For 82 games the Philadelphia Flyers have been the model of inconsistency. Just ask any player in that locker room after every loss this season and they’ll reiterate the exact same thing.
For the Flyers to eliminate the New Jersey Devils in this first round they have to be more desperate than they have been all season. I know, it’s almost become a common cliché with this hockey club all season with that whole desperation thing.
The playoffs; however, are a different animal. Anyone who knows hockey or even watches from afar realize the intensity of postseason puck. It’s a new season. A new opportunity for every club who earned a chance to be in the dance. Every team vying for the same thing, Lord Stanley’s Cup.
Good news for the Flyers, they have a guy who knows a thing or two about hoisting a cup and what it takes to win it all.
“The playoffs are more physical, so you need to play more physical, said Flyers defensemen Chris Pronger. “You’re trying to grind and wear down the other team, and play hard on their top players and wear on them. You may not get them in Game 1. You may not get them in Game 2. But, hopefully by Game 5 or 6 the price that they have to pay to get to those tougher areas has taken its toll.”
“I think we all understand that the regular season is a long grind, and when you get to the playoffs it’s even more of a grind and even harder. You start with 16 teams and it whittles down pretty quickly. You have to be prepared to leave it all on the ice each and every shift, said Pronger. “Each shift is very important, from momentum, to not allowing your opponent to get an inch out there. You have to have that war mentality. There are little battles all over the ice, but you need to win those to win the war.”
The Flyers have to do to legendary goaltender Martin Brodeur what they’ve done to him all season. Pester and shoot the puck. The Flyers were 5-1 against their division rivals and look to garner the same confidence they had in those six games during the regular season.
“Whenever we play the rivals, we seem to play well,” said Flyers captain Mike Richards. “It seems our great games this year have been against them. [That first] game up there gave us some confidence in their building, a place that in the past, we haven’t had a whole lot of success.
The problem being Brodeur himself. The NHL’s all-time leader in almost every statistic belonging to a goalie, can beat a team all on his own. Although, he hasn’t had the most glorious of seasons this year, Brodeur has won three championships and knows how to handle the constant grind of the playoffs.
“He’s the type of player who can win a game himself,” said longest tenured Flyer Simon Gagne.”We know how important it is for Jersey to have Marty Brodeur in net. Maybe we had success in the season against him, but it’s a new season … the playoffs …”
Gagne is spot on. It’s the playoffs, remember when I said its a new beginning? For Flyers fans, they better hope that Brodeur doesn’t develop that itch again. That itch could signal the worst possible outcome for this Flyers squad.
On the other end of the spectrum, the Flyers have Brian Boucher. Inconsistent at best during his run as the starting goaltender this year. However, Boucher has put on a few stellar performances in the past three weeks to help this team stay afloat and make the playoffs.
“We’re getting a lot of confidence playing in front of him and he’s making the big saves at big times in the games,” added Richards. “He’s been our best penalty-killer, and [held] us in the hockey games a lot of times. That’s what you need your goaltender to do, and he’s been doing it.”
Boucher put on a goaltending clinic the last time he faced off against the Devils way back in 2000 in a tough series loss. If Boucher can somehow channel that series into his current mindset the Flyers should be in good hands.
Overall, the Flyers have to bear down and use every ounce of desperation they consume to come out winners in this series. The Flyers know how to get in the head of Brodeur, so they have to attack his crease right off the jump. For the Devils, they have to put together strong quality scoring chances on Boucher. If the Devils can utilize their talented scorers in Ilya Kovalchuk and Zach Parise to create quality opportunities, it’s going to be a long series for Philadelphia.
Finally, I think the big-time money players for the Flyers will show up and prove their worth. Look for Richards and Pronger to lead by example on the ice. Guys like Danny Briere, Gagne, and Jeff Carter need to once again find their scoring ways. If the Flyers can accomplish that, its one and done for the New Jersey Devils.
Chris’ Pick: Flyers in six games.