One goal and one game. That’s how close the Flyers came to claiming the Cup as their own for the 2010 season. Facing such adversity with their backs against the wall from game 82, they were, as their slogan proclaimed, relentless. The Flyers hung in there against teams that were supposed to steamroll them and made history in the process. If you asked any player in orange, he would have told you the Cup was destined to come to Philadelphia.
So where did it all go wrong? How did their season come screeching to a halt on the most anticlimactic yet heartbreaking series-clinching, overtime flub of a goal? Let’s take a look.
The First Line
The return of Jeff Carter was a mixed bag. He was clearly not 100% healthy and it showed in his play but it would seem logical that adding a proven goal scorer would help the team. Still, his absence allowed others to thrive at the center position and for Richards to step up and elevate his game. During this time, the second and third lines gelled and helped to carry the team through the postseason. In many ways, Carter’s injury proved to be addition by subtraction.
Meanwhile, there was one glaring issue with the lineup. It was — as it had been all season — missing a first line right winger. Though this didn’t seem to hinder Gagne’s remarkable playoff play at all, adding someone to that spot would provide some additional, needed depth against the ‘Hawks. Carter was supposed to be that player. It did not work that way.
Carter is a pure goal scorer and so is Gagne. They canceled each other out. Carter had numerous scoring opportunities, including the Game 6 winner that sat on his stick, but he couldn’t bury the puck. Gagne, on the other hand, did not see as much quality time with the puck on his stick. I would speculate that this frustrated him and cost him some confidence.
Laviolette, who has been a stellar coach for the Flyers, should have been more proactive about resolving this situation. He could have benched either player, or dressed an extra forward in order to provide some different line combinations in hopes of sparking that first line.
Defensive Depth and Aging Defenders
At the trade deadline, the Flyers were rumored to be in the hunt for Dan Hamhuis. The going rate was said to be Coburn and Parent. While Hamhuis may have been an upgrade to the top four, Holmgren should have been looking to bolster the overall depth. Neither Parent nor Bartulis did much of worth during the regular season and Krajicek proved to be shaky after getting off to a strong start with the Flyers.
Adding a stable, veteran defender who could play about 15 minutes per game could have made a world of difference. Instead, Laviolette was forced to rely primarily on his top four defenders, while Parent/Bartulis essentially wasted a roster spot. In the long run, this burnt out both the 35-year-olds Pronger and Timonen and that hindered their play in the waning games of the series. Pronger was particularly ineffective for the final two games.
In spite of his stellar numbers through most of the postseason, it’s no secret that Michael Leighton is far from an elite goalie. His worth is a hot topic for debate among Philly fans. They are split on the issue of whether or not he is a diamond in the rough. The truth of the matter is that his success is largely dependent on the play of the team in front of him. The Flyers win and lose as a team because they need to limit quality shots on net in order to win. When the team defense falters, the goalies become exposed.
I certainly don’t mean to take anything away from Leighton’s play. He helped this team make it as far as they did but it’s important to be realistic. The Flyers would be remiss to rely upon Leighton and Boucher next season. They don’t need elite goaltending per se, but a consistent goalie would suffice. A team can’t expect to win the Cup when they pull their starter twice during the Finals.
Hockey pundits are claiming that, in the end, the Blackhawks offensive depth was too much for the Flyers to handle. I can’t help but wonder if these people noticed what Philly’s forwards were able to do too. What cost Philly was Chicago’s speed. Once the Blackhawks got the taste of blood in Game 5, they ratcheted up the pace of the game to a level that was unsustainable by the Flyers. They began fumbling the puck and turning it over more often. Chicago’s speed limited Philly’s ability to setup in the offensive zone and kept their shots and scoring chances to a minimum. They took the Flyers off their game and contained them.
Remember the historic timeout that Laviolette called with the Flyers down 0-3 against the Bruins? You know, the one that resuscitated Philly and seemingly willed their comeback? Well, what happened in the Finals? Where did those miraculous timeouts go? In the games lost to the Blackhawks, there were pivotal moments when a timeout could have provided an opportunity to turn the tide. Why didn’t we see that magic put into action?
Granted, it is absurd to think that a 30-second break from play could continually have a significant effect on a team but I think that the hesitation to call for one provided insight into what Laviolette was really thinking. To me, it suggested that he was worried and considering too many “what if” scenarios and did not want to waste his one chance, in case a bigger moment came later in the game.
The timeout called against Boston exemplified that there was no tomorrow and that the players must play for the here and now. His conservative approach in the Finals subtly contributed to dulling the edge the players played with that essentially got them to this point.