A lot of you were prepared for this. I read it in the comments here and on other hockey forums. You kept telling yourself “After ten minutes, I’ll know which team shows up for this game.” You were referring to the Jekyl and Hyde that is the Philadelphia Flyers. Would the team that backed into the playoffs while losing home ice and seeming disinterested face the Penguins in Game 1 of Round 1, or would the tenacious team with 6 twenty plus goal scorers that beat the Penguins and Devils a few weeks back show up? That answer can be derived from the 4-1 final score in favor of the Penguins. But along with that sobering bit of bad news, there’s always a silver lining.
Truth be told, you didn’t have to wait 10 minutes to know which Flyers team was set to face the Penguins. At 4:41 of the first period, the most hated of all Flyers killers, Sid the Kid, notched a power play goal that will be scrutinized for quite some time. It all began with Malkin dishing a pass out front to a cutting Crosby. Sid kicked the puck from his skate to his stick, past Biron, off the post… back off Biron and into the net.
“Upon further review, the puck was not kicked in with a distinct kicking motion.” This was Van-whosit-whatsits’s call that gave the Pens the early lead. First of all, if there was no distinct kicking motion, you’re fooling yourself. I’ve read quite a few post-game comments from Pittsburgh fans saying it was a hockey stop or it was directing, not kicking. Crosby was KICKING the puck to his stick with the intentions of shooting the puck in. Now, as a Flyers fan who thinks the goal wasn’t good… you’re also delusional. While Donnie Van-Mass might have given an invalid or incorrect reason for the goal standing, word from the War-Room and further inspection gave alternative reasons for the 1-0 lead. Some say it hit his stick “ever so gently.” The rest of you will take notice of the puck hitting the post and then nicking off of Biron’s pad and going in.
What may have been more controversial was the call that gave the Penguins the power play to begin with. Aaron Asham, at the end of his shift tapped the arm of a passing Penguin and was called for hooking. When Billy Clement says its weak, you know its weak. But regardless, when you’re the most penalized team in the league, you gain a reputation, and all those seeds the Flyers planted during the regular season are appearing to bloom. Despite the fact they didn’t show up till late in the first period and despite the fact they took three minor penalties, the Flyers left the 1st down by one goal.
I have to say that I was more impressed with the Penguins’ third line than the ones that were centered by the league’s top two points getters. Staal in particular gave the Flyers fits throughout the game and skilled pest Tyler Kennedy scored on a 3 on 1 to make the score 2-0. The second period was actually a good one for the Flyers and as it progressed it seemed the ice was slowly but surely tipping in their favor. But a common theme of the Flyers’ season returned in the form of bad bounces and bad penalties. Any time the team gained momentum, something would happen to force them back on their heels. One instance in particular, a goalie interference penalty on Scott Hartnell comes to mind. To be completely honest… I thought this one was also weak. Hartnell crashed the net and got a decent shot off, and was shouldered into “MAF” by Kris Letang. In retrospect, I wish Hartsy had gotten a little more bang for his buck, knowing that his team would eventually lose the game.
Mike Knuble’s attempted wrap around the boards paved the way for Pittsburgh’s third goal, basically ending the game. The puck took a funny bounce right out in front of a bewildered Biron. The league’s top scorer and potential MVP was there to collect it, delay, and slip a backhander into the yawning net. This came just after the announcers had mentioned that they HADN’T mentioned Malkin’s name in forever, which further solidifies the point that both Crosby and Malkin, each with an goal and assist, didn’t have their best games. And they didn’t need to. Add former Flyer/current Penguin Mark Eaton’s goal for good measure, and you have a 4-0 game.
Mike Richards provided the only real Flyers offensive threat in this game, which kinda reminds you of the way last year’s eastern conference final ended up. All told, he hit three posts, with the last one leading to a power play rebound shot and score by Simon Gagne. Yay… no shutout for the Pens fans to boast over. Throw in a smidge of final minute tomfoolery and penalties and that was pretty much the game.
Kimmo Timonen looked gimpy, courtesy of a Charlie horse from early in the game. You have to know he’s a target of the Pens forecheckers, just like Gonchar will be for ours. To see him limping around EARLY in the first period was not a good sign. Another concern for the Flyers has to be that both Crosby and Malkin had okay games, but are both capable of much more damage. That being said, Philadelphia STILL lost the game 4-1. Not a good sign. The biggest bit of bad news I received was when I watched Game 2 of the Vs double header, Vancouver/St. Louis. If you wanted to see what playoff intensity means, watch that game. It was physical, fast, and exciting. I realize the score was not in our favor last night, but even more than that, the game wasn’t all that interesting. This malaise that the Flyers have suffered from during their most inconsistent stretches in the regular season was present in Game 1.
The Flyers lost game one in all three series last year. Two of them they went on to win. Also, there is room for improvement. It isn’t like the Flyers played their best game and still couldn’t beat the Penguins. They played a so-so game and for the most part were losing by 2 goals. I also thought the play of Biron was somewhat encouraging. Three of the four goals he has absolutely no chance, with the second goal trickling through his five hole. Replays show the puck deflected off Matt Carle, but you’d still like to see Marty keep it 1-0 at that point. Biron faced a lot of shots from the Pens in the slot and was up to the task. It must be encouraging to say “Biron didn’t lose us game 1…” right?