April 13, 2012

Flyin' high.

It was roughly a month ago at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, and my dad and I were furious. I'm paraphrasing, but our conversation went something like this:

"Goddamn Flyers."

"Can't get anything going."

"No pressure, getting beat to every puck."

"Thank god for Bryz, else this would be a real blowout."

It was the game's second intermission, and the Pittsburgh Penguins were pushing the Philadelphia Flyers around. Shots were 27 to 10 in favor of the Penguins, and the Flyers had gotten just two of those off in the last 20 minutes. Sidney Crosby's return seemed to be elevating Pittsburgh to new heights, skill-wise and emotionally. There was no reason to believe that the third period would be any different.

But there we were, about 30 minutes later, hugging and screaming our heads off when Scott Hartnell ended the game with a deep wrister that snuck by Marc-Andre Fleury.

It was arguably the best comeback in recent Flyers history...until Wednesday night, when Brayden Schenn and Jake Voracek combined to take down the Penguins yet again and make Paul Holmgren look like even more of a genius.

This most recent resurgence was probably even more unexpected. It was the playoffs. It was in Pittsburgh, versus the trendy pick to win the Stanley Cup. And it was a seemingly insurmountable 3-0 deficit. Even with two periods to play, that's usually curtains.

But something happened as the game moved forward. Did the Penguins run out of gas after a blistering start? Did the Flyers begin to control the tempo, forcing Pittsburgh out of their puck-control mindset and creating a bunch more scoring chances on each end? Or did Ilya Bryzgalov just outplay Fleury from the second period on, keeping his boys in the game and starting the momentum shift that led to the Penguins' eventual demise?

Whatever it was, the Flyers shouldn't try and replicate the situation tonight. NHL teams aren't gonna blow many 3-0 leads at home, no matter the situation or opponent.

But it happened, and it puts the Penguins in a nice little hole. For whatever reason, there's something about the Flyers that makes them difficult to bury. Especially in the friendly confines of the Consol Energy Center.

Are the Flyers, as owner Ed Snider suggested, in the Penguins' heads?

Nah. Pittsburgh's just too talented. Probably nothing more than the post-game ramblings of a riled-up old man.

Win tonight's game and take the series back to Philadelphia with a 2-0 lead, however, and then you might have me sold.

The Flyers are owned by the New York Rangers. Owned. Meaning the Rangers won all six times the two teams played this year. If the Flyers happen to run into New York in the playoffs, I expect the ass-kicking to be swift and fierce.

But maybe the Flyers own the Penguins, too. Out of 2011-2012's five relevant meetings (the sixth game didn't matter for either team), Philadelphia won four of them.

And now the Flyers have an early (and unexpected) chance to step on the Penguins' throats. My brain tells me that this is a probable seven-game series and Pittsburgh won't go down so easily. But my gut says that Wednesday's game was a goddamn back-breaker, and recent history allows us to assume that Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby, noted arrogant whiners, might be getting a little bit frustrated.

"Who are these guys from Philadelphia? Why can't we take them down?"

I certainly expect the series to be knotted at 1-1 by midnight tonight. But after seeing what happened on Wednesday night, and experiencing that equally glorious bounce-back up close and personal back in mid-March, I don't think anybody out there can really say for sure.

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