The ramifications of blowing a three goal lead and losing in the NHL Playoffs can be catastrophic. With the Penguins reeling and surrendering home ice, the Flyers can completely take control with another win Friday. But first things first. What happened in Game 1?
In the understatement of the season, the Flyers came out tentative and flat while the Penguins skated circles around them. The Flyers appeared nervous, uneasy, and unprepared. Then, after a first period intermission that couldn’t have come at a better time, the Flyers finally relaxed and settled into a groove. More importantly, the Flyers stayed the course.
Anyone who’s followed the Flyers this season knows a deficit to this team is simply a reason to try harder. The Flyers already erased multiple goal deficits on two separate occasions against Pittsburgh within the last month. While the unfortunate habit of starting slow should be addressed and avoided at all cost, quitting just isn’t in this team’s DNA. For that, I credit Peter Laviolette.
Laviolette is a player’s coach. Not a player’s coach in the way many would assume, though. He doesn’t coddle his players, nor does he manage his locker room like a country club. No, Laviolette is a player’s coach because he’s passionate and feisty. He never shies away from letting an opposing player or coach know how he feels. He continually challenges his team and produces results. His players respond to him and they did so again on Wednesday night as they clawed their way back from a three goal hole to take a 1-0 series lead.
The comeback started with Ilya Bryzgalov who didn’t curl into a ball and die after a dreadful first period. When the Flyers first signed Bryzgalov, my brother (a Red Wings fan) warned me Bryzgalov was hardly a “carry his team to a Stanley Cup” playoff goaltender. After a bumpy first season in Philadelphia I could see what my brother was referencing. Wednesday night’s first period only cemented my brother’s point. Yet, despite allowing three goals in the first 20 minutes, Bryzgalov remained focused. As the game continued his play improved. In fact, Bryzgalov was lights out the rest of the way. His crucial saves kept the Flyers alive and were the most important factor in the comeback.
And how about Danny Briere? If there’s anyone Flyers fans love to nitpick throughout the regular season, it’s Briere. “He’s soft”, “he’s lazy”; the list goes on and on. While I don’t believe either of those arguments to be true, it’s clear Briere is a clutch performer. When the moments matter most, Briere is as reliable as they come. Two years ago he was arguably the Flyers best player on their way to the Stanley Cup Finals. Last season, he carried the team past Buffalo in the first round. On Wednesday night, he flipped the switch on the Flyers postseason and ignited a four goal rally by scoring the Flyers first two goals, both on hustle plays.
The Flyers younger players and rookies deserve a lot of credit for Wednesday’s victory as well. Their energy and stellar play throughout the season has given this Flyers team an unexpected boost and at times a much-needed kick in the rear. Yes, they make mistakes and show their inexperience, but what they lack in experience they make up for with hustle and determination. That same hustle and determination defines this entire team. While the Penguins possess more skill and bigger names, they lack the most important ingredient to playoff success; grit.
The Penguins couldn’t close out a three goal lead because they aren’t tough enough. When they had the Flyers on their heels, the Penguins couldn’t deliver the knockout blow. Instead, they allowed the Flyers to hang around and gain momentum with each faceoff win, each check, and each scoring chance. The momentum finally flipped when the Flyers dominated a Pittsburgh power play early in the 2nd and nearly scored shorthanded. From there, the Flyers were faster, tougher, and more determined. They won the battles in the corner, crashed the net harder, and outworked the Penguins in every facet of the game.
Fittingly, the Flyers have a post-victory ritual that includes Mac Miller’s song, Knock Knock. The lyrics include the following:
“1,2,3,4 some crazy-a** kids come and knocked up on your door so let em in, let em in, let em in”
The Flyers are those pesky, crazy, annoying kids that won’t leave you alone. If you don’t put them away, they’ll be back at your front door until you “let em in.” No team knows this better than the Pittsburgh Penguins.
While it’s only one game, winning game one of a seven game series drastically improves the chances of winning a series, especially when you flip the home ice advantage. Of course, erasing a three goal deficit against a mentally soft team doesn’t hurt those chances, either.