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Flyers Get Physical
Playoff hockey wasn't Friday night; that was an aberration, a once-in-an-era, 18,000-strong love-in, consummating the relationship between fans and the players they've come to embrace. Playoff hockey was Game 2, the Flyers mercilessly forechecking, keeping the pressure on Capitals goalie Cristobal Huet even with a two-goal lead.
It can be dirty, ornery and often involves a scrum in front of the crease that leads to a lucky goal. It's not just about trying to make the TV highlight reel in Vancouver.
As a supremely educated observer of the game told me of the Capitals' performance afterward, "Too many world-class players trying to make world-class plays. Dump the puck and chase. It's not pretty, but that's how you win in the playoffs."
Flyers defenseman Kimmo Timonen echoed those sentiments. "When we skate, when we forecheck, when we go after a team, we're a good team," he said.
Alex Ovechkin and Alexander Semin tried to use the Flyers as pylons a few times, resembling a young Allen Iverson going one-on-five instead of waiting for help. Green was the unfortunate recipient of between-game adjustments by Flyers Coach John Stevens, whose staff knew they couldn't let the defenseman carry the puck unmolested through the zone as he did in Game 1.
So Philly became more physical, more purposeful in their checks. Penalties -- the Flyers gave the Caps four power-play opportunities in the first period alone -- be damned. Veteran right-winger Mike Knuble did an interview with Comcast SportsNet in Philadelphia afterward, a wound oozing above his left eye. The bleeding appeared to stop, but you could see the splotches of what appeared to Mercurochrome covering the gash. If the topical antiseptic used for minor cuts and scrapes is now banned in the United States because of its mercury content, Knuble's 35-year-old Ontario grit is not.
When a Flyers writer was asked when the cut occurred, he replied, without looking up from his computer, "Knuble was born cut."
Before NBC came to Washington yesterday, the Capitals had never had a game on network television, post-lockout, that wasn't against Sidney Crosby and the rival Pittsburgh Penguins. The Sports Network, essentially Canada's ESPN (which owns roughly 25 percent of the Canadian cable station), is here because of Ovechkin and Washington. The Capitals-Flyers series is the only NHL first-round series televised in both Canada and the United States, and that's because of who plays for Washington, not who plays for Philadelphia.
But it would be wise for the Capitals not to forget these Flyers have more than a bit of ruffian in them, a stout of heart that may determine who moves on to the next round more than spectacular stick work or skill. Commissioner Gary Bettman and every NHL suit imaginable can root for Ovi and the Overachievers all they want.
But when the puck is free in the neutral zone, neither the commissioner nor his television partners can help retrieve it. It's on the kids flying off the bench, over the boards, to grow up on the fly and find that resolve.