May 7, 2011

There's something dying down on the highway tonight.

"Every day it just gets harder to live, this dream I'm believing in."
-Bruce Springsteen
First off, kudos to the Boston Bruins. Save the third period and maybe overtime of Game 2, they dominated the entire series. Unlike some teams that wilt after a grueling first-round match-up, the Bruins grew stronger and more confident.

And as for the Philadelphia Flyers? Well, we probably should have seen this coming. On April 8th, I described in great detail how the Flyers were in serious trouble. But six days later, I predicted that they'd beat the Buffalo Sabres in six games.

Am I bipolar, or just naive? Anyone with eyes could see that the Flyers over the first 60 games and the team since the end of February were two different entities. The simple answer is that the defense wilted and exposed mediocre goaltending; my dad thinks the league figured out that they were weak along the wings and against the boards.

Either way, it wasn't pretty. But fans kept expecting them to flip this mystical "switch" they always talked about and turn into the Flyers of old. Which they did, for Game 7 of the Sabres series, but apparently the switch only had a 24-hour effect. Once Boston came to town, they were back to being the lackluster team of spring.

Did they tune Peter Laviolette out? Is Mike Richards not fit to wear the C? Did swapping goalies every game have an unforeseen emotional impact? Or did just injuries just wear down a team that peaked early and paid the price?

Answers should come in a few days. I expect to hear numerous concealed ailments finally announced, and it's widely speculated that Brian Boucher and Michael Leighton have played their last games in Flyers uniforms. Excuses will be made to sugarcoat this team-wide meltdown, and a few of them might even make sense.

For the most part, though, I think this group of guys gets one more chance. Management will bank on Claude Giroux becoming a full-blown superstar and James van Riemsdyk continuing to mature into an All-Star caliber forward. Nikolai Zherdev, Ville Leino, Sean O'Donnell and (hopefully) Dan Carcillo will be set free. Paul Holmgren will use that freed-up money on a goalie like Ilya Bryzgalov. We'll pray that Kimmo Timonen, Jeff Carter and Chris Pronger can stay healthy. And the Flyers will probably once again be among the favorites to win the Eastern Conference.

If that doesn't work out, however, there will be massive changes. Holmgren's seat is getting increasingly hot, and even though I think he's one of the best coaches in the league, so is Laviolette's. It's much easier to fire a coach or general manager than it is to trade locked-up players like Richards and Carter. And after a performance like this, it's much easier to justify.

By last night's Game 4, the Flyers had made it easy not to care. But we still had to show up and pretend like 2009's remarkable comeback could happen all over again. Hell, I even wore my Flyers jersey through the streets of Boston last night. And as expected, the reaction was less than favorable.

But at the end of the day, the Bruins got out the brooms and sent the Flyers packing. I'm not even remotely upset with Boston. They pounded the Flyers into submission, outskating them up and down the ice. They looked like a hungry team that wanted desperately to win, while the Flyers played like a group of guys that lost their way a long time ago.

We all thought this would be a season to remember, maybe one that finally brought home that elusive Stanley Cup. But in the end, it was nothing short of a disaster: Months of expectations shattered in one week of tepid mediocrity.

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