When Arron Asham, of all people, gave the Flyers their first lead of the series on their very first shot of Game 3, it looked like a healthy dose of home ice was just what the Flyers would need to climb back into this series. A couple of defensive gaffes and 34 saves from Tuuka Rask proved to be too much for the Flyers to overcome though, and they now have to win tomorrow just to avoid a sweep. I won’t bore you with all the chatter I’m sure you’ve heard already – “Only two teams in NHL history have come back from 3-0,” etc. I picked the Flyers to win in 7, and while it might be beyond the scope of reasonable possibility, this is a scrappy club that won’t just roll over and die, especially when they’ve dominated stretches of play like they have in this series.
The X-factor in this series so far has been Tuuka Rask, without a doubt. Rask has allowed just 7 goals on 97 shots this series, and, especially in Game 3, has done a great job of keeping the Flyers from gaining any sort of momentum. He’s made the big saves when needed, and one of the most frustrating things to watch about the young Finn is the fact that he’s been so solid positionally that some good quality shots end up looking like warmup shots. He moves laterally in his crease very well, so even good puck movement hasn’t been enough to beat him. Of course, every time I write something good about the young Finn, I have to remember that this was a guy the Leafs drastically underestimated and traded away for a guy who now does nothing but warm the bench behind Roberto Luongo.
Something the Bruins have done well in this series that the Flyers should try to emulate is get plenty of traffic in front of Brian Boucher. Blake Wheeler scored the B’s first goal of the game by planting himself about 3 feet outside the crease and tipping in a shot-pass from Matt Hunwick. Mark Recchi’s goal early in the 3rd was a big turning point in the game, really crushing any hopes the Flyers had of jumping back in, and it too was created by a strong Boston net presence. Chara’s point drive never made it through to Boucher, but he was unable to find it quickly enough to get into position. He actually made a good kick save on Wheeler’s first attempt, but former Flyer Mark Recchi was waiting on the back door to slap the rebound home, while Kimmo Timonen watched helplessly from 2 feet away.
Of course, nothing was more disappointing than Miroslav Satan’s go-ahead goal just over a minute after Wheeler had tied the game. Mike Richards absolutely destroyed David Krejci in the neutral zone, breaking his wrist and probably eliminating him as a factor in the rest of the series. Unfortunately, the rest of the Flyers apparently forgot something their peewee coaches tried to drill into their heads – Play ’til you hear the whistle. Chris Pronger made a half-hearted effort to step up and grab the loose puck, probably assuming the play was going to be whistled dead, but when he was beat to the puck by Milan Lucic, his soft pinch had left the middle of the ice wide open for Satan to streak in on Boucher alone and slip a backhand around the keeper. Now, none of this would have happened if Matt Carle hadn’t been cheapshotted in the offensive zone and knocked out of the play, as Johnny Boychuk clearly kicked his skates out just as Philadelphia was getting set in the zone. Still, Pronger is a seasoned veteran and should have realized he was on his own back there and either made a serious effort to get the puck, or, what would have been better, taken a quick look up ice and realizing he was about to face a 2-on-1.
Things certainly look bleak in Philadelphia, but the way these playoffs have gone, clearly anything is possible. Years of following the stupid Leafs have made me a fan who is constantly looking for some good in even the worst situation. The Flyers outshot Boston 35-20 in Game 3, but just couldn’t solve Rask. Priority number one in Game 4 has to be getting a consistent net presence in front of the youngster. If you watched the Vancouver-Chicago game last night, you saw how effective a big net presence can be, even against the best goalies in the world. Boston will feel the absence of David Krejci (4 goals, 8 points), but a lack of Boston offense isn’t going to put goals on the board for the Flyers.
1. Zdeno Chara – 1 assist, 4 hits, 2 blocked shots, +1
2. Tuuka Rask – 34 saves
3. Blake Wheeler – 1 goal, 1 assist