Mike Richards and Chris Pronger combined for 13 points in five first round games. (Photo by Mike Stobe/NHLI via Getty Images)
If there was one dark cloud hovering over the Philadelphia Flyers heading into the post-season…well, it was goaltending. If there was a second dark cloud hovering over the Philadelphia Flyers heading into the post-season, it was the state of the dressing room.
Doesn’t seem like much of a concern now, does it?
As the first team to advance to the second round, the seventh-seeded Flyers got solid work from both Chris Pronger and Mike Richards, long seen as opposing clique heads of a supposedly divided team.
Since I’m not in the dressing room, I’ve never speculated about the rift (and if your buddy has a buddy who totally knows the truth, you’re an idiot), but the on-ice results against New Jersey simply don’t lend credence to the rumor. If there was beef, it’s not active, at least not right now.
As the cagey veteran and looming presence, Pronger actively courted officials on behalf of his Flyers teammates, particularly in the pivotal Game 4. Through two periods, the Flyers were assessed seven minor penalties to the Devils’ four, with New Jersey enjoying a 5-on-3 power play that led to an Ilya Kovalchuk goal.
With ‘Prongs’ playing the diplomat, the refs (consciously or unconsciously) evened things up in the third period, doling out four minors to the Devs vs. one to the Flyers. Philly got its own 5-on-3 in the process and scored to salt the game away, but even before that, the fact New Jersey was killing off penalties negated any chance the Devs had at erasing what, at the time, was a 3-1 Philly lead.
In the same match, Pronger and Richards were seen having a strategy session on the ice, so obviously the lines of communication are open.
Captain Richards, for his part, was dynamite against the Devils. He assisted on two of the three goals scored in the series finale and has eight points overall, tying him for third in the NHL. Leading by example is a great way to bring a team along with you and Richards has the Flyers firing on all cylinders despite the loss of two key offensive weapons, Simon Gagne and Jeff Carter.
In their absence, Philly has gotten contributions from everywhere else. Only four Flyers regulars have been held off the scoresheet so far – Blair Betts, Darroll Powe, Ryan Parent and Lukas Krajicek – and none of them are counted on for offense.
These Flyers are laying out for each other at the right time and it shows throughout the lineup. Claude Giroux is quickly proving to be the type of player who ups his game at the most important times.
When Kimmo Timonen coughed up the puck on the power play in Game 4, he deftly grabbed Zach Parise, taking a penalty, but denying the Devils star a breakaway in the process. Parise scored just once in the series, which goes a long way in explaining why the Devils are booking tee times right now.
Daniel ‘Car Bomb’ Carcillo (that’s his nickname; look it up) has found the proper combination of nastiness and offensive touch, screaming at Dainius Zubrus after a borderline hit on Richards, but also contributing three points in less than 10 minutes of ice time per game.
And who can overlook Ian Laperriere’s series? Once again, ‘Lappy’ blocked a shot with his face, this time with his team up 3-0 in Game 5. Crucial play or unnecessary risk? Doesn’t matter: Laperriere was not going to let New Jersey score on goaltender Brian Boucher, even if the mountain was already too high to climb.
Yes, the Flyers are playing like a fully functioning killing machine right now and it all starts with Pronger and Richards leading the way.
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Ryan Kennedy is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey's Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Monday and Wednesday, his column - The Straight Edge - every Friday, and his prospect feature, The Hot List appears Tuesdays.
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