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And then there were five: New-look Flyers produce familiar results

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During the off-season, Philadelphia Flyers GM Paul Holmgren tore apart the team’s structure in a mad rush of moves. He didn’t say the team would be better, but he said it would sure look different.

Instead, the Flyers’ 2011-12 season essentially seemed like a bizarre sequel to last season, only with a wildly different cast. Philly didn’t win the Atlantic like they did last year, but they were a formidable if flawed group nonetheless. The Flyers then overcame shoddy goaltending in the first round against Pittsburgh (much like they did in 2011 against Buffalo) only to get smacked around in the semifinals against a hated rival (this year: New Jersey in five games thanks to tonight’s 3-1 loss; last year: Boston in four).

The more things change, the more they stay the same for this fascinating Flyers franchise … but this time they probably can’t just trade their “problems” away.

What happened?

After a track meet series against the Penguins, the Flyers almost seemed bewildered by the thought of facing a more balanced and controlled opponent in the Devils. A totally flat Game 2 from Philly could have been a reality check. Instead, it was a harbinger of things to come as New Jersey essentially dominated every facet of the series.

Who takes the blame?

Everyone, maybe? Claude Giroux’s suspension hurt. Ilya Bryzgalov’s bonehead moves were brutal, but he also kept them in some games that weren’t particularly competitive. The Flyers’ defense looked porous yet the most disturbing thing for a high-powered offense for Philly was that they didn’t have much success in their strongest area.

Bryzgalov will get a lot of blame – and to some extent, rightfully so – yet it was a near-total failure. For that reason (and a virtual refusal to give solid backup Sergei Bobrovsky even a slight chance), some might actually point a finger of blame at Peter Laviolette.

I’d say make your choice.

What will they do about it?

For better or worse, the Flyers seem pretty locked-in. Sure, Holmgren isn’t shy about making bold moves, but who’s going to take Bryzgalov’s albatross contract in a trade?

The most obvious concern (in-house, at least) is bringing back Matt Carle and/or Jaromir Jagr. Then again, you never know with the Flyers; they could very well arrange things to get in on the Ryan Suter sweepstakes. For all the money they spend on their defense, they could really use a No. 1 guy with Chris Pronger possibly done for good.

Logic says the Flyers largely “are what they are.” But when has logic really factored in to this wacky and consistently entertaining franchise?

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And then there were 15: Is Detroit’s dynasty on its last legs?

And then there were 14: Sharks come out flat in playoffs

And then there were 13: Powerhouse Pens fall flat

And then there were 12: Presidents’ Trophy-winning Canucks bounced in Round 1

And then there were 11: Another first-round exit for Blackhawks

And then there were 10: Bruins run out of Game 7 magic

And then there were nine: Senators out, but future’s bright

And then there were eight: Panthers go out swinging

And then there were seven: Blues swept out of Western Conference semifinal

And then there were six: So much for Nashville’s mid-season reload

Pens coach praises Murray: ‘He doesn’t get rattled’

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Hot take: the Pittsburgh Penguins probably won’t deal with a goalie controversy going into Game 7.

(Ugh, that’s a failed hot take … you can’t use “probably” in those things, right?)

Matt Murray was fantastic at times during Game 6, much like his counterpart in the Tampa Bay Lightning’s net in a 5-2 win. Granted, there were some tense moments during the Bolts’ late-game push:

Much has been made about experience, especially from those calling for Marc-Andre Fleury earlier in this series. It’s telling that the praise Murray draws sure sounds like what you’d expect from a “veteran.”

“He has a calming influence,” Sullivan said. “He doesn’t get rattled. If he lets a goal in, he just continues to compete. That’s usually an attribute that usually takes years to acquire that, and to have it at such a young age is impressive.”

Thanks in part to Murray’s efforts in Game 6, he’ll get a chance to prove his resolve in something new: a Game 7 in the Eastern Conference Final.

Once again, his teammates seem pretty confident in this elimination situation.

Lightning lament Game 6 effort, Cooper doesn’t blame disallowed goal

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The Tampa Bay Lightning seemed to sleepwalk through the first two periods of Game 6, and waking up in the final frame wasn’t enough to edge the Pittsburgh Penguins.

On the bright side, at least the Lightning aren’t in denial about that weak first 40 minutes.

It seemed like everyone on the team more or less admitted as much in unison.

Brian Boyle added that he felt like the Lightning tiptoed around this game. Jon Cooper often provides great quips, yet he was pretty matter-of-fact in this case.

Many will linger on this disallowed goal for Jonathan Drouin, which would have provided a 1-0 lead for Tampa Bay in the first period.

Let’s face it; that moment came pretty early in the game. To Tampa Bay’s credit, they’re not pinning the loss on that setback.

Now they must set their sights on competing throughout Game 7 … and maybe earning some bounces of their own in the process.

Read more about Game 6 here.

Penguins force Game 7 after holding off Lightning rally

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The Pittsburgh Penguins played with fire late in Game 6, but they also showed plenty of fire in beating the Tampa Bay Lightning 5-2.

With that, this thrilling Eastern Conference Final will go the distance with Game 7 on Thursday.

There are at least a few “What if?” scenarios to consider, especially for the Lightning.

What if that offside goal counted?

Jonathan Drouin played some fantastic hockey on Tuesday, yet his most memorable moment came via something that ultimately “didn’t happen.” An offside call on a goal review kept a 1-0 lead from happening for Tampa Bay:

Instead, the Penguins poured it on during the first period and eventually went up 1-0. They then carried that momentum over through the second period, adding two more goals to go up 3-0 heading into the final frame.

What if Tampa Bay played more like they did in the third period?

The difference between the level of play in the first 40 minutes and the final frame were night-and-day.

Now, you can make a chicken-and-the-egg argument here. Did the Penguins take their feet off the gas with that lead? Maybe Jon Cooper finally unleashed the hounds when the Lightning were facing a big deficit?

Maybe it’s a combination of those factors; either way, the Bolts couldn’t come all the way back even after making it interesting. At one point the game was 3-2 before a Bryan Rust breakaway goal and an empty-netter put things out of reach.

Both Matt Murray and Andrei Vasilevskiy faced plenty of tough chances and came through more often than not. We’ll see if there are any goal controversy rumblings, but each netminder came through at times tonight.

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Now the series shifts back to Pittsburgh for Game 7 with a Stanley Cup Final on the line. Excited and/or nervous yet?

More: Great goals by Sidney Crosby and Phil Kessel.

Sidney Crosby scores a superstar goal

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With the Pittsburgh Penguins’ season on the line in Game 6, plenty of eyes are on big guns Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang and Phil Kessel.

Those marquee names are really coming through so far as they’ve now built a 3-0 lead through two periods against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

You likely already saw Kessel’s display of high-end hand-eye coordination (if not, check it here). Kris Letang scored his first goal of the series to make it 2-0 on a very tricky, well-placed shot.

The highlight really might be Crosby’s tally, though. He left multiple Lightning players baffled and beat a very-much-game Andrei Vasilevskiy to beef that lead up 3-0.