“That scoreboard cannot be true,” I thought to myself. “This game did not just happen.”
As I shook my aching skull several times to awake from my awe-induced coma, the harsh reality of the loss in Game Six of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals between the Flyers and Penguins settled in. The Flyers had just blown a three-goal lead in an elimination game on home ice.
I had always proclaimed this to be a good hockey team. How in the world could this have happened?
A team contending for a Stanley Cup, arguably the greatest treasure in the sporting world, would never have let that happen. Therefore, the Flyers are not a good team.
After a few months of allowing the game to sink in, I finally came to that logical conclusions:
Good hockey teams don’t let a team come back in your home arena to win the series.
Good hockey teams don’t hang your goalie out to dry.
Good hockey teams don’t crawl into a cave and die like the Flyers did on that fateful Saturday afternoon.
Give the Penguins the respect they deserve. Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby completely demolished the Flyers in the latter parts of the game. Their pin-point passing and puck control made the Flyers look as if the Penguins were playing the Japanese National team at Nagano in the '98 Olympics. Even if Crosby plays like he is the Nova Scotian Diving Champion, the Arctic Birds really played like a team possessed, just like the great ones do.
The Penguins went on to win the Cup. The team got sensational goal tending from Marc-Andre Fleury and picked up their defense in crucial moments in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
The Flyers? They went home and cried their little hockey-player eyes out. Choking would not describe the way the team played. Catastrophic collapse is more like it.
Immediately following that game, you would hear demands for the ousting of Marty Biron.
“Get him out of there!” they cried. “He’s a bum!”
Let’s set the record straight. Biron wasn’t as good as his counterpart in the series, Marc-Andre Fleury, but he wasn’t as terrible as some Flyers’ fans would have you believe.
The truth is, if the team literally stacked a brick wall in front of the net, they still would have lost.
Their defense men looked out of place, out of energy, and just sapped of any intestinal fortitude that would befit a National Hockey Player. When the team went up three goals to none, for the most part, they quit.
The defense had trouble with consistency the whole 2008-09 season. It would be like they had been hit in the head with a puck and forgot how to defend, where to position themselves, and how to close out a game. That reflected poorly for Biron, and the writing was on the wall for his departure.
Now exiled to the New York Islanders after the Flyers refused to offer Biron a new contract, the Lac St. Charles, Quebec native will be lucky if he finds any playing time at all. He’s currently listed on the Islanders depth chart as the team’s number three goaltender.
Biron can thank the defense of the Flyers for that.
Blame inexperience; blame fortitude; blame suddenly losing any semblance of hockey awareness at all. Whatever it is you blame on the Flyers’ defense, the last person you should look to is Martin Biron.
After that game, I openly questioned whether this defense would ever be good enough in the big games like this to come through and deliver a solid championship run. The defense was exposed that day, in a way I thought they would never recover.
They needed to add a lot of grit, tenacity, puck control and resilience to beat back teams like the Penguins. They weren’t going to do it with their current defense.
After that game, it seemed pretty clear this team was doomed to fail unless they added a premier defense man that added the tenacity, puck control, and resilience.
Chris Pronger might just be that player.
The 6'6" defender from Dryden, Ontario might still be the best defense man in the game. He’s pretty long in the tooth at 35, but he can dominate the game at his elder age. He’ll block shots, demolish wingers along the boards, and give the Flyers a good right handed shot.
What’s even more exciting about Pronger is that his presence makes the whole team better. He’s a coach out there amongst the players, and with him the defense should be significantly stronger.
The Flyers have acquired a player that is constantly mentioned in contention for the Norris Trophy, which goes to the league’s best defender. But the Flyers wouldn’t be the Flyers with questions at goalie.
The Flyers decided to let Biron walk and called in troubled Ray Emery from the Russian Elite League, banished for his odd behavior with his former team, the Ottawa Senators.
If Emery is at top form, or anywhere close to where he was when he carried the Senators to the Cup in 2007, the Flyers might have improved in goal as well.
It has yet to be seen whether the Flyers’ acquisitions will bring them to their third Stanley Cup title in the team’s history. Pronger might be past his prime and Emery too volatile a person to have in the net.
By no means am I trying to say that Pronger has made the Flyers a lock to represent the Eastern Conference in the Stanley Cup Finals.
But if you were Sidney Crosby, it is my feeling that you would be a little more aware of your surroundings when your crashing that Orange and Black net for a scoring opportunity.
Pronger elicits fear from all players. That is exactly what’s been missing from this team.
That’s why when the final bell rings in the ears of Flyers faithful this season, there’s a better chance for confetti to be streaming than tears.
Pronger will make sure of it.