So here we are again. I’m more mad than sad this time. Not mad at the players or coach – I think Craig Berube did a great job this year, and the players deserve a lot of credit for turning around a nearly lost season – but mad at the situation. Mad that they had to play the Rangers, the one team that you can say truly had their number the last three seasons.
You always want to place blame the morning after, and I’m going to do that today, but sometimes the other team is just better than yours. The Rangers, at least against the Flyers, are a better team. Their defense is trapping-era-Devils stingy. Their goaltender is excellent (though he didn’t have to be in this series). And they have just enough
Dan Carcillo firepower to capitalize on opportunities. So with the exception of Game 6, the Rangers were the better team in this series, and yet, the Flyers came within a bounce or eight inches on a Giroux one-timer of forcing overtime in Game 7. They came really close to winning a series they had no business winning. That’s what good teams do – they find a way – and the Flyers almost found a way against the Rangers. In the end, what cost them was their failure to play as well in first periods as they do in most third periods. It was a late-season injury to Steve Mason that forced them to play Ray Emery for three games. And it was their lack of skilled offensive players capable of overcoming a stifling defense like the Rangers’.
The Flyers, I think, were really good. Good enough to beat the Penguins, and good enough to beat the Canadiens should the Habs shock their arch-rivals, the Bruins (which is totally possible). The Flyers finally seemed to have had a hot goalie capable of carrying them to a Cup. And their defense was pretty good (defensively). I mean, sure, they still had Braydon Coburn and his bad passes, and Hal Gill was still on the roster, but gone was the swiss cheese defense we became so familiar with the last two years of Peter Laviolette.
The problem, besides the Rangers being good and having the Flyers’ number, was the lack of scoring depth (surprise!). We’ve all moved on from posts like this shredding Paul Holmgren for assembling yet another team steeped in a 40-year-old mindset, mostly because the Flyers bounced back from a horrific start and became the team that, on paper, we thought they would be – another good enough (maybe even better than that) Flyers team that was missing the necessary pieces to overcome a troublesome foe – but the GM still deserves plenty of blame here. There are not enough skill players. There’s nothing wrong with Scott Hartnell, Wayne Simmonds, Zac Rinaldo, Brayden Schenn, Adam Hall and Sean Couturier, but the Flyers rely too heavily on those sorts of players – garbage goal scorers, checking centers and goons – compared to the rest of the league. They place too much emphasis on making those types a players a part of their core. So, when it comes time to complement their studs – Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek – you’re left with B- and C-list scorers like 900-year-old Vinny Lecavalier, Matt Read and, maddeningly, late-season call-ups like Jason Akeson. There’s simply not enough talent there to overcome a team that plays defense like the Rangers do. Every time Adam Hall collected the puck this series, I groaned. Nothing good would come of it. Every time Vinny Lecavalier gathered the puck this series, he lost it. And every time Brayden Schenn handled the puck this series, he did the complete opposite of what you would want Mike Richards 2.0 to do. Really, Brayden Schenn sucks. It’s been three years now and he’s still not shown any signs that he is the next Mike Richards. That’s not to bring up the Richards-Carter thing (I’ll do that in a second), but he’s simply not the player we thought he would be. Richards, for all his faults, usually made smart decisions with the puck, didn’t try to force the play, and knew his limits. We were told Schenn would be like Richards. He’s not. Rarely does something good come from his possessions. He either skates the puck into traffic or plays it to the other team (I wouldn’t even call them turnovers, I’d call it: here, I’m bored with the puck and not good enough to do anything with it, so let’s just chop at it for a few seconds and then you can take it, OK?).
But again, despite these problems, Berube extracted every bit he could from this group, and it was almost enough for the Flyers to beat their biggest tormenter.
I know you want to talk about the captain. So let’s do that.
Giroux didn’t have a good series, but he wasn’t as bad as the media is making him out to be. You can’t question his effort the way you could sometimes question the effort of former stars (Eric Lindros). Giroux is simply too small and not powerful enough to be the guy on a team that doesn’t surround him with A-list offensive talent. He literally can’t go it alone. When the Rangers shut him down, it leaves only Voracek that can truly inflict damage by himself. And that’s not enough. But Giroux played well in Games 6 and 7. The score sheet might not reflect it, but he was in the mix and creating chances, which is all you can really ask from any player. Whether or not the puck goes in is just a matter of odds (see: one-timer in final minutes last night). And Giroux still wound up with six points in the series, which led the team.
Mason. This, to me, is why I’m having trouble swallowing this absurdly large pill this morning. He played outstanding. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a Flyers goalie play as well as Mason did last night. What he did at the end of the second period should be turned into a children’s story. It shouldn’t have happened. It should’ve been 4-0 Rangers, maybe 9-0. He kept the Flyers in the game, and if they won, it would’ve been because of him. A goalie, winning a series for the Flyers!
In short: It appeared as though the Flyers finally had a hot goalie… and they lost in the first round.
So I’m not sad. I’m mad. Mad that there was an opportunity this season that was pissed away. Mad that the Flyers’ late-season surge likely bought Holmgren another year. Mad that Steve Mason will be golfing when he doesn’t deserve to be golfing because he deserves to be stopping pucks with his left pad and that quick glove oh my God his quick glove it was so hot can I just pay him to flash me his leather all summer?
Oh, and I’m mad that Ilya Bryzgalov won a Game 7 and Mike Richards and Jeff Carter came back from down 3-0 in their series and are moving on to the second round.