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Postgame: Penguins @ Flyers 4/6/2008

Sunday, April 6, 2008

It’s all about momentum.  Either you’re hot or you’re not.

The Flyers are definitely hot.  Consecutive shutouts against Atlantic Division rivals in your own building – that’s a huge accomplishment.  Consider that a week ago Darren Millard proclaimed on Rogers SportsNet’s Hockeycentral at Noon that the Flyers, Bruins, and Capitals were competing two playoff spots.  Who knew that Carolina would be the odd team out instead?

Who’s Hot:

– Entering the postseason, you want a goaltender who’s healthy and on fire.  Martin Biron is standing on his head, making big saves and flashing the glove  to take away the top corners of the net.  This is the Biron we saw early in the season.  If he can maintain this level, the Flyers will be a force in any series.

– The entire Jeff Carter-Mike Knuble-Scottie Upshall line is clicking on all cylinders right now.  Upshall, having sat out as a healthy scratch in Pittsburgh, scored against the Devils and then put up the game-winner on Marc-Andre Fleury this afternoon.  Knuble already showed his playoff potential – physically aggressive in both ends, gaining body position down low, and making key passes like the one that set up Scottie Upshall’s game-winner.  Jeff Carter just continues to provide strong defense against top players like Evgeni Malkin as well as pressuring goaltenders with his wicked wristshot.  What a shame that his stick broke on the open net.

– The team defense simply doesn’t receive enough credit.  We spend significant time highlighting the offensive depth and Biron’s effort in net, but this mish-mash of a defense keeps plugging away.  Kimmo Timonen and Braydon Coburn are obvious standouts.  But Lasse Kukkonen produced some wonderful moments this weekend, blocking shots as always and jumping in on the rush occasionally.  Randy Jones consistently makes amazing keeps offensively and has shown the ability to calmly stick check players low in his own zone; if he could iron out the takeaways, that would drastically improve his play.  Jaroslav Modry isn’t stellar, but he’s no longer a sieve.  And Ryan Parent put up a solid effort while filling in for Jason Smith, depsite showing his rookie colors a few times at inconvenient times during today’s game.

– The Mike Richards-Joffrey Lupul-Patrick Thoresen line may not be particularly productive on the score sheet, but they offer massive dividends to this team.  They spend almost every shift in the offensive zone, wreaking havoc in front of the net or mucking it out along the boards.  All three see minutes on special teams.

Who’s Not: The Pittsburgh Penguins

Whether you believe the Penguins threw the game or not, this wasn’t a good performance to end the season.  I don’t believe in match ups; I believe in momentum.  I’ve been an athlete and performer for most of my life, and frankly you always remember the last experience you had on the field/ice/stage/whatever.  Ending with a shutout doesn’t build a winning mindset.

Sitting Sidney Crosby shouldn’t impact the game’s result.  The Penguins have proven they can play excellent hockey without their captain.  Remember a few weeks ago when some people were arguing the team was actually statistically better without Crosby?  Anyone who tells you that pulling Crosby spelled doom against a Flyers squad missing Danny Briere, Jason Smith, Sami Kapanen and Derian Hatcher is an idiot.  Period.

As for tanking . . . if professional athletes are willing to risk losing momentum and a winning attitude on throwing a game, they don’t deserve to win a Stanley Cup.  You cannot survive four best-of-7 series match ups if you’ve taken your foot off the pedal.  It just doesn’t happen – especially in an NHL with this much parity.  You can’t afford to sacrifice one ounce of your emotional edge.

Did the Penguins play to their potential?  Absolutely not.  Why they couldn’t elevate their play for the cross-state rivals is a bit mysterious.  My guess: a combination of minds already focused on the postseason, fatigue, and a few returning players (Gary Roberts, Kris Beech, and Adam Hall) still trying to get their legs under them.

Bottom line:  The Flyers have a playoff spot, momentum, and a bright future.  What more could you ask for from last year’s 30th ranked team?

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