Phairy Tale v. Conte de fées
That’s the only word that I feel comfortable using to describe what transpired over the last nine days to the Philadelphia Flyers. It’s also probably the only word to describe what transpired in game seven. The only thing that is believable is the result of what transpired. And even that is only believable because I read that it actually happened. Either way, the reality is simple, the Flyers are headed to the Eastern Conference Finals to face Montreal.
Enjoy the history-making series victory while you can Flyers fans; soak it up right up until the puck drops on Sunday at 7:00 if you want. Enjoy it, but realize it’s only a step on the long and arduous journey. Next up is facing the equally surprising Montreal Canadiens. So, apparently in the Never-Never Land that is the Eastern Conference, Cinderella will battle Cinderella? For a trip to the ball? How does that work?
Montreal, the lightly regarded eighth seed who backed into the playoffs in the season’s final weekend has toppled the Goliaths of Ovechkin, Crosby and Malkin on their way the Eastern Conference Finals. They have been incredibly efficient offensively throughout the playoffs, making the most of seemingly every opportunity that they create. Jaroslav Halak has been nothing short of remarkable, heading the list of Conn Smythe candidates thus far. Both of their series have gone seven games, and they performed admirably each time. To take down the Penguins and Capitals, you have to be very talented and disciplined, and this Habs team exemplifies both adjectives to the fullest. Their defense has been awe-inspiring, and if Andrei Markov can play this series (which I assume will be the case), they will only get more sturdy and stingy in their own zone. Spacek, Gill, Gorges, Markov, Subban, and Bergeron’s vicious point blast? Gawd. The Habs game plan is simple, Halak shows up and seats himself in the Dryden/Roy throne, the defense limits good opportunites, and they wait for excellent chances. When they get them, they capitalize. Their combination of picking their spots on offense and special teams while playing solid defensively can be maddening, and in some cases, downright backbreaking. In fact, I feel that if the Habs defense had guarded Rue Sainte-Catherine on Wednesday night, damage would have been minimal and they may have even found a way to frustrate the loot out of the looters. Yes, their defense is that good.
Philadelphia, the seventh seed that needed a shootout victory over the New York Rangers on the final day of the season to even MAKE the playoffs also has a pretty decent case to be Cinderella. The team has had three different goaltenders see significant time this season, with the current goalie Michael Leighton being a waiver-wire pickup earlier this season to become a backup after Ray Emery went down with a hip injury. Leighton led the team to the playoffs only to get hurt and make way for Brian Boucher to reclaim the job. Boucher was outstanding down the stretch as well as against New Jersey in the Conference Quarterfinals before being injured in game five against Boston. He was injured 23 games after Leighton went down with a high ankle sprain. Leighton was deactivated for 22 games. Luck? Hey, sometimes you have to have it. With Leighton in net, the Flyers became the fourth professional franchise in sports history to come back from a 3-0 deficit in a playoff series to win. On top of that, they came back from a 3-0 deficit in game seven to come back from a 3-0 deficit in the series (whew, that felt like a sentence that would never stop repeating). They are playing without their best penalty killer in Ian Laperriere, as well one of their best goal scorers in Jeff Carter (yes, it pained me to type that). This team was once in 14th place in the Eastern Conference, changed coaches in the middle of the season, dealt with rumors of (or actual) locker room disconnections throughout and yet, they found a way to get within four wins from Lord Stanley’s finals.
Where does all of this leave the glass slipper? Is Cinderella the team that has defeated Goliath twice on her way to the finals? Or the team that just made one of the most historic comebacks in the history of professional sports? Is it the team with the green goalie who has been unstoppable? Or the team with the waiver wire journeyman goalie with a shot at finishing what he started? The team who made the playoffs on the final Saturday of the season with an overtime loss? Or the team that made the playoffs by winning a shootout on the final day of the season? Whichever side you may fall on, it is obvious that there is no favorite in this series, only two underdogs. Does Cinderella wear size seven or eight in glass? We’ll know soon enough.