May 3, 2012

Tonight, tonight.

For about 50 hours, the Philadelphia Flyers seemed unbeatable.

After one of the worst first periods you'll ever see, the Flyers dominated Game 1 against the New Jersey Devils, the 4-3 final tally not reflecting how badly the Devils were outmatched over the last 30 minutes.

And once Matt Read tallied an early goal two days later in Game 2, the confidence came in waves. The Flyers were just more talented than the Devils. New Jersey was nothing more than a speed-bump on the way to a destined Eastern Conference Finals showdown with the New York Rangers.

But then, just like that, the tide started to turn. The Devils started applying pressure. None of the Flyers' shots from the point were getting through. The ice, as it so often does in the Stanley Cup playoffs, was beginning to tilt.

Thankfully, Ilya Bryzgalov was tending goal like a $51 million man should. The second period was probably Bryz's most impressive as a Flyer: 12 saves, a key postseason game, almost all the action in his own end.

And it should've been a rally starter. Your goalie -- and the horn -- save the day, and a quick locker-room pep talk gets everyone's legs moving for the final 20 minutes.

But not on Tuesday night. After a brief early Flyer flurry in the third, the Devils finally snuck one past Bryzgalov. Then another one. The third was a dagger; the fourth, an afterthought.

Suddenly, the Devils were looking a lot more pesky. And the Flyers seemed flabbergasted. They, like the rest of us, must've thought it was already over.

Maybe they were already looking past New Jersey. Maybe they just forgot that every team in the Stanley Cup playoffs, even the ones that were lucky enough to play Florida in the first round, are dangerous.

Whatever it was, they can make up for it tonight. Come out, battle like you battled in Game 6 of the Pittsburgh series and beat the tar out of New Jersey on their home ice. The series is back in your hands, and everybody remembers that it's supposed to be Flyers and the Rangers dueling for a shot at the Stanley Cup.

But Jaromir Jagr suddenly looks very old, and nobody fully trusts Bryz, and Braydon Coburn and Matt Carle are being relied on for a buttload of minutes. The Flyers are more talented, but how much more talented? And nothing in the hockey postseason, not even talent, guarantees victory.

Besides, it was supposed to be Phillies/Rangers in the 2010 World Series. Hell, it was supposed to be Phillies/Rangers last year, too. Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, Chase Utley: It didn't matter. In the end, being the better team wasn't enough. The hottest, the smartest, the timeliest; that's what counted.

If the Flyers don't play smart, timely hockey and recapture that momentum, much like the Rangers did last night in DC, then this seemingly inevitable date with destiny might end up being nothing more than a pipe dream.

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