What happens when your two Conn Smyth trophy leading candidates – players who have carried your team on their backs in the first two rounds of the NHL Playoffs - don’t come to play?
You get embarrassed by a complete, real, team.
I wasn’t sure where to go with this story following the Philadelphia Flyers 6-0 schalaking of the Montreal Canadiens in Game One of their Eastern Conference Finals match-up. Maybe Chris Pronger and his amazing leadership matched with Norris Trophy type play, Michael Leighton establishing himself as a proven NHL goaltender night after night, or the inability to stop the Cookie Monster, Danny Briere in any playoff game, how about Claude Giroux becoming more and more of a superstar game after game or maybe even Simon Gagne and his superhuman acts.
So instead of picking one of those things, I’ll mix them all up, throw in some grit, secondary scoring and unsung blue line heroes along with the most important ingredient – togetherness.
There’s a quote in big block letter hanging on the wall when you enter the Flyers’ locker room.
It reads: You Play For The Crest On The Front Not The Name On The Back. And over the last week, could the Flyers play anymore ‘together’?
The total team-effort that the Flyers have been playing with in a system that makes you shake your head and wonder where it’s been – fans aren’t used to seeing a team play so together, with this much urgency, this much dedication, this much fight. It’s a team who counts on not just one or two individuals, but all 20 players on its active roster to get the job done – playing as one. It’s a team who has been battle tested through last October and has survival instincts through and through, able to overcome nearly anything. These Flyers are honoring the crest on the front of their sweaters; enough to make even the baddest Broad Street Bully proud.
Right now, the Philadelphia Flyers will be the Montreal Canadiens toughest opponent of these 2010 Playoffs.
The Flyers game-plan entering game one against the Canadiens was to get in the face of Jaroslav Halak with plenty of traffic, score dirty goals, and don’t let him get comfortable.
Halak didn’t even make it out of the second period and surrendered four goals on just 13 shots.
Defenseman Braydon Coburn, who has been a pleasant surprise in these 2010 Playoffs, got the scoring started after a scrum in front of Halak. Coburn is the third Flyers defenseman to open Philadelphia’s scoring in a series. Ryan Parent did it vs. New Jersey and Chris Pronger scored the first for the Flyers against Boston.
It was a total team effort Sunday night in South Philadelphia. Following Coburn’s PP marker, James van Riemsdyk scored off of a sick set-play on the face-off from Claude Giroux. With a two-goal lead, Danny Briere added to his Playoff domination, ripping a shot over Halak’s left shoulder to make it 3-0, then at the 9:53 mark, Simon Gagne added another power-play goal giving the Flyers a 4-0 lead.
How well did the Flyers execute the game-plan? There was a Flyer within a stick length of Halak on all four of the Flyers goals.
After Halak was chased and the ‘Ole’ chants started to pour down from the Wachovia Center faithful in a sarcastic mockery of Montreal, the Flyers added two more goals by Scott Hartnell and Claude Giroux.
Six Flyers’ goals; six different goal scorers; the ultimate indication of a team.
Montreal's point of view; sure, they’ve seen this before… or so they think.
In game one of the Pittsburgh series, the Habs surrendered four power-play goals, Halak was pulled after he allowed five goals on 20 shots and the Penguins rolled to a 6-3 win.
If you want to use the excuse and say the Canadiens have looked like this in the past, don’t let me hear it.
Montreal at least put up a fight in that game, they tried to battle the Penguins, last night, the Canadiens didn’t even give themselves a chance. They were dominated in every way possible. And the wave after wave of orange jerseys will continue. Sure, Montreal will be better in game two, but don’t think this Flyers team can’t get better as well. They were lucky to get out of the first period with a one-goal lead.
Goaltender Michael Leighton (3-0) kept the Flyers in the game and made strong saves throughout including the first period when the Canadiens outshot the Flyers 13-6.
In four games this postseason, Leighton has stopped 94-of the-98 shots he’s faced. He has compiled a .959 save percentage, 1.12 goals against and has one and a half playoff shutouts. He has a shutout streak of over 100:00 minutes.
And even more importantly, Leighton looks like a seasoned-veteran in net, cool, calm and relaxed. It’s obvious to see, he is an understudy of Carolina goaltender Cam Ward.
The Flyers will look to continue to their improbable postseason run Tuesday night when they host the Canadiens. I am sure the fans of Philadelphia will see a better effort from Montreal, and let’s hope so. There were points in the second and third period that the Flyers were so dominant and efficient that the Eastern Conference Finals became a bit boring.
NOTES: Flyers leading goal-scorer Jeff Carter, who they’ve been without since round one, skated today at practice. He is still considered a stretch according to Paul Holmgren to play in the Series, but on the flip, tough guy and total team player Ian Laperriere will return in the series and most likely replace rookie Andres Nodl, a HUGE boost for the Flyers. Why the USA chants? The Flyers are 83-22-4 when Kate Smith sings God Bless America before home games and if those Habs fans continue to boo during it, expect to hear more of those chants.