How the Flyers Can Beat the Devils
I live in a close-but-no-cigar sports town. During my lifetime, I’ve seen the Eagles, Sixers and Flyers all come within games – sometimes minutes – of winning a championship without cashing in. As for the Phillies, well, that team has teased baseball fanatics for the past two decades with possible brilliance dissipating into failure. Combine that atmosphere with the Flyers’ habitual ineffectiveness in the Swamp and at the Rock, and it’s not hard to be pessimistic about their odds in Jersey this evening – even with the Devils slumping.
So throw all that thinking out the window. Season series records show strength of play in 8 games spread across an 82-game season. Better information can be gleaned from how the team performs right now. Consdier the Flyers’ progression since the OT loss to the Bruins, the 7-1 rout in Pittsburgh, and the tragic home-and-home with Toronto.
1. They survived a late third period burst by the Atlanta Thrashers. Attribute the win to Antero Niittymaki’s incredible pad save on Ilya Kovalchuk’s smoldering shot from the crease.
2. Despite the Flyers’ multitude of shootout woes since the lockout, the team managed a spectacular victory over the Rangers. Brendan Shanahan missed the net, and Marty Biron soundly stopped Flyer-killer Nigel Dawes. At the other end, Mike Richards and Jeff Carter beat Valiquette to secure the win.
3. Marty Biron gained steam versus the Islanders, standing on his head and nearly snagging the shutout. The late Islander tally didn’t upset the Flyers ship in the least – a major improvement from only a week before.
4. The Flyers departed Madison Garden with a comeback and overtime winner. All the familiar heroes – Richards, Biron, Prospal and Briere – delivered for their team. Prior to this contest, the Flyers had won only 2 games when entering the third trailing their opponent.
Step number 5 for the Flyers involves tonight’s match with the Devils. Usually the Flyers start gripping their sticks sometime during the first period, fail to get any past Martin Brodeur, and allow the Devils to secure a lead. With the Devils’ recent struggles, the Flyers have a window of opportunity to kick a dog when it’s down. It won’t be an easy task – the Devils will probably enter the game with increased confidence because of the season series and increased determination because of the tight playoff race.
The Flyers proved at MSG that they have the patience required to overturn defensive, trapping teams. The Flyers winning streak and Biron’s goaltending success should bolster their confidence. The additional component necessary to win? They must play with the hard-working, blue collar effort that defines this franchise. If they can outwait and outwork the Devils, they’ll leave the Rock with two points and seventh place.