And may it be an agonizing demise as well.
Heaven here is defined as an NHL postseason excluding both Pennsylvania hockey clubs, but it’s a good spring indeed if one of them misses out.
It isn’t just that we enjoy, more so than good sex and fine dining, watching our longtime bitter foe in Orange and Black suffer a deliciously cruel standings freefall, and God willing be passed for the postseason by a slew of mediocre clubs; but that many in media inclined to correlate pricey offseason free agent acquisitions (read: big media) with standings success have this spring serious egg on their faces (again): far from bolting past Pittsburgh and staking a claim to a top spot in East, as was so commonly forecast last fall, the Flyers this spring will be lucky to claim an eighth and final qualifying spot. In a crucial game at home last night they were shut out by another desperate club, Montreal, 1-0. Next up for the Orange and Black: Detroit, tomorrow, winners of seven straight and 10-0-1 in their last 11 games. Have fun with that.
And if the Flyers somehow manage to hold off Atlanta and the suddenly hard-charging New York Rangers and secure a playoff spot, they’ll enter the postseason with more or less an unguarded goal for all (four) of their games. On Thursday night on Long Island the Flyers lost to the Isles for the first time in 16 tries. Brian Boucher was pulled after yielding 5 goals on 24 shots. Ray Emery and Michael Leighton are hurt, but neither will be mistaken for Johnny Bower or Glen Hall in this lifetime.
General Manager Paul Holmgren, whose tenure in Philly may not outlast Emery’s, just announced the signing of a new goalie from the Swiss professional hockey league. Seven different goalies have dressed in orange and black this season. Love it.
It’s an annual and novel hubris this organization maintains when it comes to the most important position on the ice: we will bloat our payroll at every other position and dare you to beat us with your better, quality netminder. Which is precisely what balanced clubs with quality netminding annually do.
I’m particularly grateful for this early springtime schadenfreude as it has injected drama into what is an otherwise drama-free closing out of the regular season in the East. I’ve monitored NHL scores on my Blackberry all season long when I’m not in a rink, but this spring I find myself constantly refreshing Flyers’ scores each evening. Their losses announced on my handheld are like electronic love letters to me. The meltdown on Long Island Thursday night was especially rewarding as it occurred so instantly: it was 3-0 Isles before I’d secured press box popcorn.
But actually watching the hockey played by these run-of-the-mills clubs clogged in the middle of the East isn’t pretty, to put it charitably. If you assume the task of taking in a Bs game you forsake any realistic chance of seeing a goal scored by that club. The Rangers have Marian Gaborik and nothing else. Atlanta is a lunchpail outfit playing, most nights, reasonably inspired hockey, and perhaps overachieving in the post- Kovalchuk era. Still, you don’t want to pay to watch them. The Thrash would do well to hold on to John Anderson, however. Undersized Montreal’s just a mix and match mess of free agents with no go-to guy in the clutch — no one on the Habs is likely to score 30 goals this season — but they possess speed, and we’ve seen them get the Caps running around in their own end. Still, they’re wildly inconsistent.
Emotionally, I’m unable to offer a balanced, intellectual assessment as to who’d be best for the Caps to face in the first round of the postseason — I just don’t want it to be Philly. I want them golfing and their irate fans clogging sportstalk radio WIP all summer long with unhinged laments over the never-ending contracts for Danny Briere and Chris Pronger, the latter of whom is not aging like fine wine, but rather like Joe Reekie. They might also discuss the need for a new GM. And a goalie.
The Flyers have played 78 games, and if you chock up another loss on the remaining ledger tomorrow to the Wings, they’ll remain in the eighth and final spot at weekend’s close pending results elsewhere in the East tonight. The Rangers have a very winnable game in Florida tonight, and things will get really interesting if Atlanta somehow manages to win in Pittsburgh this afternoon. The Thrash schedule in the final week is easily the toughest of the non-contender contenders, though.
You want to suggest that scoring-starved, emotionless Boston is the easy out here and the Flyers’ salvation, but at least the Bs have one option in net (Tuukka Rask and his .930 save percentage) and a stingy D. But the Bs have two games remaining with the Caps, including next Sunday’s concluding tilt. They do have a game in hand with the Flyers, however, and face Jekyll and Hyde Toronto tonight.
The Rangers and Flyers meet in a home-and-home set this coming week, closing out their respective seasons Friday night and Sunday with one another. Those are must-Blackberry affairs. You know who I’m rooting against.