Michael DeNicola

03/23/11

 

What began as a netminding test and opportunity to prove who's the playoff starter ended in a nightmarish question mark between the posts. 

For almost as long as I have been alive (27-years), the Flyers goaltending's been ostensible at best. 

Losing sucks. Losing in a shootout sucks even more. But what's worse than both is sitting back and wondering how in the hell we're ever going to go any further than the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs with a rookie netminder who let in some of the softest goals last night these eyes have almost ever seen, and a seasoned vet who is so hot and cold you'd swear someone flushed the toilet on you in the shower. 

 

Sergei Bobrovsky got the nod yesterday from head coach Peter Laviolette. The pulsating question hung over Flyers nationwide, "Who's starting in the post-season?" Peter figured a tilt versus the heel biting Washington Capitals would be an excellent chance for Bob to show what he's capable of. 

Instead of answering that bell with blade-sharp awareness and clutch stops, Bobrovsky went out and had one of the most decrepit performances he's had all season. The rookie allowed the first puck to reach the twine off of a weak shot taken from the high slot. It was Niklas Backstrom's 18th potted plant of the season that should have never happened in the first place. Bob knew it. The bench knew it. We all knew it. But you shake it off and play the remaining 52-minutes like you know you can. 

Nope. 

Again the Caps came circling like buzzards late in the 1st and it was ex-Flyer, Mike Knuble, who skated in on Bob's crease and squeezed what should have been another stopped puck between Sergei's ribs and goalpost. It was piss poor defense however ultimately Sergei should have been positioned well enough to bail O'Donnell out. 

Caps up, 2 - 0 going into intermission. An intermission, mind you, that will end and then start the 2nd with the Flyers on the PK after Daniel Carcillo took a worthless cross checking penalty before the 1st period's buzzer sounded. 

Way to keep making me look stupid, Carbomb.

 

Washington wasted no time in the 2nd on the man advantage. Dennis Wideman took a pass at the point and sent it on its way burning through Bob's #4 hole. Peter Laviolette had seen enough and decided to pull Bobrovsky and send in Brian Boucher. 

From then on it was some of the best Flyers hockey that's ever risen from Philadelphia ashes. 

As if it was something out of a Rocky film, our Orange Soldiers lifted their heads, sponged the blood from their wounds and began an onslaught that left the Caps intimidated for virtually the rest of the match. 

Newcomer, Kris Versteeg began Philadelphia's comeback with a snap shot past Michal Neuvirth putting the Flyers on the board, 3 - 1, eight minutes into the 2nd. 

With thirty-four seconds remaining in the period, Andreas Nodl fed Claude Giroux in front of Neuvirth's crease, and 'Roo put a slap on that puck harder than Poseidon delivers his trident. The Wells Fargo Center erupted like the coliseum of ancient Rome. 

The power flickered. The beer vendors stood the test of pouring a brew into their customer's vibrating cups. Small children whose feeble bodies unable to take the intensity just burst into flames. The earth beneath the arena shook like the creation of the continents. 

The Flyers were back. 

 

But it never stopped there. We were still in a 3 - 2 defecit and looking to tie up (or possibly win on this momentum) in one of the three periods we've been known to struggle in all season long. 

The 3rd. 

 

I have not done a good job painting this image. I really haven't. In a matter of a few sentences I tell you who scored for us and how, but I never get into deep detail as to how awesome our grinding, physical play turned out between lit lamps. 

To say the Capitals struggled harder than a convicted pedophile being statistician at a youth basketball game is an understatement. 

 

What makes a great team "great"? Being able to take advantage of your opponent's mistakes and capitalizing on them (no pun intended).

Nearly halfway into the final twenty minutes, the Caps failed to clear the puck from their zone. Giroux caught his stick on a backhanded attempt from the corner boards sending the puck to a wide open Andreas Nodl. Andy then controlled the rubber, took his time and beat Neuvirth to tie the game up 3 - 3

You think the Well rocked before? I'm sure the attendance crapped lightning after Nodl's goal. 

 

With the final minutes ticking down, the Flyers won a faceoff in Washington's endzone circle. Kimmo Timonen fired a shot from the point which was stopped but not held, and Danny Briere came out from his office and buried a dirty goal in the back of Neuvirth's cage

The Flyers went up on the Caps for the first time in the game. The lid on the arena was about to blow like Mt. Saint Helen. It was finally ours to lose. All this amazing offensive and defensive play paid off. It seemed as though the slow start and heavy finish was going to seal this deal!!!

But...

 

Just like clockwork. Unable to handle a lead for a diminutive amount of minutes, D.C. forces the tilt in its second tie, 4 - 4, after Marcus Johansson positioned himself for a slap shot which he had no problem putting past Boucher with only 3:19 left on the board.

The energy was sucked from the arena like a vacuum.  

Of course, I was neither surprised nor that upset considering we dug our way out of 3 - 0 hole the way we did. I guess heading into overtime for the third straight game wasn't all that bad. 

Then again, the OT period came and went and (again) for the third consecutive match up...the Philadelphia Flyers were heading to a shoot out. 

 

When a Flyers fan hears the word "shoot out" it's the equivalent of a tree hearing the word "lumberjack". 

"Mike, trees can't hear anything. They're trees!"

But seriously, we're God awful after the five minute OT period. Boucher never proved me differently. 

Leino and Briere did their part by scoring SO goals, but unfortunately Giroux couldn't pot his chance. Boosh let 1-2-3 in a row over his line and the Capitals left our building victorious. 

 

That was our 'W'. There is absolutely no excuse for that Caps squad and their performance to have come out on top. An argument I refused to acknowledge all season long has now made its home in the back of my cranium. Which argument, you ask?

Well, up until last night I shook off anyone who said that our goaltending's the weakest link and will ultimately be our team's demise. They said there's no chance the Cup can be won with such an enourmous question mark between the pipes. I figured our tandum was working just fine. I wasn't surprised that Bob couldn't handle the pressure last night, considering I've mentioned that it should be Boucher that gets the decision to start after April 9th. 

But now I've come to realize that not only are the Flyers going to have to play all sixty minutes of each tilt, but they'll have to make sure five or less shots are taken on our goal just so we can scratch a 'W' in the win column. 

Bob couldn't handle the pressure, which was apparent. In fact he crumbled like Robin Williams in front of a mountain of Columbia's finest. And Boucher couldn't seal an envelope let alone a game. 

Last night, like I said, was a test. Our lines came to play, but the netminding failed like a Baldwin brother. 

My point? What was once this season not a major issue has now become the biggest concern. Our goaltending is not dependable, and that's just putting it lightly. I know both Bob and Boosh both have the capability of going out there and putting on a clinic, however it's a gamble. Like throwing a hundred dollar bill on black. Like sleeping with a sorority student without protection. Like driving through South Central with a mile of gas left in the tank. Like paying to see an Oliver Stone movie. 

These final games of the regular season will be cut throat. I've said that. It will spell out which seed we take rolling into the playoffs. Now's not the time to have flaky goaltending. Unfortunately, whether we like it or not, it's happening and our boys have to push through it. And if there's one group of players capable of doing so....it's our Philadelphia Flyers.