It's the middle of April and that only means one thing; Flyers Cup Run.
Unfortunately the Buffalo Sabres and their defensive blanket began our Playoff hopes with a damper.
Last night the initial puck dropped in our QuarterFinal series and what followed seemed to be a lot of positives rewarded with one hell of bubble burster. Ryan Miller came to town with a bit of a chip on his shoulder determined to make up for last season's Playoff exit and Olympic Gold medal loss. He answered by shutting out the Broad Street Bullies despite getting shot on 35 times.
But it wasn't all Miller.
The defending shroud that circled his cage managed break up passes, block shots and redirect slap-passes all regulation time long. Our Orange & Black began and ended the 60 minutes outplaying the Sabres with demanding puck possession in their zone, cutting the heads off of Buffalo's chances in the neutral zone, and keeping Sabre skates on their heels.
Against all those elements and the energy exerted from the hometown Wells Fargo crowd, the only potted disc of the evening came off the crease crashing blade of Buffalo forward, Patrick Kaleta, early in the 3rd period.
If you weren't watching, one might gander at the final score and figure last night's tilt to be somewhat as enjoyable as watching a basement dwelling nerd glue together his model of the Millenium Falcon. However that couldn't be any further from the truth.
Like I said before, Miller had a great game and so did his supporting cast. But what about our boys?
No Pronger? No problem.
Our blue liners were nothing short than spot on and virtually perfected their role on the ice. Pucks were cleared off of Bobrovsky's rebounds, and defencemen like Kimmo Timonen put their bodies on the line to cut down every shot attempt they could. And it was effective.
The speed and leadership from Kimmo, the size and quickness of Coburn, the experience and physical play from O'Donnell, and even the surprising effectiveness from Playoff virgin defenceman Danny Syvret piloted the success in the Flyers zone.
Players like James van Reimsdyk stole the attention from every Philly fan Flyer-nationwide. He and Claude Giroux together set up chances that seemed only 2010 Vezina Trophy winner Ryan Miller could stop.
JVR single handedly took on plays in all three zones and poured 110% all over the ice. Giroux dangled through the blue line numerous times forcing Sabre players out of positiong leaving the line's centering Jeff Carter open to make a potential play. But to no avail, the rubber never nested behind Miller.
The other forward lines had their ups and downs.
In last season's Playoff run, it was that Hartnell-Briere-Leino line that did so well it deserved a nickname of the likes from the infamous "Legion of Doom". Even in the beginning of the 2010-11 schedule these three seemed to carry the same momentum through the first half of the season.
But last night, Scott Hartnell turned his back on the puck at least three different times which could have turned into a nightmare had we been facing a better offensive front. His turnovers were met with boo birds from the attendance. Hartnell was nothing more than a gliding liability all night long.
Briere did what he had to without the help from Captain Gravity. Instead it was he and Leino that carried the hopes and dreams of every Flyers fan each rep they took on the frozen pond.
Again....no goals. Sure there were some chances from that line, but no one could match the intensity contributed by James and Claude.
Where am I going with this?
Some think I'm being too quick when I say head coach, Peter Laviolette, should try different line combinations. If I were Peter (and we can all agree, thank Christ I'm not) I would start the following forward lines:
Richards - Briere - Versteeg
JVR - Giroux - Zherdev
Hartnell - Carter - Leino
Carcillo - Betts - Powe
Keep Shelley scratched and send Nodl upstairs with him to lean a few cold ones back. Nothing against Nodl because I think the kid threw his body around pretty effectively last night, but I believe the team's gritty and physical enough without him in the lineup.
What's this team need? Goals.
I realize saying Zherdev has poor workmanship at this point in time is sorta like me telling you Pamela Anderson's breasts are fake. But Laviolette tried starting Nodl over Zherdev and we wound up one less goal scorer and we got shutout.
Coincidence? Perhaps. Then again, maybe not. Maybe Miller and his defense just played that damn good.
Okay, allow me to finish this up by saying I'm not worried. Did last night suck? Without question. Our five failed powerplays was just shit piled onto more shit. But it's got to be put behind us.
The advantage to playing the same team in a seven game series is that there's no games against other squads in between. You learn your opposition's loop holes and you take advantage. And believe me, if the Flyers come out of the chute attacking like they did all game long last night with the addition of Laviolette's ingenius adjustments and strategizing then there's no reason to conceive we won't be seeing Orange & Black in the SemiFinals.