Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Halfway Back

Down three to love, the Flyers have rallied back by a pair with a pair of good and gutsy efforts- including an official 4-0 drubbing last night up in Boston. There is an old saying: that is why they play the games. The rules say Boston needs a fourth win- and they have blown half their chances.

The papers say that the Flyers became just the eighth NHL team out of 111 in a three-games-to-none hole to force a Game 6- and only two have completed the comeback. Watching the series, I’m not sure if that is a real relevant benchmark.

To find a team that can rally from that sort of big deficit, spend a week digging out of a hole it took another week to construct, is not about finding a bad team that has been dominated yet has some ability to get lucky. Rather, you are looking for a team that is down three to nothing despite not being terribly outclassed- that has maybe been a little unlucky. With the cap in the NHL, you have a lot more night-to-night parity- no Montreal or Islander or Maple Leaf multi-year dynasties to routinely stick hapless teams to said big deficit. I have no evidence, but I bet since the League has been capped there have been a lot fewer 3-0 series (even with all the one-eight, two-seven seed series)- and even in those situations, the losing team is more “alive” than ever before.

That is what you have here. Of the three games the Flyers lost, one was in overtime, another was late in the third with a definite next goal wins mentality. The Flyers won a game in overtime. The Bruins were a bit lucky to get up three games, all that was needed to reverse the series back was a switch in fortune.

The Flyers had 88 points in the regular season; the Bruins 91. If the Flyers’ disappointing mark was caused by injuries, wild in-season inconsistency and some disappointing regular seasons (Richards and Pronger), the Bruins were felled by an inability to score goals (208 goals-fewest in the east). So cap parity rears its head- over a potential seven games these teams are reverting some: Bruins can’t score, the Flyers' inconsistency meter is creeping back toward “good things are happening”.

Accordingly, the series parameters have changed- almost to the exact letter. The series began with the Flyers having two of their top six forwards out- but one is back (Simon Gagne) and the minor leaguer they stuck on the second line might not belong in the NHL (Ville Leino) but he is scoring goals, a plus for the series and taken one minor penalty in 90 minutes of TOI. The Flyers are getting real scoresheet offense and ice time from Leino- which is plugging that missing top winger gap for now. Meanwhile, it is now the Bruins who have to scratch two of their top six forwards night after night. No wonder all of a sudden the Flyers look like the Bruins and the Bruins look like the Flyers.

Of course, with Boucher now out again, the Flyers have to try a new goalie who hasn’t played in recent memory: Michael Leighton. Leighton was good- even very good (17-9-2 is no joke). Frankly, Boucher had reverted recently to pretty decent journeyman play… which I think Leighton can match for now. The Flyers were always going to have to overcome the goalie in this series- but maybe the Boston rookie goalie Tuukka Rask is starting to really, really appreciate the pressure involved here. He hasn’t played great back-to-back nights.

Of course, the NHL in its infinite wisdom will show neither Game 5 or Game 6 to North America- blacking out two of America’s greatest national hockey fanbases to show its secret League fantasy: a Canadian team versus Sidney Crosby. I guess you have to show the seventh game (ed. note: maybe)- but last night to not show Philadelphia-Boston to the national hockey audience... dumb, just dumb.

The NHL is so stuck on selling us Sidney Crosby. The blinkers are astounding. The best part is, like most national relationship building the NHL does, it simply isn’t working. Worse, a goodly number of national sports fans that know his game well think he is a diving fink. Hard to build your League around that guy.