Just asking, but how in a playoff game between two evenly matched teams (and that's what they are, you can forget the seeding) do you let the Flyers outshoot you by a whopping 18-4 in the third period and OT?! Especially after a relatively even first two periods, this team once again showed its glass jaw when it mattered most and only great play by Martin Brodeur even got them to overtime before Daniel Carcillo of all people scored the winner at 3:35 on an easy tap-in just after a power play had expired.
It's not even worth going over the details of this game, I mean really it feels like the same nonsense - another great regular season that is becoming a gigantic waste. It's one thing not to win the Cup but to lose in the first round again (against yet another rival to boot) would be the final nail in the coffin of the Devils as a upper-echelon team thought of as a Cup contender every year. I'll say this right now, Game 4 is an absolute must-win. Deja vu doesn't happen twice, especially a decade apart. Brian Boucher and the Flyers will not blow a 3-1 lead this time around, especially against a disjointed team that doesn't know which end is up.
A big chunk of that you have to put on the coaching. Just as I feared might happen, Jacques Lemaire's overcoaching himself out of the series. I realize Martin Skoula hasn't been as good in the first two playoff games as he was during the regular season but some of that was taking him off of Paul Martin's pairing and putting him with another slow d-man in Bryce Salvador that doesn't have the footspeed to complement Skoula's own stay-at home style. There was no reason to put in the shaky rookie Mark Fraser for Game 3 and sure enough that came back to bite us on the Flyers' lead goal in the second when Fraser got plowed over by Simon Gagne of all people, forcing a turnover that led to a Mike Richards goal 75 seconds into the second period and the rookie was promptly benched after that, playing barely five minutes in the game.
Of course Lemaire's incessant tinkering with the forward lines are always a source of debate but one thing strikes me the most - with all the line changes during this series so far and all the different looks Lemaire wants to show - he hasn't once reunited the PZL line that was so dominant last year. When, exactly does that line come up in the Lemaire bingo-ball machine that decides what players to put on what lines? His obsession with outsmarting the other team was so obvious in Game 2 when he listed rookie Matthew Corrente as being on a scoring line which he isn't, although oddly enough Corrente's actually gotten a few good chances in his limited minutes the last two games. Still, when you attempt to outsmart the other team you better make sure you don't outsmart yours first.
Not that Lemaire's mad scientist alter ego is responsible for this team again not manning up when it matters most. When Brian Rolston of all people contributes two power play goals, someone else has to step up as well. Clearly it isn't going to be Jamie Langenbrunner, who's too busy sulking over god knows what to actually live up to the C on his shirt. Sure, Brodeur stepped up big-time but again you have to score eventually to actually you know, win a game. Even guys who are still hungry like Zach Parise and Travis Zajac, were invisible in two of the three games. Sure, some of it you have to give credit to Chris Pronger and the other Flyer defensemen as well as Mike Richards but hey, if you want to be considered one of the best players in the league you have to hold your own in these matchups. Zajac got beaten head-up by Richards, in fact, on a big defensive-zone faceoff in overtime that led to the goal.
And what of Ilya Kovalchuk, who's turning into Scott Gomez - assist and wrist-shot happy, and also dumb as bricks? Effort's no longer enough this time of year, sure Kovalchuk has five points in two games but when you aren't scoring goals (or even taking shots on net) eventually that well's going to dry up and he's such a liability everywhere else it seems likely we're witnessing the final games of the brief Kovalchuk era in New Jersey. Which is too bad since Lemaire may well have hastened Nicklas Bergfors's departure out of town as part of that deal as well. I also have to give my boy a little grief, for the second straight playoffs Patrik Elias has been invisible too and you don't like hearing this from the honest Czech:
"We've got to work harder, that's the bottom line, including me,"
center Patrik Elias said. "That excitement, that drive we had in the
last game, maybe we didn't have it tonight. We've got to have it every game. I
felt like we didn't push ourselves enough. We didn't have enough offense going."
Although the refs were awful today I can't complain too much since they were at least consistent in calling every little thing. In fact early on it appeared some of the calls we got rooked out of in Game 2 we were getting back in makeup fashion during Game 3. Of course you would like to not see an iffy call in overtime on David Clarkson essentially decide the game but our power play had its own chances, and wonder of wonders actually converted two of eight, both on Rolston slapshots but overall the power play was just as disjointed as ever.
Even before that point though I knew where this game was headed when the Flyers dominated the Devils in the third period, it seemed only a matter of time before some fluke goal got by Brodeur and we were in the hole again. And sure last year we lost to a team that was down 1-0, 2-1 and 3-2 in the series so it is possible to come back from 2-1 the way we did 1-0...but I don't think it likely. Not only are we 0-4 in Philly this year and have been a terrible road team since mid-November, but worse, with Games 5 and 7 at home we can't exactly count on home-ice when it matters either with our 3-6 home playoff record the last three years.
Plus let's be honest, the Flyers are not fifteen points worse than us even though the standings say they are. They would have been right with us for the division lead if they didn't have the frightening number of goalie injuries they had this season. Of course we had our own share of injuries and then some in the first half, but you could argue our three best players - Brodeur, Parise and Zajac - weren't among the walking wounded. Philly still has star center Jeff Carter on the mend (but playing through it) after a late-season knee injury.
This is just too depressing, it's getting to the point where I wish we had dumped the last game of the year. Maybe Buffalo will be wishing that too by the end of their series. Let's be honest though, this is the kind of hockey we saw from this team the whole second half...I don't want to hear about the 10-4-4 finish, that got padded by four of five down the stretch after some dreadful lost points and we were terrible for almost half the season. Especially with how this team continues to believe (at least publicly) that nothing's wrong here.
BoNY Three Stars:
- Mike Richards (goal, assist, +1)
- Daniel Carcillo (goal, assist, +2)
- Martin Brodeur (34/37 saves)