Archive for May 2010
It’s time for my breakdown and prediction of the Stanley Cup Finals between the Chicago Blackhawks and the Philadelphia Flyers. If you are looking for an in depth look at the players and coaching staffs, along with some deep scrutiny of the matchups at each position, then, frankly, you must be new here, because that’s not how I roll.
Here is the extent of what I know about the Blackhawks:
- They haven’t won the Stanley Cup since 1961.
- They have a bunch of guys who mispronounce their last names in the style of Patrick Roy.
- Their star player (allegedly) beat up a cab driver over 20 cents.
- They have a rookie goaltender with a name that will be difficult for us Flyers fans to chant derisively.
That’s about it. So my breakdown and prediction will be based on what I know about the two cities and superficial, meaningless items about the two teams. Since I lived in Philly for the first sixteen years of my life and visited Chicago once like 7 years ago, I feel this uniquely qualifies me to make such an analysis.
- History – Philadelphia is the cradle of American Democracy. Chicago was the home of Al Capone. ADVANTAGE – PHILADELPHIA
- Music – Despite what the people of Cleveland would have you believe, Philly is the birthplace of Rock and Roll. Chicago was very influential in the development of jazz. Normally, this would be a tie, but while we gave the rap world Will Smith, Chicago is responsible for Kanye West. ADVANTAGE – PHILADELPHIA
- Other Sports teams – Philadelphia is home to the losingest team in the history of organized sports (the Phillies), the most delusional team in the history of organized sports (the Eagles – hint: you are not the Gold Standard if you don’t have any trophies) the most unfulfilling team in the history of organized sports (the Sixers) and the Flyers. Chicago has a Super Bowl champion that is discussed regularly among the greatest of all time, six NBA championships, Ozzie Guillen, Wrigley Field, an original six hockey club and those loveable Cubs. A clear win for Chicago is marred by Steve Bartman and that monstrosity of a stadium that is in the spot where the real Soldier Field used to be. The stadium is a big minus, but still, the Sixers are a lot to overcome. ADVANTAGE – CHICAGO
- Tall Buildings – Philly has The Liberty Place Towers and The Comcast Center. Chicago has SIX buildings taller than the Comcast Center. One is owned by Donald Trump, though, so that doesn’t count. In fact, it gives negative points. Still ADVANTAGE – CHICAGO
- Food – Philly has cheesesteaks, soft pretzels, Tastykake and water ice. Chicago has deep dish pizza (if Uno’s is the only place you’ve had deep dish pizza, you have never had it), Italian Beef Sandwiches and the Maxwell Street Polish. If you are a Philly person that has never been to Chicago, this is a lot closer than you think. The pizza is that good. ADVANTAGE – PHILADELPHIA
- Cool stuff to do – Chicago actually has beaches on the shores of Lake Michigan. Of course, the water is always too cold to go in except for approximately 13 days in mid August, but still. Chicago isn’t called The Second City for nothing. There is a ton of stuff to do. Philly has Chickie and Pete’s and, uh, um, did I mention the cheesesteaks? ADVANTAGE – CHICAGO
So it would seem we have a tie. This series will come down to a seventh game. Who will win? ESPN hockey analyst Barry Melrose picked Chicago. ADVANTAGE – PHILADELPHIA
Flyers in 7.
On the night the series “24” ended, The Captain – Flyers center Mike Richards – won the NHL’s Eastern Conference Championship and propelled his team into the Stanley Cup Finals in 24 seconds.
An exaggeration? Perhaps. But think about what he did in less time than it takes to go from “I’m hungry” to “Ba da ba ba ba – I’m lovin’ it.”
The Captain began by taking the puck from Montreal’s Marc Andre Bergeron – along with his manhood – with a vicious forearm shiver to the jaw. Racing down the ice, The Captain received a pass from Claude Giroux, then fed Arron Asham for a great scoring chance.
After an amazing save by Canadiens goaltender Jaroslav Halak, Bergeron carried the puck back the other way, harassed continually by The Captain. Bergeron dumped the puck into the offensive zone, where Claude Giroux out fought the Habs’ Glen Metropolit for it. He sent a pass down towards The Captain.
Time seemed to slow down here.
The Habs Roman Hamrlik and The Captain raced for the puck. The Captain had a bit of an angle. Halak, in what was arguably the worst play in the history of professional sports, comes out of his net and meets Hamrlik and The Captain at the top of the right faceoff circle.
They crash into each other, all hitting the ice. The puck continues on slowly towards the net.
The crowd is in a frenzy.
Guess who gets up first?
If you guessed anyone other than The Captain, stop reading, and go watch “The Young and The Restless” or something.
The Captain got to the puck, and scored the tying goal.
In the first period.
Oh, did I mention that the Flyers were a man down?
All in 24 seconds.
Jack Bauer would have been proud.
Oh, he did more. He assisted on Jeff “Welcome Back” Carter’s goal in the second period. (Sorry, couldn’t resist.) That goal technically went as the game winner. But we all knew it was over after The Captain’s 24 second rampage.
And for icing on the cake, The Captain assisted on Carter’s second goal, the most spectacular effort on an empty net goal outside of the US Olympic team you’ll ever see.
There are those who have questioned the decision to make Mike Richards The Captain. The questioning got louder when Chris Pronger was brought in. A former captain, a Stanley Cup Champion, and a future Hall-of-Famer, Pronger has always deferred to The Captain. He has always insisted that it is not his team.
It is Mike Richard’s team.
He is The Captain.
When this Flyers season started, it was brimming with hope. Part of the reason for that was the signing of goaltender Ray Emery. The talented (but angry) netminder was returning from a year in Russia to be the championship goaltender that the Flyers have lacked since, well, really, Bernie Parent.
Don’t talk to me about Ron Hextall in 1987 or Brian Boucher in 2000. Great playoff runs both, but neither ended in championships. Ray Emery (along with Chris Pronger) was brought here to end that drought. He was a controversial choice because of his, uh, personality, but there was no questioning his talent.
Naturally, he tore his abdomen in December, was diagnosed with avascular necrosis, and was out for the season.
Enter Brian Boucher, fresh out of the Hot Tub Time Machine(tm). Needing a backup, Flyers GM Paul Holmgren claimed journeyman Michael Leighton off waivers from the Carolina Hurricanes.
Joining his fourth NHL team, the then 28-year-old Leighton was on the bench when Boucher was hurt on December 21st. He became the starter and went 16-5-2.
Then, with 13 games left, he got hurt, prompting cries of “Really?” from across Flyer Nation. His great partial season was cut short by a high ankle sprain.
Re-enter Brian Boucher, in time to save the season on the last day, carry the team on his back in a 5 game pummeling of the Devils and get to game five of the second round, where, in the middle of a stellar performance, naturally, he was hurt again, this time for the season.
Re-enter Michael Leighton.
“Hey, Mike, no pressure or nothing, but come into the middle of this game for your first NHL playoff action where Boosh has been lights out and finish it. Oh, and if we lose, the season is over.”
No problem. Leighton finished the shutout, then finished the Bruins in seven.
Then came the Montreal Canadiens.
The Habs and their fans had no fear of Leighton. The self-proclaimed most knowledgeable fans in hockey remembered his spotty past, and figured that they would just roll past him and the Flyers on to the Stanley Cup, as is their birthright.
Naturally, Leighton shut them out.
Then, in Game 2, he did it again.
After a 5-1 shelling in Game three, in Game 4, he did it again.
For the first time since 2003, a team had been shut out three times in a single playoff series by the same goaltender.
There are those who argue, and frankly, I agree, that shutouts are more of a team stat. Whether baseball, soccer or hockey, the goaltender (or goalkeeper, or pitcher) always – always – gets help from his teammates. The perfect game is kept alive by an outstanding catch, the shot beats the keeper and hits the post, or, in the case of Game 4, the opposition offense is so god-awful that the goaltender is never really tested.
Yesterday, a Canadiens blogger said this: “Michael Leighton’s mom could have registered a shutout against the Habs today.”
To which my friend Dennis said: “Leighton’s mom is more of a man than many of the Habs, so I can see that.”
Bottom line, when the story of this playoff run is told many years from now, no one will remember that the Habs were terrible offensively in Game 4, especially in a one shot (!) second period.
They will tell the story of a heretofore unheralded goaltender who shutout the most storied franchise in the history of the NHL four times in a single series.
Yeah, I’m calling it.
Michael Leighton will make history Monday night. He will seize the moment.
Mike Richards has been the Flyers captain for the last two seasons now. Last offseason, the Flyers signed Chris Pronger. Many people wondered if Pronger, a future Hall of Famer who has his name on the Stanley Cup, would be named captain.
Then 24 years of age, Richards remained captain.
The questions kept coming as the Flyers started off slowly, so slowly, in fact, that they got their coach, John Stevens fired.
There were lofty expectations for this team before the season. The Hockey News picked them to win the Stanley Cup. There was a buzz, an excitement about the team. It fizzled through uninspired play, injuries, and a freakish winter in the Mid-Atlantic.
When the Flyers were mentioned, the most common response was, “When do pitchers and catchers report?”
A lot of the blame for that was laid at the feet of Mike Richards. As The Captain, frankly, it comes with the territory. The issue here was two-fold. One, he’s so young, and two, the large, large shadow of Chris Pronger.
The team got hot. Then they got cold. Then they stumbled to the finish, making the playoffs on the final play of the regular season, a shoot out save by Brian Boucher.
(By the way, do the Flyers have a Hot Tub Time Machine or something? Boucher was as good as he was in the 2000 playoffs until he got hurt. I gotta get me some of that.)
You know the story. They manhandled the Devils in 5 games. We won’t rehash the historic comeback against Boston. (Sigh. Click here if you must.)
Then came the most storied franchise of them all. The Montreal Canadiens. There are those that say that they are the New York Yankees of hockey. Those people would be wrong. The Yankees have nothing on Les Habitantes.
I have watched Yankee games, in the old and new Yankees stadiums. I get nothing from it. No emotion. No love. No respect. I hate the Yankees.
Watching a game at the Bell Centre (or the old Forum) gives me goose bumps ON TV. That is hallowed ground. It is indescribably loud ON TV. Have to go there before I die. Suffice it to say, I have an enormous amount of respect for the Canadiens.
But I digress.
The Flyers took game one in a rout, 6-0. Game two was a rout on the scoreboard also, 3-0. But it was a lot closer than that. The Habs outplayed the Flyers for at least the first half of the game, but had nothing to show for it. Flyers goaltender Michael Leighton, apparently channelling the spirit of the 1987 Ron Hextall, was outstanding.
Then came Game three.
In the Bell Centre.
Montreal in a laugher, 5-1. And it wasn’t that close.
Now here is where the young captain comes in. How does your team react to getting its breakfast, lunch, dinner and fourthmeal(tm) handed to them?
Chris Pronger thought it was funny. He was terrible in game three.
In his defense, he tends to laugh like that after games, no matter the result.
The Captain wasn’t laughing.
“That was just an old-fashioned (butt)-kicking and they handed it right to us right from the get-go,” he said. “I don’t know if we thought we just had to throw our sticks on the ice and it was going to be easy.”
That is a disturbing statement.
What makes you think that you can go into hockey’s most hallowed ground and “just…throw (your) sticks on the ice” and beat a desperate Montreal team?
I was concerned with the way the Flyers lost. Sloppy in their own end, terrible giveaways, Leighton coming back to earth, it was bad from beginning to end.
How do you react?
How did the Captain react?
He was angry. Which is a good thing.
He added, “You always say you want to move on to the next game and forget about the last one, but maybe, hopefully, we can take this bitter taste in our mouth into the next game.”
They’d better. See, after the Comeback and going up so convincingly in the first two games, The Captain and his boys have gotten our hopes up. At first, we were content with getting into the playoffs.
Now we want the whole thing. Can The Captain deliver?
We will find out Saturday on that hallowed ice.
I say yes.
Flyers 4, Canadiens 2.
In the early 80’s when I was a kid, the nation was enthralled with the Bird vs. Magic rivalry. And rightly so, after all, they played for championships. But to get to the championship, Bird’s Boston teams had to go through my beloved 76ers.
It has been argued that Philly had as much to do with Los Angeles’ championships then as anyone. By the time Boston got there, they were so beat up from the war with Philly, they sometimes didn’t have enough left to beat the Lakers. A big reason for that was Philly shooting guard Andrew Toney.
We called him The Boston Strangler.
Toney had a penchant for making big dagger jumpers against Boston. The kind that just sap your will to go on. From impossible angles, as we would scream, “No, no, no…YES!” he would just crush jumpers.
But Boston won titles. We took solace in making it hard for them.
This year it looked like Boston was going to do it again, this time in hockey. They beat the Flyers in the Winter Classic on New Years Day. Then, in the playoffs, they jumped out on our heroes in orange and black with an insurmountable(ish) 3-0 series lead. Leading goal scorer Jeff Carter was hurt, having broken his foot just a couple of weeks ago. Andrew Toney can’t skate, plus he’s like 60.
Enter Simon Gagne. The New Boston Strangler.
Gagne, who broke his toe in the previous series, missed the first three games. Questionable for game 4, he gutted it out. He later said that the only reason he played was because it was an elimination game.
In overtime, Gagne was so winded that he couldn’t play for the first several minutes. He hadn’t played in a game in over two weeks, and it was showing. But as the overtime wore on, he could feel himself getting stronger. He told the coaches he could go in.
On his first shift, he scored the game winner.
Wrapping the noose around Boston’s neck.
“No big deal,” says Boston fan. “Just one game. We’d rather win at home anyway.”
The Strangler would have none of that, scoring two, including 0ne on the power play, off the vaunted Boston penalty kill.
The Flyers ran the Bruins out of their own building, 4-0.
The noose tightened.
“No worries,” says Boston fan. “We still have a 3-2 lead. Plus, with Flyers goalie Brian Boucher out, Michael Leighton will be making his first playoff start in an elimination game. We got this.”
The Strangler assisted on the first goal of the night en route to a 2-1 win to force a Game 7.
Everyone agreed that the first few minutes of that game would be crucial, and Boston came out storming to a 3-0 lead.
Just like in the series.
(That was a literary device known as “foreshadowing.” Do not try this at home.)
Then, Flyers Coach Peter LaViolette called a time out, and told his team, “Wake up and get in the game. We are winning this.”
Then, James van Riemsdyk, who hadn’t scored a goal since Lindsay “Milkawhaaat?” Lohan was hot, scored a goal softer than the Cleveland Cavaliers’ hearts (oh! Too soon?).
Then, Scott Hartnell scored.
Then, Danny Briere, who is turning into hockey’s miniature version of Reggie Jackson, scored his seventh of the playoffs to tie it at three.
This instant classic slugged on, back and forth with chances. Then, just as I was about to tweet, “In the 3rd period of a game seven, it will take attempted murder to get a penalty,” the Bruins did the unthinkable.
Too many men on the ice penalty.
Cue the horror music.
With 18 seconds left in the power play, Simon Gagne cemented forever his place in Philadelphia sports lore by putting home the historical series winner.
In the history of team sports, only four teams have comeback from a 3-0 series deficit to win. The 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs, the 1975 New York Islanders, and the 2004 Boston Red Sox have now been joined by the 2010 Philadelphia Flyers.
But of those teams, only one has comeback from traling 3-0 in a series AND 3-0 in game seven to win. Guess which one it is?
That’s right, the 2010 Philadelphia Flyers. First team ever to do the double 3-0 comeback.
Thanks to Simon Gagne, the New Boston Strangler.