April 22, 2010
The 'ME' in Team

[LOS ANGELES, CA] -- We went to see an Eagles Concert last Saturday at the hallowed Hollywood Bowl. The band joked about hosting the 'Assisted Living' tour given their advanced age but still rocked the house with all their hits over two hours.

Across the continent, in the city where the band's NFL football namesake resides, there's not so harmonious music being made in the locker room of a team surging to an unlikely first round upset.

The Philadelphia Flyers were underdogs entering their first round matchup against the New Jersey Devils despite the fact that they were undefeated against them in the regular season. Even with a roster full of big names, the Broad Street Bullies chugged over the post season finish line on the season's last day. A major factor in the disappointing regular season was the longstanding goaltending dilemma that ended with the last man standing being both an old friend and an unlikely selection.

Brian Boucher was the Flyers number one draft pick in 1995, the 22nd player select overall. It was thought back then that Boucher was going to be the connection to the long lost net minding glory of Bernie Parent and Ron Hextall. Brian had a three-year run before being banished to Phoenix (these days not quite a bad banishment) for Michael Handzus and Robert Esche.

You may recall that during one of his stints in Phoenix (he's had two) he set an NHL modern day record in the 2003-04 with five consecutive shutouts. Then, the nuclear winter that was the NHL lockout occurred and that flipped Boucher’s status to the dreaded designation of "journeyman".

He bounced to Europe, the AHL and then back to the NHL with a cushy gig as Evgeni Nabokov's caddy in San Jose. But when the injury plague hit the Flyers he was brought back home but there was no celebration down Broad Street as his regular season ended with a bad 9-18-3 record. But it's how he earned that ninth win is why Brian is a character in this story, Boucher went save for save with King Henrik Lundqvist in the season's thrilling final game. Only when he stopped Rangers' world class underachiever Olli Jokinen did the Flyers secure their playoff berth.

So with the deck stacked against Boucher and the Flyers, they've acquitted themselves well in the first round against their Turnpike rivals. If they're able to knock the Devils out and Ilya Kovalchuk into unrestricted free agency, it would be a nice little story in the land of Cheese Steaks.

Or so you would think.

The reality is the Flyers locker room is the most fractured of any NHL playoff entry. Old school veterans like Chris Pronger question the young leadership that's been given to the likes of Mike Richards and Jeff Carter. Not that he resents the huge dollars given Richards and Daniel Briere; it's the fact that the younger talent doesn't play the game the right way. With comfortable wallets and no Stanley Cup rings, the inexperienced pivotal players have a 'me first' mentality that's created a mini-Grand Canyon in South Philly.

The plot gets really juicy with the Flyers holding a commanding 3-1 lead against the Kovalchuks, but in the process losing two key players, Simon Gagne and Jeff Carter.

Assuming they close out the Newarkers, the stakes (not cheese) get raised even further and with a two faction locker room, it makes it almost impossible to beat the probably second round opponent, the Washington Capitals.

If they don't make quick work of the Devils and they get extended to a Game 7 on the road, how much of a chance would you give a team that barely tolerates each other in the room?

HERE AND THERE

Playoff time is awesome for both the fans and the media. The intensity is off the chart, there are no blowouts and the spotlight shines very brightly. Some observations from press row...

...I've campaigned since the season started that Rob Blake is badly miscast as the captain of the San Jose Sharks and never was that more evident than in Game 3 of their playoff series against the Avalanche. After netting what could have proved to been a series deciding own goal, Dan Boyle faced the music in the post game locker room. Boyle faced the press with dignity and grace, just like he did when the Sharks were eliminated in Game 6 last year in Anaheim. Although he's won a Stanley Cup, true leadership is exhibited when you win, not lose. If Todd McLellan survives another possible early season exit (GM Doug Wilson should go down if and when there's a still another South Bay flop), his first order of business should be to bring the C where it truly belongs, on Dan Boyle's chest.

...I'm pretty sure my vote for Drew Doughty as the Norris Winner was a good one.

...Vancouver writers: A conspiracy against a team who played sub-.500 hockey and routinely disappears in April? Please, the conspiracy is how the Kings are 9 for 16 on the powerplay. Come up with something more viable like Roberto Luongo was brainwashed during the Olympics.

...While the Kings-Canucks looks like a seven game series, there's one huge difference between these teams. Los Angeles possesses a far superior defensive unit; Vancouver can't trump the offensive prowess of Doughty and Jack Johnson and really misses the presence of Willie Mitchell in front of the net. Even if they were to outlast the over achieving Kings and win the series, they're neither sturdy nor talented enough on the backline to go much farther.

...To stir the pot in Denver for you nice Avalanche folks, try this on one for size. Craig Anderson: Nice guy, nice season, average goaltender. He'll be a backup in two years.

...Maybe the Hawks get off the deck but they need to stop reading all the great press about themselves and get in the game.

...So if you're Kings GM Dean Lombardi and you get a call from Patrick Marleau's agent on July 1, would you take the call?

...All of a sudden, my October Stanley Cup pick of the Bruins isn't so embarrassing.

Dennis Bernstein, the man behind SCORE! Media and an NHL Analyst with ESPN Radio, is the Senior Writer for The Fourth Period Magazine and a Columnist for TheFourthPeriod.com. You can also visit Dennis on Twitter.

  Archives:
Mar. 04, 2010 Trading Places: Kings and Ducks make moves
Feb. 18, 2010 Kings fans happy with Kovalchuk decision
Jan. 20, 2010 The First City
Dec. 29, 2009 From Us to You
Dec. 02, 2009 Not so Quick, my friend


 

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