New Castle News

Sports

April 22, 2012

McCaffery: Flyers finish off Pens in series that might have ended too soon

PHILADELPHIA — The "Na-Na, Hey-Hey, Goodbye" sing-song had given way to a roaring exhale Sunday, with 20,127 in the Wells Fargo Center desperate to see the Flyers-Penguins series end. Some day, maybe soon, they will wonder why they were in such a rush.

Series like that don't happen often.

Series like that — eight games in all, including two in the last two weekends of the regular season — don't happen often in any sport.

"Yeah," Scott Hartnell was saying afterward. "It was great."

With a 5-1 victory Sunday, the Flyers had won the playoff series, four games to two, and of those eight recent games, they'd won five. So they will advance in the NHL Tournament and the Penguins will wonder why they didn't. "At this time of year," Peter Laviolette pointed out, "you have to win games." He was correct. But if in that process, both teams collect images and memories, blood and heroes, respect and hatred, satisfaction and respect, that is almost as valuable.

So before the Flyers hit Round 2 — and that is going to take a while, with the way the NHL waits to re-seed after each round — why not appreciate one of the more thoroughly memorable series in the history of a franchise that has had more than one or two?

There were comebacks — in games, in the series. There was an overtime. There were hat tricks. There were villains. There were fights between the players, and between the coaches, too. There was a rub-it-in timeout. There were remarkable defensive efforts. There were shootouts — old-fashioned, back-and-forth, score-for-score shootouts, not the manufactured, regular-season kind. There were superstars — old ones, and as it grew clear in Game 6, the arrival in that club of Claude Giroux, too.

There were line changes and strategy shifts. There was an overtime. There were late hits, dirty hits, clean hits. There were fines. There were ejections. There was Ilya Bryzgalov, himself a hockey kaleidoscope, sometimes brilliant, sometimes confusing, always alluring.

There were dueling Hulk Hogans. There were crowds that were loud, and crowds that were silenced. There were threats. There were promises.

There was everything that makes hockey different, which is to say there was everything that makes hockey spectacular in the spring.

"For sure," Matt Carle was saying afterward. "After we won the first three games, I though that even if it only went four games, it would have been one of the most intense series I could ever remember. So that's what it would have been, even if it was a sweep. But for it to go six games, it was a battle, for sure."

The Flyers did not survive until they'd wasted two-thirds of their 3-0 lead. But they saved their most complete effort for a Game 6 that many of them had openly admitted was an essential elimination game — a virtual Game 7 in a series that lacked only a real one. "Do or die," Bryzgalov said.

So in a request that shall become a legend, Giroux asked Peter Laviolette if he could start, irrespective of the line matchups, and then scored within 32 seconds to typify his 14-point series. The lead would balloon to 3-0 before Pittsburgh — naturally — would hit back. A late Pens goal was waved off and Brayden Schenn deposited an empty-net comp, and suddenly the series was over.

So soon?

"Playing like we did the first couple of games in their building, stealing those games the way we did in coming back, it was awesome," Hartnell said. "Coming back to Philly and just the amount of goals that were scored was a little ridiculous. But we wanted to play the way we did tonight, 3-1, 4-1, like that."

Now that the Flyers are in the quarterfinals, scores and tempers will be kept more under control ... and postgame comments will, too. But some day, when the conversation slides to nostalgia, the Flyers and their fans will have the eight-game Penguins maxi-series of 2012 as a starting point. And just maybe, a finishing point, too.

(Jack McCaffery is a sports columnist for the Associated Press.)

 

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