Game in a Sentence:
Claude Giroux set the tone early for the Philadelphia Flyers as they got off to a hot start and didn’t look back to put away the Pittsburgh Penguins and advance to the second round.
- To re-iterate what I said about 10 words ago, this was Claude Giroux’s game from the outset. He laid a huge hit on Sidney Crosby to open the game and scored 32 seconds after the opening faceoff. I said that you could tell how hard Giroux was trying to will the Flyers to victory in game five and today he finally got enough support around him to do so.
- With respect to Giroux, it’s time he gets his due as one of the top dogs in the NHL now. He went toe-to-toe with Crosby, Malkin and Staal who are the vaunted trio of centers any team would love to have and outdid them physically and on the scoresheet. Obviously there was more to the series than Giroux simply hauling the Flyers to victory four times, but in every win he was arguably their best forward and in every loss he was the guy you could pick out trying to turn the tide on every shift. A superb first series from 28 in orange.
- With respect to Crosby, Malkin and Staal, they had a rough game. Crosby, of course, didn’t exactly get off on the right foot after he was planted by Giroux and didn’t generate much to finish as a -3. Malkin scored his third goal of the series but it was on the power play and he continued to be largely ineffective at even strength. Staal was probably the best of the three once again but couldn’t produce any offence. Not the best time to have your three best players have a simultaneous off day.
- More to the Penguins play, if I’m looking to bolster the roster going forward I’m trying to find high motor guys for the bottom lines as I think they just didn’t have those grind it out types to get them through the moments when there was a lull and the big guns were off the ice. If you’ll recall, some of the subtly key players during their championship win were the likes of Talbot, Dupuis, Rupp and Adams. Now Talbot and Rupp are gone and Dupuis was forced to play a bigger role than he should be. Craig Adams can’t be your key grinder all alone.
- The key for any team that comes up against these Flyers will really be how well they can shut down Claude Giroux. If you take a look at the secondary scorers on this team, they generally stem from how many minutes they log with the top centerman on the team. Danny Briere, Jaromir Jagr and Scott Hartnell all enjoyed a lot of production this series and it was because of their chemistry with Giroux who has a knack for finding these guys in space and generating scoring chances. That’s not to take away from the performances those guys put together in their own right as they were fantastic as well. Briere’s series opening goal for the Flyers – yes, that one – really gave this team some offensive swagger and drastically changed the Philadelphia outlook. Jagr was a wizard with the puck and gave the Penguins fits. Hartnell was an anchor in the dirty areas, exhausted Pittsburgh in the back end and scored a key goal today in the first period- the game winner.
- Obviously Philadelphia’s depth at-large is as good as we’ve seen it since the Roenick/Primeau era. Their ability to get contributions from guys like Brayden Schenn and Sean Couturier is very encouraging considering they’re rookies. Jakub Voracek, Wayne Simmonds, Matt Read, and on and on all made noticeable impacts on the series as well. This is a far cry from their team a couple years ago which leaned very heavily on Mike Richards, Briere, and Jeff Carter to generate chances. They can legitimately roll four lines and all of them can do damage. They will not be an easy out for anyone at any stage of the playoffs.
- Marc-Andre Fleury had a series to forget. For a guy who was getting Vezina consideration – I personally don’t think he should be in the discussion, but hey, a discussion is just that – he was really substandard after playing very well in the postseason the last few years. This game wasn’t his fault and neither was this series, but outside of game five you can’t really point to a moment where he really HELPED the Penguins. I wouldn’t be shocked if Pittsburgh was active in the market for a new backup goaltender after this run given that Brent Johnson wasn’t a viable option when MAF struggled unless you start winning in the playoffs by fighting Rick DiPiertro.
- Ilya Bryzgalov, whether you love him or hate him, consistently did enough to help his team win. There are several saves that stick out in my mind – on Sullivan in game one, Letang game two, etc. – where I can point and say he preserved the momentum and got a win for his team. Today was no different as he turned aside 30 pucks. For those of you who will bandy about the “He’s not a playoff goaltender” line, I’d encourage you to look back at Anaheim’s championship team when, you’ll recall, Bryzgalov was the starting goaltender for the Ducks until he was injured which prompted J.S. Giguere’s return. Bryzgalov was on a record setting pace at the time and in the playoffs no less. The guy can get it done, and this Philly team is much closer to that Anaheim squad than his stints in Phoenix were. If they minimize their puck obsession in the back end and play their system instead of running around, Bryzgalov can and will get you far.
My Three Stars:
1) Claude Giroux
2) Braydon Coburn
3) Ilya Bryzgalov