Flyers Get Physical

Sports columnist Mike Wise ran around Sunday at the Capitals' playoff game against the Philadelphia Flyers, getting the pros' takes on the game.Video by Atkinson & Co.Read Wise's column: 'Flyers Get Physical'
By Mike Wise
Monday, April 14, 2008

In his second NHL playoff game, young Tomas Fleischmann was dropped hard to the ice by Mike Richards, a jarring, open-ice hit. No one in the pressroom could remember what period it occurred, until someone finally said, "I think he hit him every period."

The 23-year-old Czech was checked. Maliciously.

In Game 2 of his NHL postseason existence, a hurried Mike Green, all of 22, coughed up the puck that led to the Philadelphia Flyers' second goal. It was a momentary lapse for Green, so far from his two-goal night less than 48 hours earlier.

The beauty of having 12 Stanley Cup playoff novices, many from the Pennsylvania hinterlands: Most of these 20-somethings don't know of the pressure and expectation felt by the old heads, some of whom might never play for the Cup again.

The curse of such inexperience: After a stirring end to Game 1, the pixie dust eventually wears off. It becomes clear to the kids they're not in Hershey, Pa., anymore, that these aren't the American Hockey League playoffs.

Philadelphia, not Wilkes-Barre, outworked and outshot the Washington Capitals in Game 2 of their Eastern Conference first-round playoff series yesterday, siphoning every last drop of momentum the Caps created Friday night in a third-period thriller.

Laying an egg was bound to happen after having not lost a game since March 19, after losing once in 13 games and essentially using the past month and a half as a mini-postseason just to qualify for the NHL playoffs. When every regular season game feels like an elimination game, a best-of-seven series must feel like a tension-reducing balm, a chance to get your bearings.

The Capitals lost home-ice advantage, but that means almost zilch in hockey. We should be more concerned for the safety of Capitals fans than players at Wachovia Center tomorrow and Thursday night; it's illegal for Donald Brashear and Matt Bradley to have their backs.

And how long this clunker lingers, physically and psychologically, can't be gauged today; Washington's last loss before yesterday was an 5-0 eyesore in Chicago that halted a four-game winning streak and appeared to end the run -- until the Capitals ran off seven straight to close the regular season and then took Game 1 against the Flyers.

So they get a pass for being shut out 2-0 yesterday -- to a point.

It's unrealistic to believe the energy and emotion conjured up to rebound from last in the Eastern Conference to champions of the Southeast Division was going to continue forever. Yet what the youngsters plying their trade in the minor leagues a year ago should take from their opening playoff weekend is a lesson in extremes.

The low-scoring unsightliness of Game 2 resembled more of what April and May and June are about in the NHL than the glitz and gaudiness of Game 1. After a Friday night of noise and romance, this was a Sunday afternoon of hangover and homework.

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