sum up Subban's approach? C'est la vie.

"I just tried to have the right attitude when change comes my way," Subban said. "I think when you have an open mind, an open mind is like a gold mine. You just have an open mind, you can only go up from there regardless of what comes your way and just always try to approach things in a positive way."

The Canadiens and Predators shocked the NHL last June 29 when Nashville swapped captain Shea Weber for Subban in a rare one-for-one trade of All-Star defensemen. Adding Subban's offensive skills immediately made the Predators a popular pick to be right where they are now as the Western Conference champions.

The stylish Subban has as much flair on the ice with his goal celebrations as off with his hats and stylish suits. The Predators and their fans have embraced all of it.

"When it happened, I came in here with the right attitude and just wanted to be a part of this team and do whatever I can do to help a team win," Subban said (see full story).

Penguins: Team rides maturity, resilience back to Cup Final
PITTSBURGH -- Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Chris Kunitz stood shoulder to shoulder at center ice as midnight approached, crowd on its feet, Prince of Wales Trophy in hand. Another shot at the Stanley Cup in the offing.

On the surface, it could have been a scene ripped from 2008 when the longtime Pittsburgh Penguin teammates earned their first crack at a championship together, the one that was supposed to be the launching pad for a dynasty.

A closer look at the weary, grateful smiles told a different story.

This team has learned over the last decade that nothing can be taken for granted. Not their individual greatness or postseason success, even for one of the NHL's marquee franchises. Not the cohesion it takes to survive the crucible of the most draining championship chase in professional team sports or the mental toughness (along with a dash of luck) needed to stay on top once you get there.

So Crosby paused in the giddy aftermath of Pittsburgh's 3-2 victory over Ottawa in Game 7 of the helter-skelter Eastern Conference finals to do something the two-time Hart Trophy winner almost never does. He took stock of the moment, aware of how fleeting they can be.

"Every series you look at, the margin for error is so slim," Crosby said. "We've just continued to find ways and different guys have stepped up. We trust in that and we believe in that and whoever has come in the lineup has done a great job. That builds confidence. We've done it different ways, which is probably our biggest strength" (see full story).

NHL Playoffs: Penguins beat Senators in 2OT of Game 7 to reach Stanley Cup Final

NHL Playoffs: Penguins beat Senators in 2OT of Game 7 to reach Stanley Cup Final

BOX SCORE

PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Penguins are heading back to the Stanley Cup Final.

Chris Kunitz beat Craig Anderson 5:09 into the second overtime to give the defending champions a 3-2 victory over the Ottawa Senators in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference final Thursday night.

Kunitz scored twice, his first two of the playoffs. Justin Schultz added the other in his return from an upper-body injury, and Matt Murray stopped 28 shots on his 23rd birthday.

The Penguins are trying to become the first team since the Detroit Red Wings in 1998 to win back-to-back titles. They will host Western Conference champion Nashville in Game 1 on Monday night.

Mark Stone and Ryan Dzingel scored for Ottawa. The Senators rallied twice to tie it, with Dzingel making it 2-2 with 5:19 left in regulation.

Craig Anderson made 39 saves, but couldn't get a handle on Kunitz's shot from just outside the left circle. The Senators are 0-6 in Game 7s in franchise history.

The Senators forced a return trip to Pittsburgh -- where they lost 7-0 loss in Game 5 on Sunday -- by leaning heavily on Anderson in a 2-1 Game 6 victory, putting both teams at odds with history.

Ottawa came in 0-for-25 years in winner-take-all games, while the Penguins were 0-7 in Game 7s at home in series in which they also dropped Game 6.

Ottawa coach Guy Boucher told his resilient team to not get caught up in the big picture but instead focus on the small ones, a recipe that carried the Senators throughout a bumpy transition under their first-year head coach to the brink of the franchise's second Cup appearance.

The Penguins, trying to become the first defending champion to return to the finals since Detroit in 2009, came in confident they would advance if they could replicate their dominant Game 6, when they were undone only by Anderson's brilliance.

Pittsburgh has been nearly unflappable in the face of adversity under Mike Sullivan, going 12-2 in playoff games following a loss over the last two springs. He encouraged his team to "just play," code for fighting through Ottawa's neutral zone-clogging style and the bumping, grabbing and pulling that comes along with it.

A chance to play for their sport's ultimate prize on the line, the sheets of open ice the Penguins found so easily in Games 4-6 closed up. For most of the first 30 minutes, loose pucks hopped over sticks to spoil some scoring opportunities while Anderson and Murray gobbled up the rest.

Kunitz, relegated to the fourth line since returning from injury in the second round, picked up his first postseason goal in a calendar year when he completed a two-on-one with Conor Sheary -- a healthy scratch in Games 5 and 6 -- by slipping the puck by Anderson 9:55 into the second period.

The momentum lasted all of 20 seconds. Ottawa responded immediately with Stone -- who stretched his left skate to stay onside -- fired a wrist shot that handcuffed Murray.

Pittsburgh kept coming. Schultz, returning after missing four games with an upper-body injury, zipped a shot from the point through Kunitz's screen and into the net with 8:16 left in the third.

Once again, the Penguins could not hold the lead. Dzingel set up at the right post and banged home a rebound off Erik Karlsson's shot that hit the left post and caromed off Murray's back right to Dzingel's stick.

Notes
The home team is 21-20 in overtime Game 7s in NHL playoff history. ... Pittsburgh F Patric Hornqvist skated during warmups, but was held out of the lineup for a sixth straight game with an upper-body injury. ... Karlsson had 16 assists in the playoffs to set a team record. ... The Penguins are 10-7 in Game 7s. ... It was the fifth one-goal game of the series.