Philadelphia Flyers Playoffs: The Unraveling of a Franchise
Only four coaches in the history of North American professional sports can say they helmed a comeback from trailing three games to none in a playoff series. Peter Laviolette is one of them.
Unfortunately, the Flyers coach stands on the precipice of history, as soon he could be the only coach in history to say he coached a team to an improbable comeback and also oversaw the total collapse of a team that blew a three-game lead.
Last Sunday evening, all seemed well in Flyerdom.
The team had in their pocket two amazing come-from-behind wins on the road against the heavily-favored Pittsburgh Penguins.
The had just dispatched their cross-state rivals in an entertaining, dominate, 8-4 performance in front of a raucous orange-clad crowd.
The Flyers not only beat the Penguins on the scoreboard but were winning the battle for hearts and minds as well.
The Penguins totally unravelled and had three players suspended for their antics in the game and hockey fans across the nation marvelling at the role reversal. This time it was the Flyers who stayed above the fray, who kept their composure, and who were the victims of nasty cheap shots.
The fans mocked Sidney Crosby; the Daily News Photoshopped him to look like the Cowardly Lion from The Wizard of Oz. Comcast Sports Net's Lisa Hillary brought the newspaper to the attention of Crosby to smugly rub salt in the wounds of the Penguins' star center.
Crosby seemed non-plussed, stating that "cowardly" is one of the nicer things said about him in Philadelphia.
WMMR's morning show had watermelons painted to look like key Penguin players and then tossed them from the roof of the Wells Fargo center.
Hockey players are a superstitious lot and so—at one point—were many of their fans. This blatant thumbing of the city's collective noses at the Penguins, from mocking newspaper art to the fans chanting "You Can't Beat Us" while there was at least one game remaining, seems to have angered the hockey gods.
A week ago people were wondering if Pittsburgh coach Dan Byslma would be looking for work in the offseason. Being swept by Philadelphia would peg this Penguins squad as the most underachieving in their franchise's history.
Now, one has to wonder if Laviolette will be on the unemployment line. To blow a three-games-to-none lead to a team that looked to be dead would be the biggest collapse in Philadelphia since 1964.
The team has been woefully bad in first periods all season long and rarely plays for a full sixty minutes. That has to reflect on the coach. The team has been listless in key moments of the season and now the postseason. Again, that has to fall on the coach.
The Flyers were a mess in Game 4, yet because of their power-play had two separate one-goal leads that they squandered.
The team allowed fifteen shots on goal, in the first period alone, at home in an elimination game against a team that was missing five of it's regular players. Fifteen! That is inexcusable.
The man facing that barrage of shots had a bad night as well, and that's being generous. The mind-bogglingly bad play of goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov and the performance of a defense that would allow most area Junior Varsity high school teams to score at will on them sunk the team in Game 4.
The coach's answer was to pull his starting goalie and insert backup Sergei Bobrovsky, who somehow managed to play even worse than Bryzgalov. Which is saying something.
That night it was the Flyers who melted down. The Flyers paraded to the penalty box and the Penguins ran the score up.
Despite all the penalty minutes and the game being out of reach by the start of the second period, there was no retribution for Kris Letang's demolition of Kimmo Timonen the game before.
No one hit Evgeni Malkin, who early in the game threw an elbow that knocked the Flyers' best defenseman, Nikolas Grossmann, out of the series.
The team played scared and looked overwhelmed; those rookies we've heard so much about were playing like rookies in their first playoff series.
In Game 5 the team, to a man, looked like they were skating in wet cement. The good news, however: their lethal power-play continues to dominate. The bad news: during even-strength play, the team was atrocious.
Bryzgalov played much better and kept the team in the game, but he was clearly outplayed by the suddenly hot and confident Marc-Andre Fleury, who is once again looking like the goalie who led the Penguins to a Stanley Cup in 2009.
The Flyers again were listless until about 12 minutes remaining in the third period, when they finally had sustained pressure, but Fleury was up to the task.
When the buzzer sounded, the Penguins had a 3-2 victory. The Flyers had a 3-2 lead in the series.
Game 6 is in Philadelphia—where the Flyers have struggled all season—at noon. Afternoon games have been particularly hard for the Flyers this season.
If this series goes back to Pittsburgh 3-3, the Flyers would seem to have almost no chance.
Peter Laviolette better come up with some answers—and quickly—or he will once again go into the history books, but this time for all the wrong reasons.
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