Thursday, April 24, 2008

Sound Familiar? Flyers blow 2 goal lead

(Photo by Phillip MacCallum/Getty Images)
The Flyers just can't seem to hold on to 2 goal leads. For what only seems like the 8th time in the playoffs, the Flyers jumped out to a 2 goal lead in tonights opening game of the second round, only to see the Canadiens battle back, force overtime, and win 4-3. It happened several times in the Washington series, and it happened again tonight. Every time the Flyers pull ahead by 2, they seem to fall back and allow the other team to dictate play. It's a recipe for disaster, and something they can't do against a team with as much firepower as the Canadiens. Of course, the referees also played a part in allowing the Canadiens to come back as well, which we'll get to later.

Not that the Flyers did much to deserve the two goal lead. The Flyers first goal was of the fluky variety, with a pass by R.J. Umberger being deflected into the net by Canadiens defender Patrice Brisebois. Umberger was trying to make a cross-ice pass and Brisebois was in the wrong place at the wrong time. The Flyers then added a second goal late in the first period when Jim Dowd got a feed from Steve Downie and fired it in. It was a pure hustle goal created by the hard-working fourth liners. The Flyers were fortunate to enter the first intermission with a 2-0 lead as the Canadiens played well and had several chances hit off the post.

The second period was subsequently dominated by the Canadiens, who fought back to tie up the game. Andrei Kostitsyn got the Habs on the board when his brother Sergei raced down the ice and fed Andrei to cut the Flyers lead down to one. Montreal would tie the game up later in the period on a controversial short-handed goal. The Flyers made a terrible play on the power play that set up a short-handed 3 on 1 for the Canadiens where Tomas Plekanec shot the puck on net and Alexei Kovalev batted the puck with his stick down into the back of the net. The referees reviewed the play for several minutes, looking to see if the stick was above the crossbar, but they allowed the goal. Several replays clearly showed Kovalev's stick above the crossbar, but the refs must have thought that there wasn't enough conclusive evidence to wave it off. Bad call number one.

The Flyers took the lead early in the third period on another fluky goal. This time, on the power play, Joffrey Lupul deflected a Braydon Coburn shot off his shin and into the net to give the Flyers a 3-2 lead. Lupul was in the right place at the right time for that goal much like he was in overtime in Game 7 against the Capitals. The Flyers then clamped down for the rest of the period, playing good shut-down hockey and keeping the Canadiens from getting clear looks on Martin Biron. Finally, in the final minute of play, Mike Richards tripped Alexei Kovalev with his knee, and the Canadiens went on the power play. The penalty was a legitimate one, though it was questionable as to why the refs would call it at that juncture in the game. Usually in the waning minutes of a close hockey game you can get away with just about anything and they let the minor infractions go. For whatever reason, they deemed Richards' play worthy of a penalty, and the Canadiens subsequently scored with 29 seconds left in the game to force overtime. That was absolutely not a call you make at the end of a playoff hockey game. Bad call number two.

The Canadiens then quickly finished off the Flyers on their first shift in overtime. 48 seconds in, Tom Kostopoulos grabbed a rebound that fired off Biron and pounded it home to give the Canadiens a 4-3 victory.

It was yet another disheartening loss for the Flyers. It was a game they should have won that they let slip right through their fingers with lots of help from the referees. It was remarkably similar to the first game against the Capitals when they made little mistakes that allowed the other team to get back in. Of course, one could argue that the Flyers were lucky to even be in the game, judging by the way they scored their goals. None of them were of the pretty variety, and their top scoring tandem of Danny Briere and Vinny Prospal was quiet all night.

This was certainly a game with a lot of ups and downs and mixed emotions. The Flyers were completely out-played by the Canadiens in the second period but looked like the better team for most of the third. The Flyers watched the clock melt all the way down into the final minute only to watch the Canadiens pull out a heart wrenching goal.

There are some positives to take away from this game for Philly. Despite not playing anywhere near their best hockey, they still had a great chance to steal a game on the road against a great team. The Flyers also did well to keep out of the penalty box for most of the night, not giving the Habs a chance to show off their potent power play. The Canadiens were also expected to be the much faster team but the Flyers were able to keep up with them for most of the game.

Game Two is Saturday in Montreal. The Flyers showed tonight that they won't be easily beaten, but they need to come out and play a full 60 minutes of hockey if they want to beat a team like the Canadiens who can score whenever they are given an inch of space. The Flyers managed to put out 59:31 of solid hockey tonight, but the Canadiens took what little was given to them and put the Flyers away. The Flyers will bounce back as they have shown time and time again, the question will be whether they have enough left in the tank to beat an elite team like Montreal

Video highlights of the game, complete with both controversial calls, from Comcast SportsNet:

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