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Game 4: Preview Capitals @ Flyers

Thursday, April 17, 2008

I throw out the term “must-win” frequently, and I’m not alone on that among those who discuss hockey.  Obviously in the playoffs, every game should be a must-win.  But sometimes certain games become exceedingly crucial when everything rides on one game.

Tonight’s game will define this series.  If Washington wins in Philadelphia tonight, they will be the most dangerous team in the playoffs.  The Caps remind me of sharks – if they catch even the smallest hint of blood in the water, they attack with such vigor that only the staunchest of warriors could fend off the assault.  Stealing a victory on the road and thereby tying the series would restore whatever confidence the youngsters lost in the last six periods of hockey.  In a best-of-three situation with home ice advantage and bolstered emotions, Washington will be all but unstoppable.

If Philadelphia wins tonight, the series is theirs to lose.  The Capitals haven’t been able to capitalize on the numerous power play opportunities Philadelphia has given up, nor have the Caps discovered a way to shut down the NHL’s second ranked power play unit.  Washington has struggled with defending against a team that consistently rolls four lines, all of which have bonafide scoring potential.  They also haven’t found ways to infiltrate the slot in front of Martin Biron; Brooks Laich’s goal is the only exception, and that in itself was a questionable tip on shot floating wide of the net.  All of these elements have frustrated their confidence as it was never threatened during the regular season.  Should the Flyers manage to leave the Wachovia Center with a 3-1 series lead tonight, there simply won’t be enough ice time left for the Capitals to reassemble themselves.

So how do the Flyers win tonight?  The Capitals have absolutely nothing to lose, leaving them open to try anything and everything within their bag of tricks.  The best way to defend against a desperate team?  Force them to play in their own end.  Keep your feet moving and make them take penalties.  Wear them down with strong forechecking and backchecking.  Solid, playoff level goaltending from Martin Biron.  Sixty minutes of energetic, nose-to-the-grindstone hockey.  Essentially – all the things the Flyers have been doing in 8 of the 9 periods of hockey played so far.

The Flyers cannot try to weather-the-storm of a Capitals attack, hoping to avoid an early Caps goal.  They have to swarm with pucks Huet early and often.  They have to score first.  Otherwise, it might be a short spring for the Orange and Black.

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