Sunday, April 11, 2010
End Of Road: Flyers outshoot Rangers to make playoffs
It would be easy to get on the league for how Game 82 ended between hated rivals. Yes, finally a stinking shootout decided the playoffs at Wachovia Center where the Flyers took advantage in outshooting the Rangers to a 2-1 come from behind win before screaming black and orange. By winning, Philly avoided embarrassment and finished seventh in the East by virtue of more wins than Montreal, who draws Washington. That might be bad news for the Caps. It also could be alarming news for the Devils. If the Flyers play like today, they could be extremely difficult. The Sabres will play old Adams nemesis Boston and Pittsburgh meets Ottawa. The Rangers won't play anyone. The end of the road finally came.
Make no mistake, Peter Laviolette's guys deserved the win that allowed them to edge our guys 88-87 in the standings. They severely outplayed the Rangers most of the day. If not for Henrik Lundqvist, who was brilliant in defeat making 46 saves, it never reaches a glorified skill competition. Enough can't be said about how well Henrik played. He made some great stops, including two in a row from in tight with one stone job on eventual hero Claude Giroux. It's a shame that Henke's best wasn't enough to lift his team into a fifth consecutive postseason. At the end of what feels like an empty day, you really feel for Mr. Lundqvist. Without him, our team would've sucked. Kudos to King Henrik on a great season. You did yourself proud.
The Flyers outshot the Rangers in all three periods of regulation, nearly doubling us in shots (45-23) when it reached sudden death. If only a dumb league would've allowed a game of this magnitude to be decided legitimately. Not saying it changes the outcome. But even some Flyers have to admit how cheesy this was. But hey. That's how the rules are. Both teams knew it and the more skilled home team cashed in even with Brian Boucher manning the net. Speaking of which, can you imagine if it's Flyers-Devils a decade later with Bouch trying to conquer Martin Brodeur? Now that would be quite a storyline.
Philly came out aggressively sustaining their forecheck to generate plenty of shots and quality chances on Lundqvist, who was up to the challenge. In a role reversal from the other night, it was the Flyers who dominated outshooting the Blueshirts 18-4. However, they trailed after one due to Jody Shelley's goal. Yes. In our biggest game of the season, our tough guy who plays on the fourth line scored the only goal. How does that happen? Rather than get into it, the goal itself was off hard work in the corners from Brandon Prust and Artem Anisimov, who worked the puck to Michal Rozsival at the right point. Rozy fired with Shelley redirecting it past Boucher for a 1-0 lead 3:27 into the contest. The goal marked the first time in Shelley's career (538 games) that he scored in consecutive games.
Already with the fans on them, the Flyers picked it up. While they didn't score on a Brandon Dubinsky hook, it helped them control the tempo. Most of the period was spent in the Ranger zone. The strategy was apparent. Work the puck down low and then back to the points and get shots through with traffic. Something they did all day. Flyer captain Mike Richards came oh so close to tying it when off an Anders Eriksson turnover, his high offering drew crossbar. For the game, Philadelphia hit three posts. To put it mildly, Lundqvist saw shots from all angles. He held up his end of the bargain. Unfortunately, the rest of the team couldn't as they just never mustered a consistent attack. The Flyers came with speed through the neutral zone and gained our zone too easily. They also won more puck battles.
That was the kind of day it was. Still leading 1-0, the Rangers got a chance to go up by more when Daniel Briere took an undisciplined minor in the offensive zone, tripping up Marc Staal. However, the Flyer PK dominated the next two minutes hardly allowing any set up time while also attacking shorthanded when possible. In fact, the Rangers went over 13 minutes without a shot. Similar to the Flyers who went over 17 Friday. Despite the offensive struggles, somehow they led after one.
The second was more evenly played with our club getting off to a better start. The fourth line of Shelley, Anisimov and Prust continued to assert themselves. By far they were our best line during a home stretch that saw the team finish 7-1-2 falling a little short of their mantra. If only the Rangers had played like this all season. Our guys got some early pressure on Boucher, who held up well. Though he saw a lot less rubber, Bouch was strong finishing with 24 saves. Give him credit. Too bad they didn't challenge him as much.
Play was more chippy which you'd expect. Finally, Aaron Voros accepted Ian Laperriere's challenge at center ice fighting to a well earned draw to taps of sticks from both sides. Kerry Fraser, who officiated his final game of a long career helped break it up. I know he's gotten beaten up a lot over the years but congrats to a classy guy on a great career. Even if he missed a few Flyer infractions, it's not why the Rangers lost. For the most part, they let the players play. Philly is the more physical team and it definitely benefited the guys in black and orange. It's games like this where heart and soul guys like Ryan Callahan and Sean Avery are missed. It certainly couldn't have hurt our chances. But hey, it is what it is. You play with what you got. We've seen guys like Voros, Prust and Shelley step up along with P.A. Parenteau, who had a game to forget. It was his second penalty that led to the only Flyer goal in the third.
For 40 minutes, our goalie was a brick wall stopping everything in his path. Even a high hard labeler by Simon Gagne off the rush and a Chris Pronger halitzer with players in front. He was magnificent. Between that, you also saw more edge with Rozsival not putting up with Briere's antics near the bench. Nice to see. I've said it before and will stand by it. Rozy played with more purpose the second half. Unless you can get a good return this summer, keep him. It's Wade Redden that must go. Even if I saw him try today, he's still the weakest link. There were still a couple of instances where he got beat. Eriksson was better. How sad is that?
The Rangers maintained their one-goal lead thru two despite a 30-13 Flyer SOG edge. One of the keys was special teams. An area they excelled at Friday. However, that wasn't the case this afternoon with Parenteau's second penalty handing the Flyers a fourth power play. Even though they got through the first three, you just can't hand a skilled bunch like them four. Yeah. The interference on PA was iffy and behind the play. But that's how they call it. Meanwhile, high sticks were let go along with crosschecks with most coming from the home side. Be that as it may, Philly finally got it tied thanks to Matt Carle, who hustled to a Briere rebound and roofed a backhand over Lundqvist at 6:54. Prior to the goal, PK tandem Anisimov and Brian Boyle, who was okay in his return had a chance to clear it down. Instead, Artie tried to thread the needle to Boyle for a shorthanded bid. Trouble was the Flyers were back and quickly intercepted it and went the other way. Our guys never recovered. Sometimes, simple is better. Anisimov's mistake proved costly, allowing the hosts to tie it 1-1 with 13:06 left in regulation.
Forced to come out of their shell, the Rangers got Anisimov's line out and as usual, they had a strong shift. In fact, with under 10 minutes remaining, Shelley nearly had his second but his backhand stuff was held by Boucher. How wild would that have been? It just wasn't meant to be. I called for Olli Jokinen and Vinny Prospal to step up. Neither distinguished themselves with a Brandon Dubinsky perfect set up during a four-on-four fired over the net by Prospal with Boucher down and out. Those are the ones you have to bury. Anisimov also got an opportunity after Shelley forced a turnover but his high riser sailed over the top.
Meanwhile, the Flyers fired from everywhere with even pest Daniel Carcillo trying a couple from the right circle which went wide. Jeff Carter also got some great chances but was thwarted time and again by Lundqvist, including late in the second. Lundqvist also robbed Simon Gagne with his team still up with the attacking Flyer finisher narrowly missing a putback which caused the red light to go on. It was that sorta chaos all game for our poor goalie. In the third, he turned aside 14 of 15 shots with only Carle's power play goal rebound beating him.
The overtime was dreadful. It had to be by far the worst four-on-four ever. Neither team went for it, almost resigned to the gimmick. In fact, the only quality chance belonged to the Blueshirts when Erik Christensen managed to slip a puck to Gaborik, who cut in from the left side but his low shot was kicked out by Boucher late in OT. Each team had two shots before the dreaded shootout decided a playoff spot. The worst case scenario. A total embarrassment. I don't even care that we lost because getting in that way is for sissys. Besides, I have been consistent in not wanting this team to make it due to Jazzy Jim, who had his minions repeatedly send letters begging us to pay 68 a pop for the first round. It's exactly why rooting for this team is so tough. We will always support the players. But the gross mismanagement by Dolan and butt buddy Sather has infuriated the fanbase. The continued increase for a team that even if they'd made it is shameless because it would've taken a miracle for them to beat the Caps. That's why I can't be that upset. Had we won, the only salvation would've been ending the Flyers' season.
As for the skill comp, Briere came in and beat Lundqvist in Round One with a nice forehand deke to give the Flyers a 1-0 lead. After Boucher denied Christensen, Henrik snuffed out Richards giving Parenteau a chance to redeem himself. He did by sneaking one off Boucher's stick upstairs tying it 1-1 at the end of two rounds. But Giroux came in with speed before stopping and surprising Lundqvist five-hole to put all the pressure on Jokinen. It was one Henrik probably should've had but what can you do? Jokinen, who's been a waste went to his forehand backhand trying for Boucher's five-hole but the Flyer goalie wasn't biting, easily turning it aside before pumping his fists and being mobbed by excited teammates.
While Philly celebrated, a bunch of disappointed and angry Rangers including Lundqvist and Jokinen slamming their sticks skated off with their heads down. Who could blame them? It was a garbage way to decide the final playoff spot. But that's the breaks. Bottom line. They didn't play good enough. For the first time since the Dark Ages pre-lockout, it will be a long summer for the organization. There should be a lot of soul searching. Especially with how they ran the operation off the ice, disrespecting one of the most loyal fanbases in the league. At least we won't have to hear Joe Micheletti, Don LaGreca or Al Trautwig or John Giannone spin anymore.
It was a long and frustrating season for Ranger fans. I made a lot of new friends in the Twitter Universe and saw how much passion they had. This team has a way of ripping your heart(s) out. I'm not feeling that way but know a lot of others are. There will be a lot of quick reaction with some of it overreaction on what must happen. To my favorite fans in the world, take a breath. Go outside to a park or beach. Look around and see what's out there. Would they have realistically beaten the Caps? Come on. This is for the best.
A final thought on 2009-10. For over a dozen years, I've had the privilege of being able to go watch our heroes at MSG. Even if it has morphed into Mediocre Square, it's always been fun. From my very first game- an OT win over Detroit on my birthday to Gretzky's last one to Rozsival's triple OT blast in our biggest series this decade to Messier, Richter, Leetch, Graves, Howell and Bathgate, it's always been the same. A blast with some of the best fans who make it fun no matter what. I've been lucky to have such a great Dad and be able to sit next to him for games with my brother and Mike there as well. We've met a lot of great people in Sec.411 including legendary Anthony who holds court with Steve Somers and was there in enemy territory today. He'll be a father soon. Congrats! I can't say enough about our section and the Garden Faithful. Ya 'll rock. I'm not sure if I'll be back. Thanks for the memories.
BONY 3 Stars:
3rd Star-Brian Boucher, Phi (24 saves incl.19/19 in 2nd and 3rd, 2/3 in shootout to get Flyers in playoffs)
2nd Star-Jody Shelley, NYR (2nd as Ranger-1st time in career scored in consecutive games)
1st Star-Henrik Lundqvist, NYR (season high 46 saves incl.18/18 in 1st and 30/30 thru 2)