Even though I picked against the Devils in this playoff series and the team's played like mostly crap since early January, I was still foolish enough to think that winning four of our last five showed we were at least ready to fight the good fight and getting prepared for the challenges ahead. Especially playing against a rival that's beaten you like a drum this season, there should have been no lack of motivation last night.
If the Devils want to rationalize their 2-1 Game 1 loss last night away and say they played well and got no breaks, well that's their problem - they're the ones in denial. Did we play well defensively, sure...we held them to fifteen shots and two goals, whoopdie freaking doo. Doesn't mean much when you completely sacrifice offense in the process, only scoring one with less than a handful of quality chances throughout the entire game. And it especially doesn't mean much when you play with zero passion or urgency except for the last three minutes of the first period and the last three of the game.
My first inclination that we were going to be in for a long night came early, when Ilya Kovalchuk had a glorious chance in the slot a few minutes in but Brian Boucher robbed him with a glove save, and that set a tone for the night. Not that Boucher was all that great, in fact that wound up being his best save of the night by far but it gave his team confidence in him and got us thinking 'oh my god, here we go again'...and when I say us I don't just mean fans like myself, I mean the players themselves. We outshot them 9-4 in the first period okay, but it was a tentative, nervous start for both teams until the Devils got some offensive pressure in the final minutes and earned a power play chance that spread out into the second period.
Whatever happened in the locker room between periods certainly didn't help since even with fresh ice the power play stunk (what else is new?), then again having fresh ice didn't mean all that much considering the puck was bouncing all over the place all night and as one anonymous Devil put it - the ice is always crap here. Just wait till the Nets move in full-time the next couple years. Still, it felt like the team was too accepting of their fate and eventually the Flyers took control.
When the Flyers finally did score it was - imagine this - a power play goal by Chris Pronger at 9:25 which I still can't figure out how he scored since I haven't seen a replay, he was crashing the net and either deflected the puck or had the puck deflect off him and past Martin Brodeur for a goal. Then several minutes later came a bit of contreversy when Mike Richards scored the Flyers' second at 16:27 off a rifle of a shot. Turns out the Flyers had a too many men on the ice that they got away with...considering all of the times we got thumbed for this early in the season I might have been more mad about this, if I wasn't already convinced we deserved to be screwed anyway.
It was about this point that the 'sellout' crowd (if last night was a true sellout then the Devils' power play is a well-oiled machine) finally started to turn on the Devils and gave them well-deserved boos off the ice at the end of the second period. They'd already lost me way before and the booing continued early in the third period when the Devils got a four-minute power play after a high stick from Oskars Bartulis drew blood and managed to get maybe one or two ineffective shots on the net.
As much as I don't want to admit it because I like him and he actually tries, Kovalchuk was a big part of the problem last night. Frequently he couldn't keep the puck in the zone and made bad decisions - passing when he should shoot, shooting when he should pass and both he and Danius Zubrus screwed up a two-on-one earlier in the game when they both skated too wide and were practically on the boards, giving Boucher an a easy save on a one-timer by Zubrus that barely hit the net.
Still, a lot of my ire last night was reserved for the so-called captain, Jamie Langenbrunner. I've mostly clammed up as the 35-year old's gone back to being ten and whined about being benched for two weeks, I vowed not to say anything until the playoffs started since there was always the possibilty he would answer the bell once playoff time came. Well the bell rang last night and Captain America was nowhere to be found. Oh I saw him on the ice enough but let's just say he did nothing to help the cause last night and has been mostly awful for weeks. Maybe he should put on a USA jersey, then he might actually come alive.
There have been rumors of an off-ice issue that might well have contributed to the captain's recent PMS displays. I'm not going to repeat what I heard here though it's been around the Internet enough (especially in TG's column), the only reason I'm even alluding to it is because I heard it from the friend of a friend and the captain's behavior has been frighteningly odd lately. Suffice it to say it's nothing that would even be his fault per se or involve anyone's health, but if the rumor was true let's just say I'd understand why he would be a moody ****.
Despite that, dude you're 35 and the captain of the team, you need to be the leader...if your head's really that far up you know where then take a leave of absence. When the entire team has to walk on eggshells around you because you're ***** about being benched and treated like an actual member of the team instead of someone above everyone else, that's beneath what a captain should be. Or Jacques Lemaire should scratch Langenbrunner and Brian 'Roger Dorn' Rolston again while he's at it. As clueless as Jay Pandolfo and Vladimir Zharkov are offensively they at least try. Can they even be any worse than either of these two have been lately?
Not that Lemaire didn't make his own bizarre decisions last night...to start with the d-pairings were rather Sutter-ish, sticking Paul Martin with Andy Greene and leaving not just one but two d-pairings slow as molasses without a puck mover to help the offensive transition. Again, this is a case where Lemaire threw out the baby with the bathwater. Maybe reuniting Martin with Greene helped the defense last night but it sure didn't help the offense any, not when you have Colin White failing to keep the puck in the offensive zone multiple times and other defensemen staying back in the prevent, not even helping to create offense.
Lemaire also threw the fourth line on the ice each time after the Flyers scored once he saw the Flyers' fourth line. With the last line change you should at least attempt to switch momentum a little, and on the second one of those shifts the fourth line got hemmed in its zone and almost gave up another goal that would have been a back-breaker. Not to mention I saw the captain, Rolston and Rob Niedermayer a little too much for my liking at even strength. It's a good thing all those late power plays ran up the icetime of Zach Parise and Travis Zajac because otherwise I hardly noticed them on the ice at all. It seemed to me as if Lemaire was line-matching again, though the end-game TOI's don't support that.
Anyway, back to the recap - after our failed double-minor came another hideous power play later in the period after a delay of game was called once Braydon Coburn put the net off its moorings. Isn't that supposed to be a penalty shot? Not that we would have converted on that, it probably would have been another way for us to screw up last night the way we did on special teams and just about everywhere else. Although we outshot the Flyers 9-2 in the third period, having a ton of power plays and the Flyers stand around and wait for us to self-destruct contributed to that. Finally came a breakthrough of sorts with 2:43 left when Zajac scored on a slapshot off of assists from Greene and Parise and then the usual endgame futile run that came up short.
From what little I've heard and read of the postgame up to this point, it sounds like the whole team's in denial - claiming they played well but got bad breaks, well if the object of the game was to keep the shot total down then yeah you played real well but this isn't a one-dimensional game people, you actually have to score at some point to win! Maybe you guys believe the bad press on Boucher, that he'll give up a goal on just about anything you throw on net but that isn't the case, you guys actually have to - you know, work - to get goals!
If the mentality around here doesn't change and in a hurry, well maybe then I was being too generous to the Devils picking the Flyers in 6.
BoNY Three Stars:
- Chris Pronger (goal, -1 in 30:01 TOI)
- Mike Richards (goal, assist in 22:53)
- Brian Boucher (23/24 saves)