Well the final first game of the 2008 NHL playoffs finally got underway on Friday night. It was the much anticipated game of the 3 and 6 seeds in the East featuring the two teams that surged the most at the end to make it to the Playoffs, the Washington Capitals and the Philadelphia Flyers.
Both teams had time to get some of their star players back in shape to play the game. Most of the hockey fans across the country were waiting to see Alexander Ovechkin, the NHL's top scorer, play in his first-ever playoff game. The truth is that for both teams many of their players and both coaches were making their debut to the NHL playoff arena.
The Flyers knew they were going to be playing against the hottest team in hockey. There is no denying what the Capitals have accomplished - 11 wins in a row - but the Flyers went 7-1-1 in their last nine, which included two shutout wins against two of the best teams in the East.
The Caps played mostly teams that didn't make the playoffs, while the Flyers played teams that mostly are in the playoffs, but after listening to the praise by all of the pundits outside of Philadelphia, some reading between the lines is necessary.
Game 1 was played in Washington, where fans were encouraged to wear red to spur on their team. The Flyers took the ice against a packed house mostly cheering against them. The strategy for the Flyers was to contain the top scoring Ovechkin as much as possible.
Because of flu-like symptoms, one of Philadelphia's top defensemen, Randy Jones, did not play. He was replaced by the young Ryan Parent. The crowd went wild as the game started and Philadelphia knew that they would have to try to weather the initial storm. Mike Knuble took a slashing penalty early in the contest as most of the play was being kept down in Philly's end of the ice.
The Flyers who have an improved penalty kill, were able to hold off the Washington onslaught for the entire two minutes. The problem came just two seconds after the penalty expired before Knuble could get back into position on the ice.
The puck was being peppered in front of the Philly net and the Capitals were able to redirect it right on the tape of the darting ex-Flyer tough guy, Donald Brashear, who easily flipped the puck over the sprawled goaltender, Martin Biron, to score the huge first goal for the Caps.
In all of the playoff games so far, whichever team scores that first goal has gone on to win the game. The goal kept the Washington crowd energized. Vinny Prospal, a pick up for the Flyers at the trade deadline and who originally started his career in Philadelphia, calmed the crowd down about 5 minutes later when he wristed a beautiful shot behind Huet to tie the game at 1.
Early in the second period, David Steckle was left all alone in the slot and put in a wrister high over Biron's glove. This was a goal that Biron should have stopped as he went down a bit early to his knees and then really has a hard time catching up to the puck again over his shoulder on his glove side.
When he is totally on his game, Biron can steal a game by making great saves. This was not one of those days, as there were two very similar goals over his glove that he should have stopped.
The Flyers found themselves down again by a goal early in the second but that is no real bother to them. The second period has been their best all season and this game it would be no different.
Nine minutes later, Daniel Briere emerged from the penalty box, approached the blue line and snapped a shot into the Washington goal to tie the game at 2.
Approximately 30 seconds later, Briere's linemate and the Flyers first goal scorer, Vinny Prospal, put in a wrister and gave the Flyers the lead for the first time.
Five minutes later on the powerplay, Briere scored his second of the game and period and put the Flyers up 4-2 going into the third.
Late in the season, the Flyers had gone through a little funk where they were losing games late in the third period. On their final drive they had seemed to work the kinks out of these mental lapses, but it would rear its ugly little head again on this night.
Two minutes into the start of the period ,Mike Green was fed the puck from Sergei Federov and put it into a wide open side of the net to make it a 4-3 game.
The Flyers, who had owned the second period, were playing back on their feet and hoping to just protect their lead. That's the worst thing to do, especially in hockey.
Almost 5 minutes later, the Flyers were killing off another penalty and Patrick Thoresen was hit in the groin area blocking a slap shot. Thoresen fell immediately to the ice in obvious pain, but the refs did not blow the whistle. If it had been an upper body injury that required immediate attention they would've stopped the play.
With no whistle and the Flyers down two men, Mike Green again got the puck and fired a slap shot right over Biron's shoulder on his glove side. This tied the game at 4 and had the crowd going wild for the comeback.
Thoresen was helped off the ice to the locker room and sent to the hospital where he may need surgery and may even lose a testicle.
With just 4:32 left in regulation time, Capitals fans got to see what they had been waiting for all game. Alexander Ovechkin stripped Flyers defenseman Lasse Kukkonen of the puck and flicked it over Biron for the winning goal. He slammed himself to the glass to celebrate his first-ever playoff goal.
Flyers coach John Stevens said that Washington definitely had the momentum and the Flyers would need to regroup a bit for Game 2 on Sunday. The Flyers went into Washington with everything against them and shined for a little bit in the second period but let themselves falter in the third.
Game 1 is a testing period and the players and coaches get a good feel for the playoffs. I predict a hard fought series from two teams that do not give up and I think that you will see a much more concentrated Flyers team on Sunday.
At this point, I still feel that the Flyers are the deeper team and with Randy Jones, Derian Hatcher, and Sammi Kappanen back in the lineup, they should be able to comeback and win this series. Games 3 and 4 are Tuesday and Thursday in Philadelphia.