Ice Chips: And Then There Were Four…
While the Flyers didn’t end the season with a thud, I don’t think anyone thought they would be playing in the Eastern Conference finals. They were a team that couldn’t hold a lead, with a slow defense, and a top line that seemed to have run out of gas.
Suddenly, they’ve found a second gear, and Daniel Briere is playing like the free agent god-send the Flyers hoped he would be, although he was a bit silent in the Montreal series as he was booed every time he touched the puck. He’s put up 14 points in 12 games, amazingly while averaging a relatively modest 18 minutes or so a night. He’s effective and efficient.
Of course, Briere couldn’t do it alone. He’s joined by Vaclav Prospal, a trade deadline pickup who’s produced 12 points (three goals, nine assists) while clicking very nicely with Briere, and R.J. Umberger who’s put up 11 points (nine goals, two assists). He also has a 25 per cent shot percentage. Effective and efficient. And how about Umberger’s performance against the Habs? Eight goals in five games? Uh, ya. I bet you saw that coming.
Of course, some might argue Philadelphia’s best player has been goalie Marty Biron. If you look at his numbers, they’re really very ordinary (.914 save percentage, 2.72 goals against), but when you consider the Flyers haven’t had a solid presence in goal since Ron Hextall, it suddenly seems very comforting. Because Biron is nothing if not unflappable. And he’s going to need that unflappability with defenseman Kimmo Timonen gone for the rest of the playoffs with a blood clot.
The Flyers have to match up against an increasingly physical Penguin team. Obviously, when people talk about Pittsburgh, they’re going to talk about Sidney Crosby, but he wasn’t a huge factor in the second round. The Penguins’ big man in the second round was Evgeni Malkin, who has six goals and eight assists through two rounds, with four powerplay goals. You have to wonder if the people in Pittsburgh are going to turn in their 87s for 71s. I wish I were a tailor in Pittsburgh.
Powerplays are turning into an interesting indicator of playoff success. If you look at the playoff powerplay leaders from around the league, you see some familiar teams. Philadelphia. Dallas. Detroit. Pittsburgh. Obviously, converting powerplay opportunities is proving to be helpful, which while not surprising, is somehow reassuring. Penalty killing isn’t the answer. Offense still lives in the NHL…
Of course, Thursday night, in Game One of the Detroit-Dallas Western Conference Final, the powerplay was kind of a big deal. Detroit had powerplay goals from Brian Rafalski, Tomas Holmstrom, and of course, the increasingly unstoppable Johan Franzen. Franzen already has 12 playoff goals. That’s the same number of goals he had in his rookie season. An 80-game rookie season.
I don’t actually coach the Stars, but if I did, I wouldn’t give Detroit as much space as Dallas did during Game One. Detroit had the run of the ice, with plenty of red jerseys in front of Stars goalie Marty Turco. Dallas is a defensive team. It needs to remember its tight-checking roots, especially now that defenseman Sergei Zubov is back in the lineup. That guy just doesn’t like to play defense.