Monday, March 4, 2013

Flying Above Water

"I can see clearly now the rain has gone."

If the Flyers were reading their own press two weeks ago, they might have been tempted to feel that they'd figured something out. That everything was going to be fine. But 40-year-old veteran Mike Knuble, in his second go-round in Philadelphia, knew better.

"Eh," he said, following the historic beatdown of the Islanders in Uniondale. "Talk to me on Thursday, and I'll tell you how we're doing."

Thursday, of course, was the day after another epic showdown with the hated Pittsburgh Penguins. I don't know about you, but I was starting to worry that we'd cashed in all of our collective good breaks against them in last season's playoff win. I'm practically still in disbelief that we beat them--and relatively badly--in the opening round. (In related news, NBC was apparently also in disbelief, as their ad for this season's opener mentioned "Claude Giroux and the Flyers have their sights set on revenge for last season's playoff loss to Pitt." Never mind that NO ONE refers to the Penguins, or Pirates for that matter, as "Pitt." How hard is it for someone in the production team to research not even ten months earlier? What is that?)

Which is why the Flyers 6-5 victory in Pittsburgh was, and remains, noteworthy. It wasn't just a hugely needed win over an arch-rival and perennial Eastern Conference contender. It was the kinda game Philadelphia teams usually lose. Down 2-0, I'd bet most of us resigned ourselves to the fact that it was going to be a long and painful night. But then a funny thing happened: the Flyers scored the next four goals, taking the lead on a Jakub Voracek goal with 9.9 seconds left in the second period that looked awfully like the overtime winner in Game 1 of last spring's playoff series. But then another thing happened, this one not so funny, and all too familiar: a 5-3 lead dissolved to a 5-5 tie with 2:03 left in regulation. I dreaded overtime, or worse, another shootout loss. And then the funniest thing of all happened. A fluky, bad-bounce, just-throw-it-at-the-net piece of something from Voracek caromed into the net off of Pittsburgh goalie Tomas Vokoun. Exactly the kind of goal, exactly the kind of storyline which Philadelphia seems to almost always be on the wrong side of. But this one, this magical bounce of vulcanized rubber, went our way. And just as suddenly as the Consol Energy Center had been, well, re-energized, the place was struck silent.

Now, it seems like the Flyers took two steps back after a couple of huge steps forward, laying an enormous egg on home ice to the hapless Panthers, needing a third-period comeback to hold off the Jets, and another thud against the resurgent Maple Leafs.

But then GM Paul Holmgren swung a trade with Los Angeles, bringing fan-favorite Simon Gagne back to Philly for a 4th-round draft pick and a Pat's steak wiz wit. That, combined with Scott Hartnell's return to form (following a return from injury), and Ilya Bryzgalov getting back to the pace he's been at nearly all season, led to Wednesday's flattening of Alex Ovechkin and the Capitals, followed by a gritty, old-school win against a very talented Senators squad. And don't look now, but the Flyers have won three of four, and are finally at the .500 mark.

"I can see all obstacles in my way."

Tuesday at the Rangers. Thursday versus Pittsburgh. Saturday at Boston.

As they say: this is where we separate the men from the boys. Show us what you got.

Other musings:

I know it's a few weeks back already, but I'm still not over what Pittsburgh winger Matt Cooke did to Ottawa's budding star Erik Karlsson. In case you missed it, Cooke lifted his skate blade and came down right on Karlsson's achilles tendon, slicing it and ending his season in one fell swoop. I can't believe how many knowledgable--and not so knowledgable--TV personalities are so quick to say it was an accident. Commentators have said what Cooke did was completely routine, a "hit and pin," according to former player Aaron Ward. And then there's guys like this, who say that accusations like mine are "completely insane," that because he had a rough run in his life and vowed to be a changed man for his team, it would be absolutely impossible for a competitive person, let alone one with the history of this guy, to do such a thing intentionally. So let me get this straight: a guy has a change of heart and vows to be a better teammate and person, and that's it? Everything bad that follows must be an accident? Certainly doesn't seem like the standard of forgiveness extended to, say, Michael Vick, now does it.

All I can say is this: in the 25 years or so that I've been watching hockey--and I watch a lot of hockey, not just Flyers games--I've never seen a guy do what Cooke did. The thousands of pileups in the corners, the drives into the boards that I've witnessed, I've never once seen a player come down with the blade of his skate on the most vulnerable part of an athlete's body. Never.

So I might be in the tiny, "crazy" minority here. But you and I know both know they'd all be singing a different tune if that skate was part of an orange and black uniform.  

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