by Kevin Franklin
I admit it – I’m a sadist.
Whenever the Eagles win, I spend a good portion of my Internet time that evening and the next day reading through the online newspapers of whichever team they vanquished. I enjoy the post-game quotes of the defeated and the hair-pulling columnists either trying to rationalize the loss or exacerbating their pain with the lemon juice of their words. I don’t usually do this with the other team sports because there are far more games with far less individual statistical impact. There are two big exceptions, one being the late September gallop to clinching the division in baseball.
The other being the playoffs.
The Flyers eye-gouged the Montreal Canadiens, 3-0, in an afternoon game today. I missed it because of a food poisoning battle I have been losing all week, but that’s not your fault unless you served me the rancid pork fried rice I ate this past Tuesday. As I woke up from the couch, came out of my curl and flipped on my laptop, I saw the score. For a brief moment I thought I went back in time to this past Tuesday, when the Flyers won by an identical score. I turned on Comcast Sportsnet and saw Michael Barkann and a panel of ex-players sounding long “O” words and listened to how the Flyers completely shut down the Habs for the last 50 minutes of the game. The first thing I did when a commercial came on was go to the Montreal Gazette homepage (well, it wasn’t the first thing I did. Food poisoning, remember?). Ah, the spoils of war! As I was reading through the recaps and blogs and comments, I felt like one of those brave young men of the 101st Airborne raiding Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest mountain villa, dancing a jig on his dining room table, kicking silverware, drinking a bottle of champagne and belching the theme from “Triumph of the Will.”
Of course, I had nothing to do with the victory, but fever dreams can be wonderful things after you awake from them. To my surprise, the journalists for the Gazette were fairly even-handed, something I have rarely ever found from Toronto scribes. I started to feel a bit put out and put off until I made my way to the User Comments. I walked in, a starving man, to a lush, endless banquet. I fastened my napkins around my neck, grabbed some of that boosted silverware and tucked in. After perusing the comments for a few pages, I had to stop. I was too full and the same items were being served up again and again:
“Down 3 games to 1. We’ve got them where we want them!”
I suppose if the Canadiens were up 3 games to 1, there would be panic in the streets. Let’s not kid ourselves here, Montreal did the Flyers a HUGE favor by upending both Washington and Pittsburgh in the earlier rounds. Admit it, when the playoffs started, those were the two teams you did not want the Orange & Black playing in the postseason. Could the Flyers have beaten those two teams? Sure. Would it be likely? Well, you don’t need my answer to that since you already have your own.
“We need to come at them hard in Game 5, win it and then come back [to the Bell Centre] where all the pressure will be on [the Flyers]. We win in seven games!”
Wow. I admire their optimism up there in the land of poutine, great strip clubs and that she-demon, Celine Dion. Having been a lifelong resident of the Philadelphia sports market, I have seen my fellow fans knock lemmings out of the way to take full-gainers off the cliff after a singular loss in a playoff series. It’s part of our collective defense mechanism which states the sooner we accept defeat the sooner we can begin healing. Aside from a handful of comments, the people up there see their Molsons as being half full. It’s as if the thought of losing cannot be entertained and doesn’t exist, like Heather Langenkamp in A Nightmare on Elm Street (the original – accept no substitute) when she turns her back on Freddie Kruger and declares he isn’t real. But look closer and there is a pathology here. It’s good to have hope, but it needs to be balanced with realism. Les Habitants have only scored in one game – one game! If they had mounted any semblance of an offensive attack that resulted in a goal in the other three games, hell, even if a Flyer accidentally kicked the puck into his own net, I could see reason for optimism. Never underestimate the power of denial. It worked for (Ret.) Col. Frank Fitz in American Beauty, except this time he’s a Canadian. Beauty, eh?
“I can’t believe we can’t score on a career minor leaguer like Leighton.”
Of course they can’t. Michael Leighton was yanked out of the unemployment line, handed his equipment and pointed towards the crease. It’s as mystifying to us Flyers fans, as well, how he’s been performing. However, we had a preamble to this performance, namely the regular season. When both the number one and number two goaltenders went down, Leighton stepped in and did a yeoman’s job not only keeping the Flyers in games, but helping them win before he went down to injury in March. Two non-uniformed people must be given credit here – coach Peter Laviolette and goaltender coach, Jeff Reese. Laviolette’s system preaches aggressive, up-tempo play alongside defensive responsibility, and he was not shy to pull the trigger on benching anyone who did not buy into that system. Whenever you hear or read about a goalie stealing a win or a series, look at the total team commitment to defense as well. Even the best goalies need a strong defense in order to succeed, whether his name is Dryden, Roy, Brodeur or Hasek. Jeff Reese has been instrumental in Leighton’s positioning, controlling of rebounds and reading the plays. His size has also been a great help. But it wasn’t just Leighton. Reese had also helped Brian Boucher rejuvenate his career by being everything Leighton was when he re-assumed the starter’s position before going down to injury once again in the Boston series. Some players just need the right time, place and coaching to succeed.
“Even if the Flyers do win the series, the Blackhawks will sweep them in four games.”
Now this one I really can’t seem to figure out. If any fans should appreciate that you need to play the games before declaring a winner, it’s Montreal fans. How many of them thought the Canadiens were going to beat Washington? How many of them thought they would beat Pittsburgh? Remember, as an EIGHT seed, we’re talking here. How many, if you asked them before the playoffs started, would think they would beat both the Capitals and Penguins in the playoffs and be playing in the Conference Finals? Only those with bleu, blanc et rouge-coloured glasses would have even partially raised their hands and that was only because they were stretching. It’s all about match ups. The Canadiens matched up well with Washington and Pittsburgh just as the Flyers matched up well with New Jersey, Boston and now, Montreal. The Flyers can play any style. They can bang, they can skate, they can pressure and they can suffocate. Can they beat Chicago, which is looking likely to represent the West in the Cup Finals? Absolutely. Only a fool would guarantee something to happen when they themselves have experienced the antithesis to that not once, but twice already in these playoffs.
“Blame Jacques Martin, Scott Gomez, Marc-Andre Bergeron, Tomas Plekanic, the Zamboni driver, the sand bucket guy, etc.”
One of the things I notice from less-than-rational fans is their blind adherence to placing the blame on what their team DID NOT do instead of what the other team DID do. I suppose it never enters their thought stream that maybe, perhaps, golly, I don’t know, the Flyers are a better team or the fact they are playing very well? Is it so difficult to give credit to your opponent when he beats you, let alone shuts you out in 75% of the games you have played thus far? Maybe it’s what the Flyers are doing that is responsible for what the Canadiens are not doing. Montreal is without All-Star defenseman Andrei Markov, but, before this game the Flyers were without leading scorer Jeff Carter and Ian Laperriere – neither of which totaled any points in today’s game. And hell, while we’re at it, Philadelphia IS starting a “career minor league” goalie because their two primary goalies also went down to injury. Excuses are like Facebook accounts; everybody has one, and I’m sure they love playing Blameville.
Come Monday evening, I will be glued to the tube as will my many fellow fans along with fans north of the border. In this year without reason, it is reasonable to assume the Flyers will win this game, although my unhatched chickens will remain uncounted. While winning would be sweet for us and sour for Canadiens fans (and aside from wedging in a desperate Sweet & Sour Chicken gag), Montreal fans should still look back after the pain has subsided and rejoice in what has been a magical run. We know the feeling because should the Flyers fall short of the Grail, we will also look back with fondness on an equally improbable run. As much as I loathe Canadiens fans at the moment, I can empathize with them in some weird way – and hope to late Monday night when I’m reading the hell out of their newspaper.
After all, I am a sadist.