Sunday, June 13, 2010

About the Other Night...

What a disapointing way to end a cinderella post-season for the Philadelphia Flyers.

This writer is conficted at the current moment, mainly because of a horrific goal let in by netminder Michael Leighton to win the Stanley Cup.

I don't know whether or not to feel misery for yet another failure, or a bust of joy due to the incredible success of the team?

There are two sides to this coin. The first side consists of everyone being ashamed that their Flyers have failed after being pegged favorites to win the Stanley Cup, particularly after mortaging their future in order to acquire blueliner, Chris Pronger. The playoff loss isn't even the half of it; the Flyers barely made it into the playoffs. Free agent Mike Knuble and then-traded Joffrey Lupul were gone, with youngster Claude Giroux expected to fill the void. Ray Emery was brought in as a "low risk, high reward" band-aid at the goaltending position. Both of those issues blew up in the Flyers' face, as Giroux didn't shine in the regular season and Emery was riddled with injuries.

It took the orange and black a shootout on the final day of the season to clinch their spot in the post-season. That sounds awful, doesn't it? But wait...

The other side of this story hasn't been heard yet.

Only 30 or so games into the season, the Flyers were heading towards an ugly fate early on in the season. Goaltender Ray Emery had been injury-plagued early, youngsters Claude Giroux and James VanRiemsdyk, as well as veteran forward Scott Hartnell, had not produced as hoped by fans or management. Head Coach John Stevens was also ineffective in aiding the team. On December 4, 2009, Peter Laviolette replaced Stevens has head coach.

Everything seemed to change from that point on.

Although a shaky start, Laviolette's system began to have an effect on the team as a whole. Energetic forward Daniel Carcillo began to refine his game under the new head coach, playing with new found discpline and contributing on the Flyers' top line. The team began to bond on another level, picking up their pace as the season went on. None of this would have been possible if not for the Flyers' best waiver pick-up in a decade...Michael Leighton.

On December 15, 2009, the 6'3 goaltender was claimed for the 3rd time during the 2009-10 season to back-up Brian Boucher while the injuried Ray Emery was recovering. Shortly after being claimed by Philadelphia, Leighton was thrown into the starting role for the Flyers. He made the most of it, finishing the season (as a Flyer) with a .920 save percentage and a 2.48 GAA, earning him the starting job in the Winter Classic over New England-born Brian Boucher.

Here's an astonishing scenario...the Philadelphia Flyers are one win away from going to the playoffs on the last day of the NHL regular season. They are playing the dreaded New York Rangers, a division rival and team that is also fighting for its playoff life. Regulation isn't enough to do it. Overtime can't decide this game. Only a shootout. Not just any's a shootout against arguably the game's best goaltender, Henrik Lundqvist. Who would've thought that Philadelphia, a team who hadn't put their foot on the throat of any important game this season, would win their ticket to an amazing Stanley Cup Finals run against such a skilled goaltender?

The joy radiating from Brian Boucher after stopping a Olli Jokinen shot lit up the hearts of all Flyers fans viewing the game. One can only imagine how the players themselves felt.

From that point on, the Flyers continued to roll through the playoffs, brutalizing the arch-rival New Jersey Devils in a series that ended 4-1. In that series, however, the Flyers took two large casualties; Ian Laperriere and Jeff Carter. Both players would remain out of the playoffs for some time. In the second round, the Flyers came out in a disappointing way, losing the first three games to the burly Boston Bruins. Somehow, this miraculous machine of a hockey team barreled back to win the series 4-3 in a historic series.After dispatching the Bruins, the Flyers made short work of Jaroslav Halak and the giant-killing Montreal Canadiens.

Setting the scene here: Daniel Briere has not been useless, Ville Leino has now started a run that will see him to set a Flyers' rookie record for most points in a playoff season. Braydon Coburn is playing like a man thirsty for blood (I wish he always would) and Scott Hartnell is producing far beyond his numbers in the regular season. Nothing can be more perfect for the Flyers. Especially Michael Leighton gaining 3 shutouts at this point in a limited amount of time in the post-season.

Then the finals came about. The clock finally struck midnight for the resilient Flyers, ending their Stanley Cup hopes when Patrick Kane score during a Game 6 overtime to win the Stanley Cup for the Blackhawks, ending a winless-drought that has spanned almost half a decade. The city of Philadelphia's pride hurts to this day, but nevertheless...the city that was the setting for "Rocky" respects this team for never giving up, never making excuses and never forgetting that they respresent "us" and not just themselves.

Now, I know there will be several moves made this off-season...players traded, rookies drafted and inevitable retirements, but it is important to rememember that this team was one of tenacity and terror...everything we love. I can't wait for next year.

Good night, good hockey.

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