The Philadelphia Flyers figured facing the New Jersey Devils would be easier than the Pittsburgh Penguins. After all, Flyers fans like myself had a lot of fun seeing the Penguins collapse and go out of their minds in the first round. Philadelphia reduced Pittsburgh into an undisciplined, scatter-brained mess - but thanks to the Devils, the Penguins are now probably having a laugh at the Flyers' expense.
Philadelphia hasn't quite fallen apart to the extent that Pittsburgh did in the first round. Yet the results speak for themselves, as the Devils have now put the Flyers into a 3-1 hole and turned them into a shell of their old selves, just as the Penguins were only a few weeks ago.
The latest low point came with a 4-2 defeat to the Devils in Game 4 on May 6, as the Flyers were only really awake for a few minutes in the first period. A power play and a shorthanded goal within two minutes gave Philadelphia a stunning 2-0 lead, although it had been decidedly outplayed already. But given the Flyers' pattern of coming back from bad starts, this slow beginning actually looked encouraging for them.
Yet right after Philadelphia went up by two, it only took another few minutes to give the lead right back. On the same power play in which the Flyers scored a shorthanded goal, the Devils got a man-advantage tally of their own from Petr Sykora. Once New Jersey officially tied it up under three minutes later, the rout was on - in every way but on the scoreboard.
The Flyers made the Penguins' defense overmatched and pathetic in the opening round, and they could do nothing but commit penalty after penalty. However, it was Philadelphia who was overwhelmed and outshot by 32-12 after two periods, while it let New Jersey get on a string of power plays and Claude Giroux became as frustrated as Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin were.
The only thing that separated these Flyers from the Penguins was Ilya Bryzgalov, who chose quite a time to finally deliver a huge performance. Although it would have been nice if he was this clutch while the offense was on fire, Bryzgalov single-handedly kept Philadelphia in Game 4 - unlike Marc-Andre Fleury in countless playoff games. Yet of course, the other shoe had to drop eventually for Bryzgalov, as the Devils finally went ahead late in the second.
Since the Flyers were outshot by almost 3-1 after two periods, they were pretty much finished the second they fell behind. While they did finally get 10 token third period shots, none of them really threatened Martin Brodeur or New Jersey's control of Game 4. With the final shot total at 42-22 in favor of the Devils, the 4-2 final score in goals seemed mockingly closer than it should have been - as does New Jersey's 3-1 advantage in games.
Pittsburgh mounted a token last minute resistance against Philadelphia in round one, looking good for two straight wins before crumbling one last time on the road. But if the Flyers can't even mount up that kind of effort with their backs against the wall, the Penguins will certainly have the last laugh.
Pittsburgh was the unanimous favorite to win the Stanley Cup before Philadelphia shredded it. But once that made the Flyers the unanimous favorite to breeze past the Devils, it somehow gave them the same sickness that the Penguins had. There was no cure for the Penguins, and now the Flyers' own out-of-character, out-of-nowhere ugliness has put them on the brink of death as well.
Robert Dougherty is a life-long Philadelphia resident and a Flyers fan since the age of eight.
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