As a die hard Flyers fan, I remember that series as if it was yesterday. In fact, the Flyers disposed of their eastern conference foes in all three series by 4-1 Results. The Flyers beat Buffalo 4-1 in the first round, beat the Penguins 4-1 in the semi finals and then quickly eliminated the upstart Rangers in five games. The funny thing looking back is that one could argue that the 2014 version of the Philadelphia Flyers is more talented than that 1997 group that almost drank from the cup. The 1997 Flyers roster included Eric Lindros, John LeClair, Rod Brind'amour, Mikael Renberg, Eric Desjardins, Trent Klatt, Janne Ninnimaa, Dale Hawerchuk, Shjon Podein, Vaclav Prospal, Paul Coffey, Kjell Samuelsson, and Peter Svoboda to name a few.
The Flyers played the entire playoffs by alternating goalies back and forth, probably the first and last time that system has been used in an NHL Playoff Season. One cannot forget that game 3 in New York, after going away with the series tied, Eric Lindros scored a hat trick including an empty net goal that gave the Flyers a 6-3 win and the team never looked back. The talk was that the torch was being passed by Wayne Gretzky (who was a member of the 97'Rangers) to Eric Lindros, the star Flyers forward coming into his prime. That Rangers team also had world class goaltender Mike Richter and star Center Mark Messier. That Rangers team also had an underrated defense that was virtually unknown except for Brian Leetch and Ulf Samuelsson.
Fast forward to 2014. There are many similarities between the 1997 Philadelphia Flyers and the 2014 Flyers. The 1997 version of the Flyers struggled during the early half of the season just as the 2014 version. The 97' group then had a dominant stretch going into the playoffs and ended the season with 45 Wins and 105 Points. The 2014 Flyers went 3-9 before ending this season strong with 42 Wins and 102 Points. That 97 team was the 2nd seed and the 2014 team was the 3rd seed. Ron Hextall sported a 2.56 GAA and 31 wins that year leading the team to the playoffs and then saw a rotation in the playoffs which ultimately backfired. Steve Mason this year had a 2.50 GAA and 33 Wins. He was hurt in the second to last game and missed the first two games of this series. Claude Giroux was the 2014 version of Eric Lindros. Jakub Voracek and Wayne Simmonds combined to mirror John LeClair who was the scoring machine of that 97 team.
History shows us what went wrong with the 1997 team. After plowing through the Eastern Conference by going 12-3...the Flyers were lambasted by the Detroit Red Wings and were swept in the Stanley Cup 4-0. The Flyers were outscored and manhandled by the Red Wings. Detroit scored 16 Goals to the Flyers 6 Goals and the Flyers scored only one goal in each of the final two playoff games. Game 4 was really the only game that Philly showed up in and they lost that one 2-1. In that final game, Eric Lindros scored his first goal of the playoffs with fifteen seconds left. In an eerily similar twist, Flyers star forward Claude Giroux waited until Game Five of this series to score his first goal of the playoffs with less than a minute left. Now if that is not a coincidence...then I do not know the meaning of coincidence.
So what is wrong with the 2014 Flyers and why are they close to bailing out of the playoffs in the first round when they seemingly have much more talent than the New York Rangers. Why???? Well, I think the answer to that question is very simple. First of all, the Flyers have been outshot by the Rangers 152-133 in the series. They have been outscored 15-10 by the Rangers in five games. So the Rangers are averaging exactly 3 Goals per game...a 3.00GAA for the Flyers. The Flyers on the other hand are only averaging 2 Goals per game...a 2.00GAA for the Rangers. So, the Flyers strength all season, their offense has been less than mediocre. The Flyers defense, which also was much better this season has been atrocious, especially in Game Five.
The Flyers Power Play, a strength for them going into the playoffs is only 4 out of 16. However, the Rangers have been even worse going 3 for 23. So what is at work here? Somehow, the Flyers are intimidated by the New York Rangers. They did happen to win their first game at Madison Square Garden after losing nine straight. Honestly, I do not think the 15 Goals allowed by the Flyers even tells the tale. Yes, the Flyers have given up five more goals than they have scored, but their goaltending has been targeted at point blank, and if not for one stellar game by Ray Emery in Game 2 and the even more improbable game by Steve Mason in Game 4, this series would already be over.
So, for the first time in forever, Flyers goaltending has stolen not only one win, but two wins in the series thus far. What this tells us is that the Flyers offense is what is lacking. I would not go as far as Terry Murray did in 1997, to say that this is a "choking" situation. However, I would say that the Flyers big guns have come up way small, especially Claude Giroux. The only player of their top guns that has even come close to playing a good series is Jakub Voracek and he only has 3 points with (2G/1A). Steve Mason is 1-1 with a 1.92 Goals Against Average and a .935 Save Percentage. And Ray Emery, who has a 3.59 GAA and an .888 Save Percentage has played much bigger than the numbers. So...would this series be different had Mason not been hurt and started all five games? I truly do not think so.
The Flyers goaltending has not been their problem. Instead, they have played sloppy defense and their offense has come up small. The fact remains that even though they have continued to take stupid penalties and play undisciplined hockey, neither of those are the reason for the Flyers lack of success. You cannot blame the intensity as the hits on both sides have been relatively even. It just seems like the Rangers want this more than the Flyers. The Rangers seem to get to loose pucks more quickly and have been more crisp with their passes. Also, the Rangers have used the motto more shots=more goals. Too many times the Flyers have come up empty on scoring chances. And in Game Five, they had a golden opportunity in the first period to set the tone with two early power play chances in which they failed to get a shot.
The Flyers must win two straight, including Game Seven on the road at the Garden. This task seems very unlikely, but can be done. However, the Flyers need to shoot more pucks, need to be more patient on the power play, need to take the body more and need to want this more than the Rangers. It will take big games from their Top Line players to pull off a comeback. The Flyers have been a lot worse than this in the past and come back from the dead. Of course, who can forget being down 3-0 in the Boston Series and then 3-0 in Game seven and winning that series, ultimately propelling them to a Stanley Cup appearance. And we all know how that ended. The Flyers need to fix these offensive woes fast. It all starts tomorrow.
One thing that has always set the tone for the orange and black is the Broad Street Bully Mentality. I am in no way condoning sloppy play and bad penalties. However, I am saying the Flyers need to come out with more passion and match the Rangers intensity. The Flyers need to be the aggressor not the regressor. The Flyers need to be the enforcer, not the enforced. The Flyers need to be the dynamic offense that saw a league high seven players score 20 Goals. The Flyers need to attack at will. The Flyers need to be relentless. The Flyers must show up. The Flyers must have more speed. There are no opportunities for errors anymore. The Orange and Black Attack must use its killer instinct. If the Flyers can win Game six at home, then its anyones series going to game seven. However, the Flyers will not see New York soil if they cannot put the puck in the net. Wake up Guys...Its now or never. Its Do or Die. It all begins tomorrow!!!