The last week in Flyerdom has been a rough one for fans of the Orange and Black. The team has gone from solidly holding the 8th seed and possibly moving up in the playoff standings to holding on for its life by the thinnest of threads. As the season began to unravel at the hands of the Toronto Maple Leafs, I couldn't help but think back to one of my favorite movies for an explanation of what went on during this watershed week and how we will look back on it as the point at which a young team needed to step up and take control of its destiny - and just couldn't.
The Flyers had begun the month of March with three wins. Two of those wins came against a team they have owned
this year - the New York Islanders. The third win came against a team who had a minor fire sale and was battling it out for worst in the league honors with Los Angeles - the Tampa Bay Lightning. Given the resume of these two teams, taking 6 of 6 points was not a huge shock. Nice, but not huge.
The tea leaves read quite a different story when they played against the New York Rangers and Buffalo Sabres. As much as the Flyers have owned the Isles, so too have the Blueshirts owned the Flyers. This tilt featured both starting goalies (Niitty for Philadelphia) being pulled before more than a few minutes into the second period. In specific, backup goaltender, Steve Valiquette has looked All-World in his three games against the Flyers this year - going 3-0. The Flyboys fought valiantly to tie the game at four, but could not solve their shootout issues as Biron let two goals in on the breakaway. The second telling tale was an ugly 5-2 loss to the team directly in Philly's rear view mirror - the Sabres. The Flyers fought back to erase an early two goal defecit - a trend the flyers seem to have to repeat on a routine basis - but coughed up three third period goals on - you guessed it
- poor defensive coverage and astounding lapses in judgment.
Three major points came out of those two losses that would repeat themselves in the week to follow: inability to hold a lead, poor defensive play that either costs games or puts the offense in a hole and goaltending that cannot win you key games.
Tuesday, March 11th - Flyers vs Maple Leafs
Alexei Ponikarovsky deflects a Pavel Kubina shot to complete an improbable comback victory as Flyers blow 3-0 lead and lose in OT.
- Got valuable point on the road.
- A Team that can't hold a three goal lead, with 15:12 left in the third period, doesn't deserve to be in the playoffs.
Old lady: Nervous?
Ted Striker: Yes.
Old lady: First time?
Ted Striker: No, I've been nervous lots of times.
Nervous. Striker could not have nailed it more if he had been standing next to Lasse Kukkonen when the one-way ticketets to the Press Box (healthy scratches) were announced. This team's inability to get the puck out when under pressure, shaky play in their own zone and inability to hold a lead combined with inexplicable defensive lapses cause Flyers fans to echo, "No, I've been nervous lots of times."
Wednesday, March 12th - Flyers vs Maple Leafs
Twice the Flyers give up the lead, twice the offense bails them out. Jason Smith takes a bad penalty, while already man-down, and Pavel Kubina sticks a steak in the heart of the Flyers for a second straight night as the home team loses 3-2.
- We worked hard, battled back twice and had chances to tie it up in the 3rd.
- The Flyers took only one of four possible points during this home-and-home series - that will not get it done. The revenge factor and the loss of Matts Sundin was not enough to overpower the supreme confidence of Toronto that they would somehow beat the Flyers...and they were right.
Rex Kramer: Do you know what it's like to fall in the mud and get kicked... in the head... with an iron boot? Of course you don't, no one does. It never happens. It's a dumb question... skip it.
S'cuse me Rex...it did happen and the Flyers know what it feels like. The Leafs came out wearing iron boots and proceeded to push the Flyers in the mud and kick them in the head. They scored every game leading goal, outshot Philadelphia 31-20 and kept the puck out of the net in the 3rd period when it counted. Instead of taking three of four points and cementing the Flyers' hold on 8th (and maybe moving up a spot or two), the Flyers took only one point and now must worry about Buffalo and Washington coming up in their rear view mirrors. The Flyers' grip on the 8th seed seems more tenuous than ever. However, the Orange and Black get to tangle next with a Boston Bruins club who has been roughed up, as of late. The B's are just one point ahead of the Flyers and a win would move them into 7th place in the East and out of a first round confrontation with Marty Brodeur and the Devils. This game is winnable.
Saturday, March 15th - Flyers vs Bruins
Flyers - again - fail to score the first goal of the game and allow the opposition to get a huge momentum boost. Biron holds the fort and the O&B score two goals in just under three and a half minutes in the 2nd period. Biron continued to protect the lead well into the 3rd period. Then, for the second time in three games, the opposition coach pulls the goaltender. Enter Andrew Ference, goalless before stepping onto the ice, who bats a bouncing puck past Marty Biron with just 27 ticks of the clock remaining. Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaarggggggggggggggggggggggghhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh! Jesus H. Christ with a hockey stick!!!! What does this team have to do to win a freakin game! Why hast thou forsaken me!!!!!!!!
Overtime. Not feeling good about this. Not at all. Waiting for the other shoe to drop...and drop it did, in the person of Aaron Ward. 2 minutes and 17 seconds into the overtime period, Ward scored on a 3-on-3 counter-rush that followed a Tim Thomas pad save on a Jeff Carter breakaway. &*(#$#$()()#$(_)#($)(#)+_)[email protected]#!!!!!
How many times have we been subjected to a big play on the other end that ends up in our own net????
- Got an important point on the road, should have had two.
- Grrrrrrrrrrrrrr. This team CANNOT protect a lead. Other teams make their own luck against the Flyers. Boston should be the ones looking at the Caps and Sabres over their shoulders, NOT Philadelphia. This is a classic example of not having the X-factor that it takes to close out games. No shutdown goaltender. No stifling defense. No tight checking system that keeps the puck at center ice and no ability to reach down and come up big when the chips are on the table.
This team is done...it is only a matter of time. The Flyers will not make the playoffs.
Elaine Richardinson: There's no reason to become alarmed, and we hope you'll enjoy the rest of your flight. By the way, is there anyone on board who knows how to fly a plane?
Nope. No pilots here. Nobody knows how to fly. This sucker is going down in flames and there is not a player, coach or Manager who can do much about it. No reason to become alarmed...enjoy your flight to missing the playoffs.
Maybe, just maybe...the Flyers can rise above the embarrassment of their past three performances and play like a team hungry to get into the playoffs against the Crosby-less Pittsburgh Penguins?
Sunday, March 16th - Flyers vs Penguins
Penguins scored on two of their first three shots. Evgeni Malkin scored numbers 40 and 41 and adds two assists. Petr Sykora scored two with two assists. Marian Hossa scored his first goal for his new club...oh, and so did Hall Gill. Christ, I think even the Hotdog guy at the Mellon Arena scored his first of the season.
Stick a fork in us, cause we are done.
Oh, Mike Knuble scored his 27th of the year. Stop the presses!
Biron stops just five of eight shots and is sent to the showers. Niittymaki fares a little better, allowing four goals on 28 shots. Anyone want to talk about save percentage or goals against averages??? Nah...didn't think so.
- Silence...just the ticking of the time bomb, that is Paul Holmgren, about to explode in the visiting locker room.
- Odds on favorite to pass the floundering Flyers is Washington at 3-2. Place your bets!
Ted Striker: Surely you can't be serious.
Rumack: I am serious... and don't call me Shirley.
This was a disgrace and put an exclamation point on the swoon that was the beginning of the month of March. BUT the amazing thing is...the Flyers are STILL holding the 8th and final playoff position in the East. If by some minor miracle, the Flyers can pick up a win against the Thrashers (possible) and do so convincingly, then a showdown with the dreaded Rangers might have a little more drama. The second of three home games could give the home team encouragement to beat the Rangers, then they would take a two game winning streak into the Bank Building for a tilt with the Islanders...hope springs eternal...three game winning streak. Who knows? Stranger things have happened...Richards back, Lupul healthy...?
Surely you can't be serious...I am serious...and don't call me Shirley.
Radio DJ: This is WZAZ in Chicago, where disco lives forever...
[the airplane zooms overhead the building, knocking the radio antenna down, and the signal goes dead]
Thanks for reading...