By Keith Filling
The Stanley Cup Final is heading back to Chicago for Game 5, and what a show it’s been so far.
At the start of the Series, the Flyers (7th seed in the East entering the playoffs) weren’t supposed to be able to compete with the #2 in the West Blackhawks, according to some, and claims of “Chicago in 5″ ran rampant, and the occasional “sweep” line was thrown out too. I remember comments when the playoffs began that the Mighty West would easily take the Cup no matter what teams ended up playing in the Final.
Funny thing about the Flyers is, even though they squeaked into post-season play on a shootout victory in game 82, they started playing up to their ‘on-paper’ potential when they needed to – in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. They, to a man, have fully bought into Coach Laviolette’s strategies and personality and have taken the bull by the horns. The first round saw them beat the Devils in 5 games. After going down 3 games to none against the Bruins in the second round, they rebounded with an historical comeback to take the series in 7. Against Montreal in the Eastern Conference Final, the team rode a 6 game winning streak (including two shutouts to begin the series) into the third game and got pounded in a 5-1 loss. They took this as a reminder that you can’t win just by showing up for the game and proceeded to win the next two to advance to the Final against Chicago, who had completed a sweep of the Sharks just the night before.
The Flyers have gotten to this point by using their size to their advantage, playing as 5 man units instead of a forward line and defensive pairing, sacrificing their bodies in an attempt to keep pucks away from their goalie of the week, and staying disciplined in regard to retaliatory penalties. This last point is crucial to their continued success; they need to keep themselves on the ice instead of in the penalty box
Throughout every season, NHL referees and linesmen are constantly taking heat for being inconsistent. Every team has its fan faction that will blame every loss, power play goal against – hell, even icings – on poor on-ice officiating.
Complaints regarding the officiating in the Final are growing, and if you were to ask a knowledgeable hockey fan (who would have to be a shut in and not reading newspapers or perusing the internet) which team’s fans were doing the complaining, you would probably get an answer of “Philly”. But the source of the bitching and moaning is centered in a different location – the southwest shore of Lake Michigan.
The simple fact is this – don’t commit the foul and the whistle won’t blow (for the most part, that is…we’ve all seen calls made that made us go “Hmmmmm…”).
Referees are always looking for the retaliation call; it’s all “act, don’t react”. Players need to turn the other cheek, and this is where Chicago got themselves into trouble in game 4. This is a game of intimidation, after all. If a player gets pissed off when he’s being jostled by a defenseman in the slot and gives him a two-handed slash across the legs with a big backswing, he needs to sit down and cool off for a couple minutes. Jostling for position is part of the game, while taking your anger out on a guy using a 5 foot long weapon is not part of the plan (and don’t get me wrong – I’m all for the irritating little chops at a guy’s arms or legs during play. That’s part of the area known as ‘act’).
The best thing to do is to take the guy’s number and look to make him ‘react’ when the opportunity presents itself. The Blackhawks, if they are looking to make things easier on themselves, should keep this in mind as they go forward. The Flyers are already doing just that.
** Tangent Man — Keith Filling… a fantasy and NHL hockey junkie who has a lot to say about the reality of life experiences, Scotch, hockey, music and the bane of being addicted to a fantasy game. Read more of his work over at his “Off on a Tangent” blog. You can also follow him on Twitter here.