This might have been the first series since 1987 where the Flyers got decidedly better goaltending than their opposition, but that’s not the sole reason Philly has gone from Eastern doormat to conference finalist in the span of a year.
The Flyers win over Montreal was a lesson in efficiency and determination. Philadelphia may have been outshot – at times, heavily – along the way, but it made its scoring attempts count by tipping pucks, screening goalies and finding rebounds.
And I don’t know that one player wearing black and orange ever came out of a corner empty-handed.
Factor in Martin Biron making all the big saves, just as Ron Hextall did when he won the Conn Smythe 21 years ago, and you’ve got a winning mix.
R.J. USA OK?
Hope you like your Umberger hot.
R.J. Umberger’s eight goals versus Montreal has the Pittsburgh native poised to tear after his hometown Penguins (barring a miraculous Rangers comeback).
And what does Umberger have in common with Colorado killer Johan Franzen, the only guy who scored more goals than him in the second round?
Any team could have had either of them.
Franzen, he of nine goals in four games versus the Avs in Round 2, watched 96 players get picked ahead of him before Detroit called his name in the 2004 draft. That same summer, the Flyers decided to sign Umberger as a free agent after things didn’t work out with him and the Canucks.
Signing the likes of Daniel Briere and Brian Rafalski were great decisions by Philly and Detroit, but ultimately it’s those shrewd moves when nobody else is looking that can make all the difference.
And even assuming this is the last eight-goal series of Umberger’s life, it’s looking very likely the two-way threat will be back in Vancouver wearing red, white and blue as a role player on Team USA during the 2010 Olympics.
STILL A LONG WAY OFF
Much will be made of Montreal’s surprise season and there certainly looks to be a good foundation upon which to build. But the Canadiens are a long way from ending the team’s 15-year championship drought.
The truth about the Habs’ best players is they’re excellent second-line guys. Alex Kovalev is at his best when the opposition kind of forgets about him because they’re focusing on the top line’s abilities. Saku Koivu and Tomas Plekanec are slick, skilled players who would be much more dangerous if they were drawing second-pair or third-pair defensemen.
Montreal’s blueline has a bruiser in Mike Komisarek and a mover in Andrei Markov, but comb rosters of Stanley Cup-winning squads over the last 20 years and you’ll quickly see many of them have defense corps anchored by a player who amounts to a Markov-Komisarek hybrid.
The Canadiens made tremendous progress this season, but getting over the next hump is going to take some doing.
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Ryan Dixon is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey’s Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Wednesdays and his column, Top Shelf, appears every second Friday.
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