Thursday, April 26, 2012

'Who's Next?' field whittled to four

Great game last night in Boston, and great result -- you have to feel good for Mike Knuble to play a huge hand in the Capitals' seven-game classic win over the sllllooowwww Bruins.
Now comes two more seventh games tonight, with the Rangers hosting the Senators and the Panthers hosting the Devils.
First, a couple of predictions: The Rangers will finally play the way they're supposed to, and beat the Senators by a couple of goals. And the Devils will be bailed out by a Martin Brodeur who finally plays like he's 10 pounds a few years younger than what he really is, beating the Panthers in a game that starts at 8:30 and may not end until several hours later.
If those guesses pan out, the Flyers get the Devils, with a start probably Sunday at Noon. The Rangers and their greater market share would get the more prime-time kind of spot in an Eastern Conference Sunday doubleheader.

Now, if the first-round upset trend continues...
If the Senators beat the Rangers, the Flyers definitely start at home. They'd host either Washington (if New Jersey beats Florida) or Ottawa (if Florida beats New Jersey).
If the Rangers beat the Senators, the Flyers get the winner of Florida-New Jersey. Philly would get home advantage against the Devils, they'd start on the road if they play the Panthers.
All in all ... the Flyers have done exactly what they should this week. Ignore the odds of who they're going to play and instead have worked through three long practice days (so far) sharpening their systems while giving the guys who need it (Jagr, Briere, Timonen, injured players) the occasional rest day they need.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Grossmann hurt, defense gets quicker

It certainly isn't a good thing that Flyers defenseman Nick Grossmann was knocked out of the game Wednesday night. Grossmann has been solid since being acquired from Dallas at the trade deadline, and despite playing on two balky knees that severely limited his mobility, he was an early team leader in blocked shots in a series against the Penguins that now sees the Flyers up two games but questioning themselves how they could possibly allow 10 goals in a game.
Grossmann was hit by Tyler Kennedy in the first period, came back and played a little in the second then retired for the night in what the Flyers called an "upper body injury" and what everyone else thinks is a concussion.
Don't expect to see him Friday night in Game 5 at Consol Energy Center.
That leaves two rookies, Marc-Andre Bourdon and Erik Gustafsson, at the Flyers' disposal. And Bourdon, who went out hurt early in the series, might not be ready to play after getting hit with what some people said was also a concussion.
Either one, especially Gustafsson, however, would add speed to a Flyers blue line that really needs it.
Give the Penguins an inch -- and the Flyers gave them several feet in the 10-3 loss Wednesday night -- and they will be behind you in a blur. That's what it's been like for a Flyers defense with a hurting Grossmann and Pavel Kubina back there.
It doesn't help to have Grossmann hurt again.
But at least the Flyers can be quicker afoot at the blue line.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Flyers-vs.-Penguins, the schedule

As reported Saturday, the Flyers begin the playoffs Wednesday night at Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh.
The Flyers, the fifth seeded team in the East, visit the fourth-seeded Pittsburgh Penguins for Game 1 of the first-round series Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. The game will be televised locally by Comcast SportsNet. Game 2 of the series is Friday night at Consol, again a 7:30 start.
After that, the Penguins visit for Game 3 Sunday afternoon at Wells Fargo Center in a 3 o'clock start, televised on NBC-10. Because of a scheduled Sixers game there Tuesday, Game 4 will be held Wednesday at 7:30, shown on Comcast SportsNet.
If necessary, Game 5 will be Friday nignt at 7:30 at Consol Energy Center, and Game 6 would be Sunday, April 22 back in Philly at a time to be determined. If it gets to a seventh inning, the game would be Tuesday, April 24, at a time to be determined back in Pittsburgh.
Limited tickets for the first two home games of the series are available.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Flyers-vs-Rangers? They better hope not

The Flyers have to be knocking themselves upside their helmeted heads (think Gibbs upsiding DiNozzo) over letting their game with the Rangers get away. At least that's the way they looked at it.
... (Refer back to Peter Laviolette's comments about the Flyers being "dominant" in the last 40 minutes of their 5-3 loss to the Rangers Tuesday, or Claude Giroux's "we know we can beat them if we play our best" kind of quotes from that same game) ...
I think that's all optimistic foolhardiness.
The Flyers don't match up with the Rangers.
Plain and Simple.
They have lost six out of six to them this year, the first time they were swept by New York in 40 years.
They also have lost their last eight straight to the Rangers, dating to a 7-0 blowout loss at Madison Square Garden March 6, 2011.
I remember covering that game up there and it seemed like an anomoly. Just a bad day. You know, like Roman Cechmanek used to have at least once a playoff series.
But since that blowout loss two Marches ago at the Garden the Flyers are 0-8 to the Rangers and have been outscored 34-13.
Know we can beat them if we play our best?
Yeah, maybe next year.
For now, they have to hope that in a pending Eastern Conference playoff tournament that appears to be more about matchups than any in recent memory, these Flyers don't match up very well with these Rangers. And from a playoff perspective, the Rangers have the edge or an outright advantage in all three key, playoff-important areas -- in goal, on defense and on special teams.
Then there are the Penguins, the Flyers' likely first-round hosts. Against them, the Flyers have a slight edge in goal if Bryzgalov's foot pain goes away. They also have, I think, a bit of an edge on special teams (for a club with Malkin and Crosby, the Pens should be better on the power play than they are), and perhaps defensively, too, even with the Flyers hurting there.
That series, I think, will be a long one and though it's far from certain, I'd say the Flyers would be a slight favorite.
But if they survive, they'll be hoping to somehow miss the Rangers down the road.
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Don't count on injury slowing that Rangers machine down. Yes, Henrik Lundqvist hurt himself in the game against the Flyers, but he played through it late in the game.
"Yeah, that one hurt," Lundqvist said afterward while putting ice on his forearm. "I was struggling all third period. I told Martin (Biron) to be ready just in case I couldn't go. A couple of times I was like I'm out of here. I can't really hold a stick. It was tough in the third. Luckily they didn't shoot any hard ice shots, that would have been tough for me. I wanted to stay out there. It was a fun game. I just tried to battle."
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Good Wayne Simmonds quote that I missed Tuesday night, referring to the bad-starts syndrome that still plagues his team and their ohfer on the year against the Rangers:
"Obviously, I think we shot ourselves in the foot again with our start," Simmonds said. "The first five minutes I thought we were good and then they scored that goal and it kind of fell apart."
on the Rangers' sweep:
"It burns," Simmonds said. "Yeah, it's definitely a team you don't want to lose to, six games especially, and I know for myself and everyone on this team it's eating us up."