Preview: Lightning @ Flyers 3/6/2008
Ever since Tampa Bay defeated the Flyers in the Eastern Conference Finals and proceeded to a Stanley Cup victory in 2004, it seems as though the Lightning control the tempo each time these teams meet. Coupled with other handicaps like key players out with injuries, the recent goaltending meltdown, and the eternal struggles at home, it would be easy to write the Flyers off tonight.
But there is a ray of sunshine amidst gloom – Danny Briere will return to the lineup tonight after missing Tuesday’s bout against Buffalo with a lightly sprained shoulder.
More importantly, I don’t think this is a team that can – or should – be written off. One benefit of depth at the forward position is that Philly still has strong scoring potential, even without Gagne, Lupul and Richards. Jeff Carter’s stellar play pushes his linemates Upshall and Knuble. The three generate chances that result in points at even strength, on the power play, and in penalty killing situations.
Briere, Prospal and Umberger worked well together as a second unit. Umberger especially has demonstrated an ability to control the puck despite intense defensive pressure from the opposition. Briere, regardless of criticisms this season, finds ways to move the puck through tight areas and makes excellent passes such as finding Braydon Coburn on the power play versus the Islanders on Saturday. Prospal drives hard to the net, manages to discover passing lanes through traffic, and is yet another forward who can finish.
Keys to winning tonight are obvious: cut down on defensive slippages and get solid goaltending. The Flyers won earlier in the season because they consistently covered their own end, allowing scoring opportunities to evolve from defensive play. They also received excellence in net from both Biron and Niittymaki. Biron will play tonight, and he must execute the great saves if his team is to leave the building victorious.
I’ll be at the Wachovia tonight, so I’ll probably add a postgame late.