Do Flyers have a miracle in them? You bet.
The Flyers believe they can be the third team to come back from an 0-3 hole
There is reason to be concerned about the goaltending of Boston's Tuukka Rask
Simon Gagne has been a difference-maker; Michael Leighton's used to filling in
The Philadelphia Flyers will tell you that they never lost faith. But that, of course, is the public face of any team that finds itself down three games to none in a best-of-seven series.
One day at a time, that's why we play seven. Trust the guys in this room.
They said all the right things after Game 3, then offered them again after clawing out that overtime win in Game 4. But it wasn't until Simon Gagne scored the team's third goal in Monday's night's 4-0 shellacking of the Boston Bruins that you could sense something different about these Flyers.
They were speaking words before. Now, they actually believe them.
Two teams have come back from a three-games-to-none hole in the NHL playoffs. The 1942 Maple Leafs and 1975 Islanders. Can the Flyers actually complete the trifecta?
No, it doesn't happen often and for good reason. It's said that the fourth win is the hardest to earn in any series, but it's still a lot easier to pick it up when you've got three in the bank than when you've got none. That's why teams may stumble with a 3-0 lead, but they rarely fall.
But sometimes the pieces all fall into place. It happened just last month for the Windsor Spitfires, who battled back from down three to the Kitchener Rangers and captured their Ontario Hockey League semi-final series. In that case, the Spits were a superior team that finally found the go button in the nick of time to beat a spirited but inexperienced Rangers squad.
It's arguable whether the Flyers are better in this case. Philadelphia won two more games during the regular season, but finished three points behind Boston thanks to the shootout and the loser point -- but the Flyers have got two things going for them: a healthier roster and momentum.
Sure, you can debate the value of momentum, especially this spring when a team that looks like month-old lunch meat one night comes out like a Morton's steak the next. As unprepared as the Bruins were to compete in Game 5, they certainly didn't acquit themselves less admirably than the Sharks did in losing Game 4 of their series with the Red Wings by that lopsided 7-1 score. No reason Boston can't corral its forces, regain focus and take care of business like San Jose did in its 2-1 series clincher.
Well, no reason other than all those gurneys piled up in the halls of the TD BankNorth Garden. Give Philly credit. They're willing and able to kick an opponent when they're down.
The Bruins were never the deepest team to begin with -- see the recent call-up of minor league sweater-fillers Adam McQuaid and Trent Whitfield as Exhibits A and B -- so the chances of advancing while three regular blueliners and top-six forward Marco Sturm were having their bandages changed seemed remote. Add David Krejci to that list -- Boston's premier playmaker was felled for the duration by a broken wrist suffered in Game 3 -- and the hard-luck B's are challenged to ice two competent lines, let alone four. The Flyers have taken full advantage of that, pressing the smaller defenders still standing on Boston's back end and frustrating the remaining forwards with a forecheck that's highlighting their lack of transitional skill.
There's also reason for concern about the play of rookie netminder Tuukka Rask. Not that he's been bad -- on most nights this spring he's been Boston's most reliable performer -- but you have to wonder if the mental weight of soldiering on while his defense allows Philly unrestricted access to the zone and routinely fails to address marauding forwards is starting to weigh on him. With Boston's offense crippled by the injuries and the ineffectiveness of the recently returned Marc Savard, Rask is carrying a heavy load. Allowing two goals is too many. Three and it's church.
While they're rolling down the slippery slope, the Flyers are simply picking up speed. Philly has questions of its own to deal with, particularly in net. Of course, that's like saying Paris Hilton is having trouble with the paparazzi. Been there, done that. If Michael Leighton is pressed into service for Game 6 after two months on IR, well, it's no more than a Flyers' goalie has been asked to do throughout this troubled season. They'll do more than manage. They'll build on the return of the man who salvaged their season after being acquired through waivers.
And how about Simon Gagne? Out 17 days with a fractured foot and he looks like the guy who used to patrol the wing for Team Canada. He's been a difference-maker since his return, scoring big goals, winning puck battles and making life miserable for Boston on the backcheck.
Chris Pronger? He's been the more effective of the twin towers in this series, outplaying Zdeno Chara at both ends of the ice.
Could the B's turn it around? Sure. But when you add it all up, it starts to feel like 2010 is about to be added to 1942 and 1975.
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