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The difference between baseball and hockey: a Philadelphia story

Saturday, October 25, 2008

They played a very desperate game and played well. They deserved to win tonight. We weren’t good enough to win tonight.Brent Sutter, New Jersey Devils head coach

Philly’s a bit baseball-crazed at the moment, for good reason. It’s not every year that the Phillies make the playoffs, let alone earn a trip to the World Series. I was at the Kimmel Center on Thursday night, and the storied Philadelphia Orchestra even had the game on wide-screen TVs during intermission and after the concert.

But there is a key difference between those sports that I think we overlook at times. Baseball is a game of statistics. From the color guys to the average fan, baseball fandom seems to come complete with a thorough knowledge of obscure details of scouting reports, stat sheets, and complex mathematical equations that boggle the mind. You can look at a boxscore from 55 years ago and get a full sense of the entire game, envisioning each play in your mind.
Not so in hockey. You can scour scoresheets all you want, but there’s only so much stats can tell you. For example, a routine check in the corners gets counted on a stat sheet as equal to a massive, demolishing center-ice blow.

Last night’s first period score – Flyers 2, Devils 3 – did not reflect the real momentum of the game. The Flyers brought tons of energy into the building, and it showed. They forced turnovers; they earned power plays; they drove the net; they drew Martin Brodeur out of position. They brought an attitude of determination and resiliency. All they needed was a more concerted effort in net for a chance to win the game.

And that’s exactly what Martin Biron delievered in the second and third periods. He stopped 23 of 26 shots in Newark, shutting out the Devils for the last 40 minutes of the game. Like a pitcher in a clutch situation, Biron did enough to give his major hitters – Richards, Carter, and Gagne – the opportunity to bring a victory home.
That brings us to today’s matchups. The Flyers take on the Devils once again at the Wachovia Center, and the Phillies will look for win no. 2 against the Tampa Bay Rays at Citizens Bank Park. And despite the differences between the sports, it really boils down to the same things: good pitching/goaltending, good offense, and good defense from the entire roster. Let’s go Phils and Flyers!

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