June 9, 2010

It's all over.

So the Chicago Blackhawks won in six games. Just like I predicted. Damn it.

It's hard to accept that this postseason run is over. There really is nothing like the Stanley Cup Playoffs; they seem to go on forever, in a good way, and every game is more intense than the last. And then, all of a sudden, especially when it's on a bullshit goal that never should have happened, it's over. In a flash, far too fast, never doing justice to the 15-plus bloodbath games that preceded it.

I don't blame Michael Leighton for the loss. Yes, the overtime goal he surrendered was terrible. And the five-hole goal was just as bad. But he made 37 saves, and at least a baker's dozen of those were tremendous. He kept the game from becoming the Blackhawks blowout it seemed destined to be. His last six games were a letdown from the dominating form he showed against Montreal, but as everyone probably noticed, Chicago's no Montreal. The Blackhawks were gonna score a few goals, no matter what happened. If Leighton had stolen a Finals game, we'd probably still be playing tomorrow night. Hell, we might have raised the Cup last night instead. But in the end, Chicago was the better team, and they proved it.

Do I want him to be resigned as next year's starting goalie? Probably not, not if a long-term option is available. I wouldn't call Leighton a flash in the pan, but I think this team really needs some stability in goal. How are they gonna get it? They don't particularly have the bucks to sign a free agent, and most of their assets will be tough to move. But there is one guy that they could trade, a guy whose stock in the city is not particularly high right now...

That guy, Jeff Carter, and his Finals linemate Simon Gagne can go to hell. They were both either out of gas or injured yet again, and they dragged Mike Richards down the entire series. I don't know if Peter Laviolette commissioned the captain to keep the line somewhat alive, or if he was praying that they'd find their stroke near the end, but they contributed as close to nada as two star players can do. Carter, in particular, missed a wide open net near the end of the third period that should have closed out the game. That in particular was disgraceful. The line in general was disgraceful, invisible, irrelevant to the outcome of the series. It's amazing that we won two games and were competitive in three others with basically zero from our "top line."

I openly call for the Flyers to trade Jeff Carter. Yes, as my dad pointed out when I was home last weekend, that would make the team painfully small at the center position. But Jeff Carter is a) a scorer, with not much to offer beyond that, and b) one of the few Flyers with a reasonable contract that could return full value. Danny Briere and Scott Hartnell aren't going anywhere, and Claude Giroux and James van Riemsdyk are the future. You hope the first two will somewhat match their playoff production during next year's regular season, and you hope the second two will take the next step. Giroux, in particular, needs big minutes on a top scoring line. The only way he's going to get those is if someone is traded, and Carter is the most realistic candidate. Sorry, Jeffrey. You probably peaked in '08-'09, anyway.

A guy at work told me that sometimes a hockey team gels at the right time and starts not just a playoff run but a string of successful years, implying that this could be happening with the Flyers. Could they make it back to the Cup Finals next year? Maybe...but probably not. Again, just as Leighton wasn't a flash in the pan, this wasn't a fluke. The Flyers earned it; anyone who watched the last three games of the Boston series knows this. But we also lucked into the perfect storm of Washington and Pittsburgh being eliminated early, something that probably won't happen too often. The Flyers might be the most resilient team, and now one of the most battle-tested, but they aren't anywhere near the most skilled. Unfortunately, this feels like our one big chance, and we didn't take advantage. Maybe that's what hurts the most.

That's not to say next year won't be fun to watch. A full year under Laviolette, maybe with some smart roster maneuvering, with a full year of Ville Leino (now he might be a flash in the pan, but I'm praying that's not the case), with perhaps the continued added confidence Braydon Coburn and Matt Carle showed at the end of the year; they should be a very competitive team. And maybe they'll make another run, who knows. Two months ago, I hated this Flyers team. Now, I love them. Anything can happen in hockey.

And as for Adam Burish, whoever the hell that is, he better keep both eyes on Chris Pronger when the Flyers come to town next year. That is, as Frank Seravalli so eloquently put it, "if he's [even] playing."

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