Tuesday, June 08, 2010

The 2010 Flyers, in remembrance

by Bob Herpen
The Phanatic Magazine

Friends, enemies, Eklund, Panotch, Boy Genius, lend me your ears.

I come to praise the Flyers - while burying them.

The 2009-10 Stanley Cup will go to the Chicago Blackhawks, who will put together an impressive performance in front of 20-some thousand fans at the United Center on Friday night. It will end the longest current title drought in the NHL, at 49 years.

Nearly a half-century of frustration will come to an end despite a valiant charge from the low-seeded challengers from Philadelphia. In spite of a stirring one-goal decision in Game 6 on Wednesday – one which erased the memories of a flat-out horrific defeat in Chicago on Sunday and stirred up the echoes of Flyers past – the men wearing the Indian head were just that much better with the eyes of the sporting world watching.

Game 7 offered a ray of hope to the club which made the postseason on the last possible day, in the last possible part of a regular-season game. After all, the hated Penguins put it to Detroit on the road in an ultimate series contest almost one year ago. Pittsburgh was also down in that series 0-2 and 2-3 before two herculean one-goal efforts to take the Cup.

Memory, that of the muscle variety and of the cerebral kind, was going to be a distinguishing factor. The orange and black stared down elimination on five other occasions and beat back that devil, at no time more stirring as the Game 7 victory in Boston less than a month ago which capped a comeback from an 0-3 series deficit and 0-3 margin early in the game.

Still, the second-best club in the Western Conference proved why it was the better of the two finalists.

Mike Richards, who missed two open nets at key times during the Finals, was on the doorstep again with an open look minutes after the opening faceoff but Antti Niemi, that flexible Finnish rookie goaltender, once again flashed his glove and struck down the chance.

Never one to miss even half a chance during the best-of-seven set, ex-Flyer Patrick Sharp doomed his former club with a strike just after the eight-minute mark. As he did in Game 1, he rocketed a shot into the top corner while Michael Leighton stayed in his usually-reliable butterfly stance. It was no match for a skilled player who rose to prominence by learning how to place the puck in those spaces the goalie thinks you can’t reach.

Chris Pronger, still considered a strong candidate for the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP, logged more than 30 minutes again in Game 7, but at times did not display the edge, the meanness, which characterized his work in the previous 23 postseason tilts. Beaten, in the end the expression his face eventually betrayed what his body refused to acknowledge.  

It didn’t matter that the too-long-dormant Jeff Carter sprang to life under desperate circumstances and put the puck in the net twice, the final salvo coming with 2:28 remaining in regulation. The score cut the Flyers’ deficit to 3-2 but they got no closer.

Peter Laviolette, once again out of options (as he had been for the first time in the whole playoffs, it seemed, back on Sunday) pulled Leighton with 1:47 to go. The sixth attacker barely had time to set himself into position when the ultra-quick Blackhawks transition game struck again, cutting off a stretch pass from Pronger intended for the speedy Ville Leino, and, in the person of Troy Brouwer, officially put the clincher into the empty cage.

Once again, our city plays the role of noble loser. For the fourth time in 10 years, one of our professional teams fell in that respective sport’s final series, and we will bathe this team in the same muted glow of another heroic run that fell just short.

There will be no parade.

After all, we’re not Buffalo, or Cleveland, or Minnesota. There is no mass salute for trying, no matter how impressive the effort. We, as Northeastern Americans in a cynical and provincial town, always demand more.

And that is why this Game 7 loss, on the second latest date the Flyers have ever competed, will sting so badly.

It was right there, on a silver platter, the chance to steal away momentum in the cruelest way possible against a foe ripe for the plucking. The 2010 Blackhawks sure as hell weren’t the 1987 Edmonton Oilers – and those of us alive back then still recall with bitterness how that turned out – so it wasn’t out of the question to win the Stanley Cup on the road.

But in the end, the same pernicious maladies which struck the orange and black all season long at odd times crept up once again. The listlessness, the indecision with the puck, the inability to finish a check for fear of removing oneself out of the play, the goaltending that was good but never quite championship-caliber. And, of course, the other team, playing in their own friendly confines, had something to do with the result.

With any luck, by the start of Eagles’ training camp, the pain will subside, and we will move from obsessing over Carter’s disappearance into obsessing over Raul Ibanez’s age and then obsessing over every little detail of the Birds’ post-Donovan era.

Disappointment will again turn to promise, as it is often romanticized in terms of what the return of baseball means to Spring.  We will live to despise their faults as much as embrace their strengths when a whole new set of 82 challenges arise.

And we will be united in the hopes that Mike Richards will finally learn to score on an open f***ing net.

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