Just like that creepy little girl, Carol Ann, from "Poltergeist II" said, the Flyers have seriously thrust themselves back into playoff mix with a 2-1 Overtime victory against the Rangers tonight at MSG. Oh, and this one was against Lundy - not the backup. The Flyers very easily could have lost that game last night to the Ranger powerplay, but powerplay success continues to elude the Blueshirts and the PK held them in check. Marty Biron continues to play excellent hockey over the past few games and solidified the starters' job as the playoffs near. He was largely to be credited for holding the fort until the Cavalry arrived in the form of Danny Briere and Vinny Prospal.
The chemistry these two have exhibited since the trade deadline has been nothing short of spooky - to the tune of 13 points in the last four games. They think alike, to Briere's own admission, and see the spaces where the other will be. The give and go from Briere to Prospal back to Briere, with the backhand pass for the game tying goal, was nothing short of sensational. These two are playing, to use one of the most overused cliches in all of sports, in "the Zone." But really, they are. Briere has been largely ineffective since Simone Gagne went out for the season with concussion issues and the Flyers have tried to patch together a pair of wingers for the unquestionably talented offseason pickup. Vaclav Prospal has breathed new life into #48, and with the addition of Scott Hartnell, the first line has become a potent, gritty and dangerous unit once again. I have said it on a number of occasions, Vinny Prospal is a skilled, slick skating player who knows how to score - those sort of players do not grow on trees - and Uber GM Paul Holmgren has GOT to find a way to resign him.
I know that Carter and Umberger need to be signed to long term deals. But how can anyone look at what has transpired over the past 10 days and NOT consider the value Prospal brings to this team. He needs to be resigned...period.
Another key to the recent Flyer resurgence are the quality shots being generated from the point by first year stud defenseman, Braydon Coburn. In addition to playing huge miuntes in key situations, against the oppositions' top line, Coburn has developed a serious one-timer that allows him to put the puck on net with mustard and accuracy. His 35 points (9g 26a) are second only to his defensive partner, Kimmo Timonen who has 43 and his 9 goals lead all defensemen. His strong 5-on-5 play is more reminiscent of a veteran than a second year player, making his team leading +18 rating even more amazing. Hmmm...think Atlanta might want a mulligan on the Alexei Zhitnik trade??
What does it mean?
It means that the Flyers are one point behind the Rangers for the Most Holy of Grails for Flyers fans - the 6 seed and the chance to play the eminently beatable Carolina Hurricanes. One point difference between - if the season ended today - facing the high octane offense of the Penguins or facing the Canes - who the Flyers have toyed with during the regular season. I think the Flyers could still beat the Pens, but I want that 6th spot. THINK SIX....siiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiix...say it with me....siiiiiiiiiiiiix.
Who can speak of Grails without a little touch of the greatest Grail movie ever made...ok, perhaps the ONLY
Grail movie ever made?
What is your favorite color? Blue...No... Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaggggggggggggggghhhhhhhhh
Looking ahead by looking back:
Nine days ago, after a humiliating 7-1 loss at the highly skilled hands of the Pens, the Flyers look like they had about as much chance of holding on to the 8th spot as a cheeseburger in the hands of Rosie O'Donell. Wait for it...
What happened over the next four games has been nothing short of remarkable - ok, well it at least has been consistent with the manic nature of this team - as they reeled off four consecutive wins to the tune of 88 points. What is even more amazing is the fact that the Flyers are within THREE points, count'em...3, of the [cue the Darth Vader theme]
New Jersey Devils (who sit at the 4 seed tied with Ottawa with 91 points). Of the five remaining games on the regular season schedule, two of them are against those same Flyer killing, dream dashing, rassin frassin, muckin ruckin, Marty Brodeur led Devils. I would much
rather have a 3/6 matchup with Carolina, but it sure would feel nice to toss a monkey wrench into the plans of our "friends" from up the Jersey Turnpike. If the Flyers could take 3 of 4 points from the Devils - I know, no small feat - then things could get interesting atop the Atlantic.
Back to the Rangers...I think they are taking on water. This was their statement game. The chance to put a boot in the face of their nearest rival - they failed to do it. They play the Devils tomorrow night in New York, a home and home against the Pens and a home and home against the devil may care Islanders who have nothing to lose and can play the spoiler. I think the Rangers could
end up in the 7th or even...the 8th spot.
The Flyers have gotten hot at the right time as they head into the final five games of the season. The 6 seed is there for the taking. Can this young team take hold of its' destiny and play with courage, controlled aggression and skill against a Devils' team that has flat out owned them this year (1 and 5 and no wins in the last 5 games)? We will see Friday night.
The Chinese sinograph for "Crisis" is pronounced "weiji" and comprised of two syllables, as are most Mandarin words, wei and ji. The wei character tends to be looked on as meaning "danger" and the much more misunderstood ji character actually has the connotation of "a crucial point" and NOT opportunity, as some touchy-feely, Zen Masters of loofahs and scented bath beads might have you believe. When talking about the Flyers' situation, they cannot take their playoff spot lightly or as some manifest destiny. The Bruins are only two points behind and the Caps are only four back. The point being, the Flyers' playoff chances have reached "a crucial point" - a weiji - and must be taken as seriously by players as if it were a life or death (sports) situation. They will likely need six more points, out of 10 possible, to ensure their playoff ticket is punched. Can they count on two from the Isles? Maybe. They would still need four more coming from the Devils and Penguins, which is by no means a sure thing. Weiji? You betcha.
Tighten your chinstraps boys, it's going to be a bumpy ride.
Thanks for reading...