When you look back on the 2009/’10 NHL regular season, no team had to face as much adversity as the Philadelphia Flyers.
The Flyers were handicapped by a schedule that saw them play five games in nine days to start the season only to see them have to endure a five day stretch without playing another game (October 10th-15th) until October 16th.
Then, after playing against the Florida Panthers on the 16th (a 4-2 loss) the Flyers were put back on the shelf for another five days before playing their next match against the Boston Bruins on October 22nd.
Needless to say, the Orange and Black struggled to find any chemistry early on...and then came the injuries, which were both numerous and devastating.
During the regular season the Flyers lost the services of Simon Gagne, Jeff Carter, Daniel Briere, Ray Emery and Michael Leighton (amongst others) for long stretches, and, in the case of Emery and Leighton, for the rest of the regular season at the worst possible time—the playoffs stretch.
In Emery’s absence, Leighton was able to put together a tremendous stretch of wins which saw him end the season with a 17-9-2 record. To say Leighton saved the Flyers season is an understatement. Little did we know the best goaltending effort for a Flyers goalie was yet to come.
The Flyers would overcome the loss of both Emery and Leighton, electing to go with veteran goaltender Brian Boucher. If you visited the Flyers webpages you would have read a number of criticisms of Flyers GM Paul Holmgren for not electing to bring in a goaltender at the trade deadline—guess he knew better than the so-called “experts”.
Now, let’s not confuse Boucher’s stretch drive with perfection—his performance was average at best. That said, in the end he was good enough to earn the Flyers the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference and a chance to play in the Stanley Cup Playoffs...anything could happen, right?
Heading into the Flyers round one playoff tilt against the New Jersey Devils few prognosticators were giving one-time cast-off Brian Boucher any chance of leading his team past the Devils and goaltending legend Martin Brodeur.
In the face of adversity and with all the pressure squarely on his back, Boucher played a marvelous series, stopping 125 of 133 shots in the series and 27 shots in game five for a shutout victory Thursday night, en route to 3-0 victory and a shocking four games to one series victory over the second seeded New Jersey Devils.
Ten years ago Brian Boucher was the starting goaltender for the Flyers in a playoff series against the New Jersey Devils. Up by a three games to one margin, Boucher emerged as the “goat”. In an otherwise well played series by the Flyers, they lost three games in a row, leading to a four games to three series victory for the comeback Devils.
This year there would be no comeback. This time Boucher has emerged as a hero for the Flyers and their fans—redemption is finally here for the man aptly and adoringly nicknamed “Bouche”.
Just hours before game five, Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren announced that the Flyers would be without the services of Jeff Carter for the rest of the season and Simon Gagne for game five and, quite possibly the rest of what could have been a seven game series against the Devils.
Clearly, the Flyers had dealt with the loss of key players before, still, with game five of the series shifting to New Jersey and the Devils desperate for a win, many (including myself) felt the Flyers would succumb to a highly motivated Devils team, especially in light of the loss of Gagne and Carter.
Well, the Flyers overcame the odds again on Thursday night, continually taking it to the Devils, relentless in their fore-checking and, once again, without giving up a power play goal to the lowly Devils, who went O-for-the power play on the night, of which there were plenty.
Ilya Kovalchuk—the player many said would make the Devils a legitimate contender when acquired from the Atlanta Thrashers at the trade deadline, played an astounding 11:20 on the power play in game five, registering numerous shots, but failing to score a goal.
Kovalchuk would finish the series with two goals and four assists in the series for six points, but nobody is confusing those stats with a good series. In fact, he was horrible on most nights. Hey Kovalchuk, good luck getting that $10 million contract you declined in Atlanta!
In the end, the Devils would emerge from the series with just four goals in their four losses, a pathetic effort that won’t be forgotten by Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello this summer—changes are coming to New Jersey, you can book it!
The hero of the night for the Flyers was Claude Giroux—scoring two goals, including a power play marker at 13:47 of the second period. His inspired play was the difference maker on the night. The fact is, Giroux “stepped up” in Carter and Gagne’s absence, he was “money” tonight.
Flyers captain Mike Richards also had a solid game, keeping the opposition in check while posting two assists of his own. His leadership (which was questioned all season long) went a long way in thrusting the Flyers past the Devils, maybe now the questions will cease and desist?
While much of the blame will be thrust on Kovalchuk for the Devils series loss there are clearly some questions about the Devils legendary goaltender Martin Brodeur, who, fresh off a disappointing effort at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, once again looked out of sync and very beatable on most nights.
Many feel Brodeur’s workload (he played 77 games this season) was a major factor and, judging by his lack of success, they may have a point.
Was Brodeur fatigued? Only Marty knows the real answer to that question. Keep in mind, Brodeur has been playing upwards of 75 games per season in nine of his past 10 NHL seasons.
Of those nine seasons he won the Stanley Cup twice (1999-2000 and 2002-2003), so it’s not like he cannot endure a huge workload in the regular season and have playoff success. The question is, just weeks away from his 38th birthday, has he finally reached the breaking point?
At the end of the day the Devils have plenty of blame to go around; each and every one of their players were awful in this series, with very few (if any) exceptions.
For the Flyers, their first round win was well deserved. They have now earned some much needed rest and will await the outcome of the Pittsburgh Penguins/Ottawa Senators series and Washington Capitals/Montreal Canadiens series to determine which team they will face in the second round.
The most likely scenario will see the Flyers face Alexander Ovechkin and the Capitals in the second round—a series most people will be taking the Capitals to win.
Not to worry, the Flyers have been underdogs all season long, anything different would be the real shocker.
For now the Flyers can take some solace that they have once again proven the critics (including myself) wrong. They were full value for the series win and have established themselves as a dangerous team.
The Capitals and Penguins would be wise to take note of how easily the Flyers handled the Devils, failure to do so may see either one of those teams watching the playoffs from their homes.
The Orange and Black are back, believe that!
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Until next time,