The Philadelphia Flyers used a 3-0 victory in Game Five on Thursday night to oust the New Jersey Devils from the Stanley Cup Playoffs by a count of four games to one. The Eastern Conference Quarterfinals Series, in which the Devils were the East’s two-seed and the Flyers the East’s seventh, was the first series of the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs to end, and to many it ended unexpectedly. The Flyers used an unbelievably solid defensive effort to shut down some of the best collection of forwards in the game today en route to the convincing victory. In the end, not even a ludicrous Ilya Kovalchuk Game Five guaranteed victory (a la Mark Messier) could save the Devils from their third first round exit in the Stanley Cup Playoffs in as many years. With that being said, we’ll take one last look at this series, with a quick breakdown of four major points: 1)Series MVP, 2)Series Turning Point, 3)Why the Flyers won, 4)What Needs to Change in Round 2.
1) SERIES MVP: Chris Pronger, Defenseman.
First of all, I would completely understand the argument as to why Brian Boucher should be the MVP of this series. It’s understandable and he was as good as he’s ever been in a Flyers uniform en route to the team getting past their Jersey Turnpike nemeses. However, the impact of Chris Pronger on this series is simply not measurable. He did everything for the Orange and Black in Round 1: blocked shots, eliminated scoring chances, took the body to the Devils’ top forwards, and even contributed often on the score sheet in many different occasions. Coming into this series, many said that it was up the Flyers’ best players to lead by example, and Pronger did just that, as he propelled the Flyers to the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals for the second time in three seasons. One thing that will always resonate with me from this series is that after Ilya Kovalchuk guaranteed a Game Five win for the Devils on Wednesday, Chris Pronger responded, when asked what he thought about the guarantee, simply, “Talk is cheap.” Pronger, who has a Stanley Cup and multiple Gold Medals to his name, knows that on-ice performance outweighs off-ice chirping any day, and he proved that once again in this series.
2) SERIES TURNING POINT: Dan Carcillo’s Game Four Goal.
Many will point to Carcillo’s overtime goal as giving the Flyers the emotional and physical edge in the series, as it gave Philadelphia a 2-1 series lead and happened on their home ice. However, although the Flyers grabbed the lead in the series as a result of that goal, they grabbed a stranglehold as a result of Carci’s “weak” shot from below the circle in Game Four that slid through the legs of an unsuspecting Martin Brodeur and gave the Flyers a two goal cushion on home ice in the third period. At that point, in that game, the wheels began to come off for New Jersey. Only a goal down prior to Carcillo’s goal, there existed a nervous tension in the Wachovia Center that the Devils would strike and tie the game. However, Carcillo took the game into his hands just practicing in the game what Peter Laviolette had preached: get shots to the Devils net and at Brodeur’s feet. It worked, and the Flyers grabbed a 3-1 lead in a game that would eventually end up 4-1 in their favor. The Devils imploded afterwards, taking some horrible penalties and allowing the Flyers to grab a commanding three games to one series lead on New Jersey. We all know what happened in Game Five.
3) WHY THE FLYERS WON: Defense and Special Teams.
Cue the old cliché: “Defense wins championships.” The Flyers proved that testament to a “T” in this series by making what had the potential to be an explosive Devils power play absolutely non-existent in nearly each of the five games. The Flyers gave the Devils plenty of opportunities but operated under a tight forecheck system, and a high-pressure penalty kill. The Devils could rarely get set up, and even if they could get some sort of pressure going, a shot was almost always blocked by a Flyers defender or snatched up by Brian Boucher, without the chance for a rebound. Defensively, the Flyers did a great job of collapsing around Boucher, and forcing the Devils forwards to make something happen instead of letting things come to them. Defense may win championships, but if it weren’t for the Flyers’ special teams play as well, this series may not have been won so easily.
4)WHAT NEEDS TO CHANGE IN ROUND 2: Penalties, Penalties, Penalties.
The Flyers domination of this series is even more surprising given the fact that the Orange and Black seemingly had a constant parade to the penalty box going on that existed in each and every game. Whether the calls made sense or not (and most of the time, sense is not involved), the Flyers seemingly always had a man in the box. Their penalty kill bailed them out many a time in this series, but also proved to hurt them a bit in the long run: Simon Gagne will miss three weeks after breaking his big toe blocking a Brian Rolston slapper on the power play and Ian Laperriere left last night’s win after taking a Paul Martin slapshot directly to his face. Rumors amongst Flyers beat writers are now saying Lappy may need surgery. It’s assumed the Flyers opponent in round two will likely be the Washington Capitals. If that is in fact the case, I can tell you right now the Flyers stand no chance if they take as many penalties in that series as they have in this one. The Orange and Black took an astounding 37 trips to the penalty box in only five games, being shorthanded 32 times. That’s nearly seven powerplays a game for the opposition. Discipline will be key for the Flyers moving forward. You can only dance the line for so long in the Stanley Cup Playoffs and get away with it.