NHL/AHL Ice Hockey – Dominate This

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NHL/AHL Ice Hockey – Dominate This

My playoff beard is a week old and coming in nicely — not like those scraggly Scandinavians — my ex-wife’s attorney has been suspended from practicing law, and the Philadelphia Flyers rubbed out the Buffalo Sabres in five games. All things considered, This Hockey Fan had a pretty good April.

The Flyers had sweep on their mind, but stumbled when they should have snarled in Game 4 and let Buffalo off the hook in overtime. Still and all, THF still believes this is a Team of Destiny. Figure it this way: They’ll get Pittsburgh in the second round. They own Pittsburgh. Watching D Chris Therien work out on the Pens’ Captain Jaromir Jagr is a thing of beauty.

Then they will get Toronto, the team that swept the Flyers in the first round last year. Unlike last year’s club, though, this year’s edition of the Flyers has speed to go with its power, a bright young goal tender, and an abundance of want-to. Whoever comes out of the West will have to spill their bucket before getting to the Finals and may well be out of gas before they get there.

Before I go on, I must mention the officiating. Call for call, the NHL zebras are the worst in professional sports. Look no further than Game 4 of the Philly-Buffalo series. The Sabres scored a few seconds into the game, but the goal was disallowed because the ref away from the play lost sight of the puck, which was rattling around in the crease, and blew the play dead.

The Buffalo fans reacted predictably and to make up for their gaffe, the officials called back-to-back minors on the Flyers, giving Buffalo a 5-3 power play, which they converted. This set a pattern of miss-a-call, make-u-a-call for the rest of the game.

Most disgraceful, though, was the non-call when Sabres D Alexei Zhidnik swung his stick at Flyers C Damon Langkow and hit him flush on the side of the head. Langkow got two minutes for roughing, Zhidnik four for high-sticking. So much for zero-tolerance on sticks to the head.

Good teams find ways to beat bad calls, though, and the Flyers used the incident to rally back from a 2-0 deficit to tie Game 4. In fact, playing through adversity has become the Flyers hallmark this year. First, there were the deaths of last summer of teammate Dmitri Tertyshny and Hall of Fame announcer Gene Hart, then the illness of coach Roger Neilsen, and — of course — the injury and subsequent disappearance of their achey-breaky captain and marquee player, Eric Lindros.

But the Black and Orange didn’t quit. Instead, they started playing Old Time Hockey and hit the playoffs hot, beating up on Buffalo’s midgets (Somebody please get Michael Peca a burger and some fries. He looks worse than the Cuban Boat Boy the day after they fished him out of the ocean, and played about as well.), their Russians, and their one-man goaltending circus. The Flyers four rookies have stepped up and played like vets (See: Gagne, Simone; Game winning goal in Game 1), they are getting tremendous effort from their third and fourth lines, and their stars have done what stars are supposed to do.

The Flyers’ fore check rattled Hasek’s cage good and hard — in Game 2, he went after Keith Primeau, who held the scrawny Czech off with one hand and let him flail about like Curley going after a tough guy — their special teams have scored a potful of power-play goals and one on the kill, their defense has kept their crease clear, and rookie G Brian Boucher has made all the routine saves as well as a few spectacular ones. (Buffalo’s fans have to be a little thick. Boucher outplayed Hasek in the first two games and was stoning the Sabres in the second period of Game 3 when they started chanting, “Boooo-shay, Booooo-shay.”)

Even the Hockey Gods are on Philly’s side, temporarily striking everyone blind just long enough to let stand John LeClair’s Game 2 goal that went through the net. (Note to Lindy Ruff: Quit whining.)

These guys wouldn’t be the Flyers, though, if there weren’t at least one thunderstorm on the horizon, so just to make sure the Talk Radio Yakkers have something to dither about, they have two: Neilsen wants to get back behind the bench, nevermind that interim Head Coach Craig Ramsey directed the team from 15 points behind the New Jersey Devils to the Conference Championship, and Lindros resurfaced at the team’s training facility just before the Sabres series began.

Forgotten, but not gone
After the poo-pah that followed in the wake of Lindros’ most recent concussion, the Flyers organization erased all traces of No. 88 from public view. Shots of the E Train shooting, thumping, and celebrating used to be a staple of the Flyers’ TV commercials for club box seats. Over the past three weeks, though, all-new, 100% Lindros-free spots have been airing.

Hey, Barry! Shut up!
Whoever decided to put Barry Melrose in the booth for the ABC games must have been trying to drive viewers to ESPN’s gavel-to-gavel coverage of the NFL draft. Melrose’s incessant, mindless chatter made Saturday’s Washington-Pittsburgh game unwatchable. For a guy who’s only claim to fame was standing Wayne Gretzky’s bench, Melrose sure is a know-it-all. But, like most blowhards, he sounds like he is making stuff up as he goes along. He’s also skating short-handed when it comes to knowing how to work a game. Here’s a tip, Barry. Let the play-by-play talk while the puck in play. When all the players stop skating, then you talk.

Sergei Gonchar for Conn Smythe
The Hockey Fan knows it is not politically correct or sportsmanlike to cheer for an injury, but sometimes you just have to say what people are thinking. How about the slash that Gonchar whipped on Matthew Barnaby in Saturdays Caps-Pens game? Barnaby is a disgrace and should be banned from hockey for refusing to use his considerable skill and instead relying on being a jerk to sucker opponents into penalties. The beauty of Gonchar’s slash, which raised a beauty of a welt on Barnaby’s wrist, is that nobody noticed it. The only thing that would be better than watching the Flyers parade the Cup down Broad Street would be to hear Barnaby’s teeth rattling around inside the bowl.

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