2010 Stanley Cup finals: The Flyers' magical, improbable run


Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Olli Jokinen.jpgHow many people – outside of the Philadelphia Flyers organization, maybe – thought that this team would be two wins away from winning a Cup after they barely eked their way into the playoffs by beating the New York Rangers in a shootout during the final game of the regular season? Seriously, when your postseason dreams rest on the eventual failure of Olli Jokinen, it’s hard to justifying any chest pounding.

Yet whether you call it destiny, magic or lucky bounces, the Flyers can call this a magical run even if they fall short of the “ultimate goal.”

They’ve had a ruthless killer instinct while holding a roach-like ability to ward off death. Overall, the team is a stunning 7-0 in games where they or their opponents could be eliminated. In other words, once the number “3” appeared on either side of a series score, the Flyers never lost.

Philadelphia is also generating some serious home cooking, as I discussed earlier. They’ve won seven games a row and are an outstanding 9-1 overall at the Wachovia Center.

After the jump, I’ll look at a few other reasons why this run has been “magical.”

Thumbnail image for Briere.jpgSurviving goalie injuries

To start the season, many people wondered if Ray Emery could make it happen for the Flyers. Now the question is if Emery will ever play hockey again.

Overall, the team’s faced a ridiculous amount of injuries in net. As great a find as Michael Leighton turned out to be, did anyone think that he’d work out so well for Philly? And who thought that the team could grind out a tough run to the playoffs on the strength of journeyman backup Brian Boucher?

The rise of Giroux and Leino

Those “in the know” were aware of Claude Giroux and Ville Leino, but there’s no guarantee that players with a pedigree will deliver right away like those two. Former European league stud Leino could very well be the all-time leading scorer among playoff rookies (he’s currently at 19 points) while Giroux is even better in his second playoff appearance with 21.

When you have two unproven players emerge unexpectedly, your team can jump to another level. That’s exactly what happened for the Flyers.

Danny Briere’s rebirth

Can you believe that Briere is the second highest scorer in the playoffs with 27 points, only one behind league leader Jonathan Toews? While the hockey world never really doubted his scoring ability, he’s one of the most frequent whipping boys in all of the NHL.

Briere is at the height of his offensive creativity … something that just about no one saw coming.

Whatever way you slice it, all these factors came together to help the Flyers put together a Cup finals run that few expected. If their record in elimination and long-odds situations is any indication, I wouldn’t count them out just yet.

Video: Ryan Suter doesn’t seem very happy with his coach


As you can see in the video, apparently Ryan Suter doesn’t like being paired with fellow lefty Jonas Brodin.

The Wild defenseman rather openly questioned the coaching staff’s decision-making today after practice.

“Yeah, I don’t know what they’re thinking,” said Suter. “I need to play with a right-handed defenseman. To give me more options. Neutral zone. Offensively. And even coming out of the D zone, it’s not fair to put a guy on his off side.”

Suter didn’t know if the pairings were just for practice or not. The Wild play tomorrow in Chicago. Minnesota has just one win in its last seven games.

Suter also had something to say about that.

“It does no good to pout and get pissed off at each other,” said Suter. “You’ve got to come together and dig out of this. Now’s when you need leadership more than ever. It’s easy to be a coach and a leader when things are going good.”

Yeo, by the way, has not been very happy with the Wild lately.  In fact, one could go so far as to say he’s been acting pretty “pissed off.”

For example, at today’s practice:

The Star Tribune has more on what went down today.

Yeo, you may recall, went a little “nuts” during a Wild practice last season.

Goalie nods: Sparks to make NHL debut for Leafs

Garett Sparks

We already knew this yesterday, but in case you missed it, Garret Sparks will make his NHL debut in goal for the Toronto Maple Leafs tonight against Edmonton.

Sparks, 22, has been excellent in the AHL this season, going 8-2-1 with a .938 save percentage. He spent most of last season in the ECHL, where he also posted good numbers.

Sparks is getting the nod tonight because James Reimer is hurt and Jonathan Bernier has been struggling badly.

“He’s got an opportunity like lots of kids have had before him and it’s up to him to grab it,” Leafs coach Mike Babcock said, per NHL.com. “He’s got the [second-best] save percentage in the AHL and he’s winning all the time down there. Obviously we’re in need of some saves and we’ll have to play well in front of him for sure. But it’s an opportunity for him.”

Bernier, meanwhile, will have to sit and watch. The 27-year-old has allowed at least four goals in four of his last five starts. His save percentage has fallen all the way to .888.

Anders Nilsson will be in net for the Oilers.


Cam Ward for the Hurricanes. Henrik Lundqvist for the Rangers, who will try not to rely on him so much.

Semyon Varlamov for the Avs. Thomas Greiss for the Isles.

— The Canucks aren’t saying if it’ll be Ryan Miller of Jacob Markstrom. For the Ducks, it’ll be John Gibson.

Vigneault: ‘After three losses in a row, I think we’ve got everybody’s attention’

Alain Vigneault

Alain Vigneault has maintained for much of the season that the New York Rangers needed to play better.

The head coach said it a week ago, after the Blueshirts had beaten the Predators, 3-0, despite getting outshot, 31-19.

He’d said it a couple of weeks before that, after they’d beaten the Hurricanes in very similar fashion. (Final score: 3-0. Shots: 33-23 for Carolina.)

But as long as the Rangers kept winning, it was tough, according to Vigneault, to get the message across.

“Sometimes, the results might be going your way, so when you’re pointing out certain things, it might be a little bit more challenging for them to understand because the results are so positive,” Vigneault said, per the New York Post.

“But after three losses in a row, I think we’ve got everybody’s attention.”

Derek Stepan‘s injury — he’ll miss 4-6 weeks with broken ribs — has no doubt captured their attention as well. (Oscar Lindberg will center Chris Kreider and Jesper Fast tonight at home to Carolina.)

The Rangers also play Wednesday, in Brooklyn against the Islanders (on NBCSN).

Benn, Holtby and Galchenyuk are NHL’s three stars of the week

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Stars winger Jamie Benn, Capitals goalie Braden Holtby and Canadiens center Alex Galchenyuk have been named the NHL’s three stars for the past week.

From NHL.com:

Benn shared the League lead in goals (4) and points (6) as the Stars (19-5-0, 38 points) won two of three games to continue their best start to a season in the franchise’s 48-year history.

Holtby posted a 4-0-0 record with a 1.75 goals-against average, .945 save percentage and one shutout to backstop the Capitals (17-5-1, 35 points) to the top of the Metropolitan Division standings.

Galchenyuk tied for first in the NHL with four goals and added one assist to help the Canadiens (18-4-3, 39 points) earn five of a possible six points and reclaim first place in the League standings.

As much as the injuries to Carey Price and Brendan Gallagher have been frustrating for the Canadiens, those are short-term issues that should be forgotten soon enough. Galchenyuk’s play, in contrast, is reason for long-term optimism. The 21-year-old is trending towards becoming the elite No. 1 center the Habs have needed so badly. He’s not there yet, but when’s all said and done, he could turn out to be the best forward (or player, period) taken in the 2012 draft.