As I scrolled through playoff predictions hither and yon, I was approximately this mortified to see the shortage of pundits supporting the Philadelphia Flyers in their first round series against Pittsburgh.
I understand why the Penguins, white-hot as they were in the last quarter of the regular season, would be the favorites. I also understand why – as the guy who predicted Philly would be the Eastern Conference’s best team through the first 82 games – I might be inclined to give the Flyers the benefit of any doubt.
Be that as it may, the manner in which some people were dismissing John Stevens’ team just didn’t sit well with me. Here was arguably the East’s deepest group of forwards, a defense corps that, while not exactly reminiscent of the 2006-07 Anaheim Ducks or the 1999-2000 New Jersey Devils, still featured two top-tier defensemen (and potentially three, depending on the development of Ryan Parent).
I know the Pens have the two best players in the series in addition to an advantage in goaltending – and sure, that was the difference in Pittsburgh’s favor in Games 1 and 2 at Mellon Arena.
However, in Game 3, urged on by a raucous-with-their-caucus crowd at the Wachovia Center, the Flyers rewarded my faith and shoved their way back into the quarterfinal with a 6-3 win over their cross-state rivals that cut Pittsburgh’s 2-0 series lead in half.
Despite being outshot 11-7 in the frame, Philadelphia got goals from their best young forwards (Jeff Carter and Mike Richards) to put them out to a 2-1 first period lead; some may have been expecting a full Flyers collapse when Pens defenseman Rob Scuderi scored 13 seconds into the second period, but another solid Philly forward, blossoming rookie Claude Giroux, put the Flyers ahead for good less than five minutes later with his first-ever playoff goal.
Giroux added to Philadelphia’s lead with a beautiful first assist on Simon Gagne’s marker that restored their two-goal advantage midway through the second; another Flyers freshman, undrafted center Jared Ross, put the game out of reach early in the third.
Goalie Martin Biron was much better for the home side than he was in either of his first two games of this post-season. But the best player on the ice was veteran Flyers blueliner Kimmo Timonen, who logged a game-high 26:36 and was a game-best plus-2; if he continues to play that smartly – and if Sergei Gonchar puts up a few more minus-3 performances like he did Sunday – something that seemed like a stunning upset as recently as Friday night may become a distinct possibility.
What we saw in Game 3 was a change-of-market correction. The Penguins may yet hold on to home ice advantage and move on to compete in the second round, but it won’t be as easy as many believed.
And I don’t feel so bad about picking the Flyers to win in seven games anymore.
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Adam Proteau, co-author of the book The Top 60 Since 1967, is writer and columnist for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Mondays, his Ask Adam feature appears Fridays and his column, Screen Shots, appears Thursdays.
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