Friday, May 04, 2012

Flyers' dale could use a little more Hawerchuk

by Bob Herpen
Phanatic Hockey Editor

And so the Philadelphia Flyers find themselves in an unfamiliar and opposite position this afternoon, down 2 to 1 in a series they should be winning, instead of being up three-zip in a series everyone thought they should lose.

This is the roller-coaster ride known as the 2011-12 season, and it's going to have at least one more twist and backwards run before it's all over, be sure of that.

Heading into a pivotal Game 4 on the road, against a tough opponent, staring down the barrel of a near-insurmountable 3-1 series deficit, you're probably wondering who's going to step up. So am I.

Injuries are no excuse, and frankly, neither is the constant stream of quotes from Danny Briere and Scott Hartnell and Kimmo Timonen after every single frustrating loss intimating there's a lack of focus, urgency and desire -- and worse, a total inability to diagnose and correct the issue.

"I think we're all just kind of out of sorts with each other," Hartnell incredibly revealed on Friday. "It's good to have a couple days between these games to get re-focused again."

I really have no comment after the quote. How is this still possible to say with a straight face 91 games into a season?

Someone has to step up and it has to be NOW. Not once the puck drops on Sunday night, but NOW as in starting with the next time the team is gathered together. There is an extra off-day built in despite no venue change, and it's incumbent upon someone to get the rest of the club in gear, maybe put some fear of God into the wonderful rookies who are enduring a steep learning curve.

The likely suspects are Briere, Max Talbot, Timonen and in terms of total NHL service, Jaromir Jagr. Who can be a wild card in that mix?

Once upon a time, it was Dale Hawerchuk.

Unwanted after Mike Keenan decided to tear up his roster in St. Louis at the tail end of the 1995-96 season, the former #1 overall pick was swapped in a one-for-one in mid-March for Craig MacTavish. It was a clear win for Bob Clarke who was looking to replace an injured Mikael Renberg and inject life into the Legion of Doom as they fought the Panthers and Rangers for the Atlantic Division.

On a 13-3-0 tear to end the regular season thanks to the 15-year veteran, the Flyers snagged the #1 spot in the East and faced the Lightning in the first round.

The Orange and Black decimated Tampa Bay, 7-3, in the opening game of the '96 playoffs, but let the Bolts back in the series thanks to two straight overtime losses. The second of those came in front of an NHL playoff-record crowd and a regional television audience at what is now Tropicana Field, blowing leads of 3-1 and 4-3 in the process.

With Eric Lindros the target of constant strafing runs by Igor Ulanov and Michel Petit, John LeClair hobbled with a bad ankle thanks to a Tampa hatchet job, and a second line patched together with the likes of Pat Falloon and John Druce, something had to give.

And it was the guy who lived in the shadow of Wayne Gretzky during the prime of his career who took up the flag. His goal late in the second period of Game 4 -- right after a penalty to Kjell Samuelsson expired -- gave Philly a 3-1 lead and essentially quieted Tampa's riot for good.

Terry Murray's club won the final three games of that Eastern Quarterfinal by a combined 14-3 (4-1, 4-1, 6-1) count, and moved on.
 
Keep in mind that Hawerchuk was a guy who played for the original Jets and Sabres. He'd never been past the first round in his NHL career (having been put out of commission by the Flames in both '85 and '87 and the Oilers used Winnipeg like cannon fodder in the next round both times) and time was growing short due to hip issues.

But he was a captain in the 'Peg and an assistant with Buffalo, and so knew how to lower the pulse of a team feeling the first adrenaline rush of being down against an inferior foe.

With Jagr's constant groin issues and age, he's the most similar player to the Hall-of-Famer on this year's team, but his desire to win has likely been muted by two Stanley Cups now 20 years distant and the need for preservation beyond hockey.

Who does that leave that's even close? Anyone else have that drive, hunger, laser-like focus that a bunch of Flyers who are spokespersons for the club and who haven't won anything seem to lack?

It's clear New Jersey doesn't have that special player, but they don't need it, being in the driver's seat and skating with the same abandon their opponents did against a stacked Penguins roster.

"I don't think we thought we were going to win four straight, but definitely they've played a lot stronger and a lot harder than me personally would have thought they'd come with," Hartnell added.  They've been on a high the last few weeks obviously, beating Florida in Game 7. They're riding that high."

It only takes one man, one play, one moment to bring that high to an end. Otherwise, that valley the Flyers are carving for themselves will cut so deep they can't climb out. 

Peter Laviolette had been adamant that "this team," in its uniqueness, has no idea how to respond to elimination scenarios despite having a quarter of the roster remaining from two years ago. Still, the odds are in their favor that a hero will rise among them, if internal confidence is not.


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