Flyers on the Brink
After a 4-3 overtime loss to the Buffalo Sabres in game five of the first round, the hourglass is almost full for the Philadelphia Flyers. Sunday afternoon’s contest at HSBC Center is now do-or-die, and for a team with realistic hopes of a Stanley Cup run, it’s hard to believe that the season is on the brink. In last year’s unbelievable playoff run, the team found ways to win and the puck found ways to bounce their way. Through five games against Buffalo, that hasn’t been the case.
Buffalo has been the polar opposite. They won game one on an offensive contribution from an unexpected source in Patrick Kaleta coupled with Ryan Miller’s fantastic goaltending. Game four was much of the same from Miller as he notched yet another shutout. In that contest, it was Jason Pominville that gave the Sabres the only goal they would need for victory. In both games, it seemed that Miller had played his best and the break of the game went in the Sabres’ favor.
Game five was much more troubling. Goalie Brian Boucher let in two soft goals and then another and the team found themselves in a 3-0 hole heading into the second period. Despite a remarkable comeback to tie the game, it was Tyler Ennis that catalyzed the final horn as he beat Michael Leighton in overtime on a loose rebound. Even with Miller being beaten three times, the team wasn’t able to do enough to win. Despite excellent offensive play for 40 minutes, it wasn’t enough.
Maybe, this Flyers team just doesn’t have enough.
Maybe the goaltending quandary has reached the boiling point, with three goalies being used in five games. Maybe the two lapses in coverage in games one and four were unacceptable, and plays that Flyers fans will replay in their minds all offseason. Maybe the absences of Chris Pronger, Andreas Nodl and Jeff Carter are too much to overcome. Maybe.
There is also the possibility that the Flyers surprise their fans like they did last year a number of times on their road to the Stanley Cup Finals. They could win games six and seven and move on to the second round, despite the tough breaks and losing efforts through five games. Of course, game six will reveal much more about the series, and that’s what makes playoff hockey the intoxicating rush that it is. It’s do-or-die for the Orange and Black, and that’s the bottom-line.
As of Friday night, do-or-die had seen two very different results. One was the case of the Phoenix Coyotes, who not only faced a win or go home proposition in game four against Detroit, but very possibly a win or go to Winnipeg proposition. Detroit did as they had done in the three games prior and ended the series.
Then, there are the Chicago Blackhawks. Down 3-0 to the top seed Vancouver Canucks, the Blackhawks won games four and five. With their backs against the wall, they won two games. Philadelphia must do the same. At least the team that ended their hopes of raising the Cup last year has shown that it’s possible.
And what about the remaining Flyers from last year’s team? They stared the same deficit that Phoenix faced square in the eyes last year against Boston. Their series triumph went down in professional sports history, and many in the home locker room hadn’t forgotten it after their game five loss. The capability is certainly there for Philadelphia, but without execution, capability is moot.
The woeful power play will probably need to hit the back of the net in order for the team to have a chance. All strategy aside, it will take a change in something that has hurt them all series for the Flyers to be able to turn around their fortunes. One needs to look no further than play with the man advantage for what has hurt them the most thus far against Buffalo. Through five games, the team has gone 2/26 on the power play.
There is no perfect formula, no equation to success. Nowhere will someone find a blueprint for the Flyers to come back from the brink of elimination. But game six will be played nonetheless. And Flyers fans know better than to count their team out. The NHL knows better than to count them out. Buffalo is probably at the top of the list of teams (with Boston) that knows not to count Philadelphia out.
Game six will come and go tomorrow afternoon, and more will be revealed when the result is in the books. Either Buffalo will pull the seventh seeded upset that the Flyers did last year, or Wells Fargo Center will welcome a game seven on Tuesday. The boisterous orange crowd will bring their loudest if that’s the case.
On Easter Sunday, the Flyers have a chance to take a step forward towards the second round. Or, they will take a step back and look at one of the most disappointing playoff exits in recent franchise history. In a season full of injury reports, winning streaks and goalie cycling, it all comes down to a do-or-die game six.
It’s the beauty of sports, and the beauty of the NHL playoffs. And, although it doesn’t seem as real as it is at this point for this Flyers team, it’s the most succinct reality in sports.
Win and go home for game seven. Lose and go home as a disappointment.
Time will tell.