Game five of the Stanley Cup Finals was an embarrassing performance for the Philadelphia Flyers. Their approach was wrong, their play was worse, and certain players went AWOL. Game six offers redemption.
The Flyers approached game 5 poorly and incorrectly. After losing two straight and returning home, we all knew the Blackhawks would come out like bats out of hell. The Flyers game plan was to lay low and withstand Chicago’s barrage. They accomplished the former and failed miserably at the latter. Anytime you employ a passive approach in the playoffs you’re going to lose. Yes, had the Flyers been able to withstand Chicago’s attack and gotten through the first 13-16 minutes unscathed, they would have taken the momentum. But that’s a big risk and one not worth taking in game 5 of the Stanley Cup Finals. Philadelphia should’ve pressured the Blackhawks from the start. Had the Flyers struck first, the pressure on Chicago would have increased substantially (already lost two straight, losing early in front of home crowd). Instead, the Flyers gave them a free pass to do as they pleased in the game’s first 15 minutes. A 2-0 Chicago lead ensued and the shell-shocked Flyers allowed that lead to swell to 3-0 heading into the first intermission. The passive approached failed. Watch Chicago tonight, I doubt they’ll make the same mistake and allow the Flyers to dictate the tempo. Instead, they’ll attack with the same tenacity they started with in game 5 and put the pressure on the Flyers to survive.
Their approach wasn’t the only issue the Flyers experienced in game 5. Their lack of physicality was also appalling. Somewhere, Bobby Clarke was throwing his dentures at the wall. Chicago took it to the Flyers all game long, relentlessly pounding on the lifeless Flyers. At no point in the game did I feel that the Flyers, or any single player, stood up to the Blackhawks. Technically, the Flyers never gave up, but their play and lack of gusto indicated they knew winning wasn’t an option. I’m fine with the Flyers losing game 5. Losing happens, but for the love of all that is sacred in Philadelphia Hockey, please hit someone while you’re losing.
Speaking of a lack of physicality, I would like to welcome back Simon Gagne. I’m not sure who was masquerading as Gagne in the Boston and Montreal series’, but the real Simon Gagne has returned. Other than an easy goal in garbage time (a result of a great play by Claude Giroux nonetheless), Gagne has been invisible this series. He’s avoided contact, has had little impact offensively, and put up a -5 in the plus/minus ratio. Don’t worry though, Gagne’s not alone. Jeff Carter (-5) and Mike Richards have also no-showed in the Stanley Cup Finals. Carter can’t score unless the goalie’s on the bench and Richards has struggled immensely – not exactly what you’re looking for from your captain. However, I will take complete blame for Mike Richards’ play. I got so carried away with his 2010 playoff performance that I mentioned him in the same sentence as Steve Yzerman and Joe Sakic. Whoops. Based on his play in the Stanley Cup Finals, that would be equivalent to comparing Colin Farrell and Morgan Freeman. So, I’m sorry Mike. I didn’t mean to put the kibosh on your great playoff run. While you’ve tremendously sucked, you’ve at least continued to hustle. Unfortunately, when you’re the captain of a Stanley Cup contender, trying just isn’t enough. Production is necessary. One goal, one assist, and a plus/minus of -6 isn’t hacking it.
There is good news though…
The extra day of rest between games 5 and 6 obviously benefits both teams, but it’s a greater advantage to the Flyers. After a whipping like the one they experienced in game 5, an extended rest is key to forgetting and moving on. That extra day allows Philadelphia more time to digest where they failed (almost everywhere) and regain their focus. More importantly, it also slows the momentum Chicago generated with their game 5 victory. The extra day won’t win game 6 but it certainly doesn’t hurt the Flyers’ chances.
The extra day will be especially nice for Chris Pronger. I’m not talking about recovery though because we know Pronger doesn’t need rest like normal humans. No, the extra day gives Pronger more time to stew. Pronger is angry. His performance in game 5 was as bad as I’ve ever seen him play. He knows this. Pronger isn’t as mean as he was when paired with slap shot extraordinaire, Al MacInnis on the St. Louis Blues in the ‘90s, but I expect him to rekindle some of that aggression and bludgeon people in game 6. If you’ve seen any of his appearances since game 5’s disaster, it’s obvious he’s locked in. Pronger’s endurance and consistency have made him a hockey legend; there’s no way he bombs again in game 6. It’s also worth noting that some dope at the Chicago Tribune thought it’d be a good idea to put Pronger’s upper body on top of a female figure skater’s legs with the title “Chrissy Pronger.” (See it here. You stay classy, Chi-town.) While Pronger won’t publicly discuss the picture, you can bet he’s seen it. Pronger’s awful game 5, playoff experience, mean streak, and the picture in the Tribune have all been simmering for that extra day. In just a few hours Pronger will unleash that stew of rage on the Blackhawks. I can’t wait.
The extra day is nice and Chris Pronger’s play will certainly be inspiring, but the most comforting part about the Flyers’ situation is this: Been there, done that. Wednesday’s game 6 will be the fifth time in the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs that the Flyers will compete in an elimination game. Thus far, they’re 4-0. The Flyers recognize the pressure, understand the moment, and know how to succeed. If there’s one thing you can say about this group it’s that they’ll never stop competing. Even in game 5 they continued to compete. (I still don’t think they thought they could win, but they competed nonetheless.) You really can’t ask for more from the team you support. To recap; elimination game experience, a relentless attitude, at home? Yes, I like the Flyers chances to return to Chicago.