Like a midget at a urinal, the Flyers were gonna have to stay on their toes (RIP, Leslie Nielson).
Leading into Sunday afternoon, Philadelphia's legs had not been active in a game situation since April 22's victory in Game 6 versus the Penguins. It was exactly seven days the Orange & Black Nation went without Flyers hockey, and everyone was a bit nervous whether the week's break would do our boys good or bad.
Our SemiFinals adversaries, however, were not even coming off of two full days since their dramatic Game 7 finish against the Florida Panthers which had gone to two Overtime frames. So you could easily say the Flyers were much more rested.
But then there's that "rust" factor...
Naturally the Flyers tend to start their tilts a bit slow. It's why this season's team has been nicknamed The Comeback Kids. Because of that and the defensive way the Devils play, I figured our first game of the series could quite possibly meet extra periods. So before the puck dropped, I got a text from a buddy of mine asking for my prediction --
You can think that image is photoshopped or edited all you want, but it is real. I knew we'd go to Overtime with a 3 - 3 score on the board, and it'd be a Flyer who'd beat Marty Brodeur to get the decision....
...alright, so I pulled a prediction out of my ass, and by some preposterous chance, it was the correct one. But enough of splitting hairs here!
Our Philadelphia Broad Street Bullies welcomed the visiting New Jersey Devils yesterday, and sent them back into the dressing room sulking just as quickly.
Getting on the board first was Devils captain (and soon to be unrestricted free agent) Zach Parise, who beat Ilya Bryzgalov with a one-time shot fed to his stick by Patrick Elias behind our net.
Prior to Jersey striking first, it had seemed the only Orange sweater to show up to play was #30's.
Bryzgalov had an up and down performance in Game 1. He made some unbelievably clutch saves earlier on in the contest, but also allowed two other attempts past his weak five hole which cost the Flyers a possible-win in regulation.
I am NOT about to get on Ilya's case. Like I said, he made key stops which otherwise would have meant Game 1's decision tipping in Jersey's favor. But let's take a look at Travis Zajac's equalizing squeezer that he shoved through the wickets of Bryzgalov --
Bryz had left the net to play the puck behind the goal line. When the rubber vapored past his stick and into the corner boards, Ilya nonchalantly began his trip back between the posts. I even noticed it before the goal was scored or any replay was shown on the television.
"WHAT ARE YOU DOING!?!?" I screamed, watching Bryz just staring at the play has he continued his imprudent voyage to where he NEEDED to be.
Instead, he was woken from his mid-game coma when Parise got a hold of the puck and sent it packing for the slot. Zajac's curved stickblade redirected the pass and through Ilya's legs with almost effortless ease.
It was one of those moments where you could hear every Flyers fan open-palm slap their foreheads in unison.
Another head-shaking lit lamp came late in the 3rd period when our boys possessed a 3 - 2 lead.
After the puck had been turned over off a weak pass from Jakub Voracek, the aging Petr Sykora steamrolled up ice and turned it into a 1-on-1 with our $51M netminder.
Bryzgalov stepped out of the net to challenge Sykora, and --
Another lousy goal allowed by Ilya. A goal that should have never happened. Another puck leaving its powderburns through Bryzgalov's undercarriage.
These are shots you MUST stop, especially in the post-season. These should be attempts you face and eliminate in your sleep, but instead the 35yr old Sykora made Bryz look like a Beer League goalie.
It's incredibly frustrating, but it's also impossible to drop the verbal hammer all over Ilya Bryzgalov. Yesterday he made saves that -- no doubt -- would have beaten him in the QuarterFinals versus Pittsburgh.....where both he and Fleury resembled papier-mâché in goal.
So I'm lead to believe that Bryz's gaping five-hole is a quick fix for tomorrow's Game 2. No, I'm not jinxing anything because, 1) We're not in grade school, and 2) Ilya looks like he's on his game and ready to put these Devils down like a rabid canine. Therefore he'll welcome a little extra fire under his ass and close those friggin' leg pads.
Opposite of our #30 is another -- more renown -- #30, Martin Brodeur.
Marty's style in net challenges today's typical hybrid style which is a combination of a stand-up and butterfly goalie. Brodeur confronts a lot of shots by instinctively flopping to his side like a sunbathing elephant seal. But who am I to question Marty's method of stopping pucks?
In his 21-year career, Brodeur's won three Stanley Cups with the New Jersey Devils, and even at the weathered age of 39 (soon to be 40), Martin shows flashes of his former, dominating self. Yesterday was no different. Thankfully, due to the Flyers unbelievably relentless offensive attack, it couldn't save him and his Club from a 4 - 3 Overtime loss.
Philly threw a total of 36-shots on Brodeur's net, and he denied 32 of them.
The four lit lamps came from Danny Briere (2), James van Riemsdyk, and Claude Giroux.
Heading into the first intermission, the Flyers were down 1 - 0 after Parise's goal had gone unanswered. It was blatantly obvious that this was not the same vitality we witnessed from Philly in the first period of Game 6 against the Pens.
But just like that, the 2nd opened up and so did the Flyers on the scoreboard --
A brilliant stretch pass from Voracek met up with a cheating Danny Briere who broke away from neutral zone contention and easily potted a harmonizing puck behind Brodeur.
Briere's awareness is what led to this goal. Against an opposition who tends to load center ice with a tussling defense, Danny cheated upward closer to New Jersey's blue line behind their barricade and turned the play into a finished piece of art.
Later on in Overtime, it was #48 who rung the bell once again for the game-winning goal --
Briere's two tallies in the opening game of the Series puts him at a tie with Claude Giroux for the most goals-scored among NHL players in the 2012 Playoffs (7).
Throughout the regular season, Danny had only scored 16-goals in 70-games played, and now -- in the quest for the Cup -- he's virtually halfway to that total in only 7-games played.
What....the hell....is with Briere....in the Playoffs!?!?!
Call him Mr. Playoffs.
Call him Captain Clutch.
Call him whatever you want (in regards to his success in the post-season). But now Daniel Briere has 106pts in 104 career Playoff games.
That....that's truly a magnificent and astronomical number. Even unadulterated douchebags like myself -- who bag on Briere's statistics throughout the 82-game season -- have to swallow their pride (and their mouthful of crow) and just admit that the Playoff version of Danny Briere is what champions are made of. Plain and simple.
And as long as we're going to compliment skaters on their champion attributes, I'd be insensible not to mention Claude Giroux.
We've all seen how he can takeover a game in the opening seconds and lead the momentum by example on the frozen pond. And the best part about that is we'll forever continue to see it from him.
As the Flyers met the ice in the 3rd period, tied 2 - 2, Devils defenseman went to the box on a hooking penalty.
29-seconds into the Power-Play, Timonen fed a pass from the point to a waiting-Giroux just outside the slot. Claude wound his stick back for the slap shot, and --
With the intensity of a dying star, the force put on that puck by Giroux could only be matched by the sneeze of God. Saying he "put the puck on a rope" is an understatement.
To say Giroux's sniping slap shot is "surgical".....is an understatement.
Put it this way; If I had a tumor growing off my scalp, I'd sooner look to Claude Giroux's one-timer for removal than a medical professional's assistance (not sure if my health insurance covers such a procedure).
James van Riemsdyk had returned from his broken foot injury at the tailend of the QuarterFinals series. He did not see much playing time. It was -- more or less -- a transitional period for JvR.
However, yesterday was anything but.
Laviolette had made the decision to split up Briere's traditional line combination (Schenn-Briere-Simmonds) and center him between James and Jakub Voracek. It was quite the gambling move considering the former combination paid many dividends in the final quarter of the regular season and throughout the Series with our Pennsylvania neighbors.
van Riemsdyk finished yesterday with one goal, a plus-3 rating and 5-shots on Brodeur.
On any given gameday, those are some respectable statistics. But they certainly don't pay James' performance any justice.
Throughout the afternoon, JvR displayed just why Holmgren had not given up on him midway through the season. James was part of many trade rumors that surfaced and buzzed leading up to (and including) the NHL's Trade Deadline.
A mixture of size, speed, puck handling, awareness and a power-forward style of play all materialized at once from van Riemsdyk.
His greatest addition to yesterday's victory was not his goal in the 2nd period, but the way he camped in front of Brodeur, screening his vision, on Danny Briere's Overtime game-winning shot.
Laviolette was not the only one who noticed van Riemsdyk's successful bounce-back --
Briere's right. If JvR can continue playing his way, then we've got a 6'3" man-child skating in Orange who possesses Wayne Simmonds' and Scott Hartnell's grit, Briere's shot, Voracek's power while bringing the puck to the net, and Jagr's ability to keep the puck away from a draping defender.....ALL IN ONE PLAYER.
To the opposing team, that is a nightmare on many levels.
Hopefully tomorrow's Game 2 (scheduled for a 7:30 start) doesn't start off as slowly as yesterday's, yet ends with the same winning result.
Until then, fans....
Good night. Great hockey.
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