Blaming goaltending for undermining the Philadelphia Flyers in the Stanley Cup Playoffs is as much as Philly sports cliché as throwing snowballs at Santa. It's going to happen every postseason that falls short of a championship, and has happened for at least the last 15 years. Hell, fans even turned Michael Leighton(notes) into a pumpkin for giving up that softy to Patrick Kane(notes) in Game 6 last year, after salvaging their postseason.
As they fall behind 3-0 for the second consecutive year to the Boston Bruins — the Flyers faithful defiantly wishing for history to repeat — it's again rather easy to blame the netminders when the Flyers have pulled their goalie six times in their last 10 playoff games.
It happened again last night, as veteran Brian Boucher(notes) set an ignominious team record for the fastest two goals given up in a playoff game. Coach Peter Laviolette called him to the bench and gave him the "it's not your fault" speech Robin Williams gave Matt Damon in "Good Will Hunting," but it didn't matter: The Boston Bruins cruised to a 5-1 victory, and the Flyers struggles between the pipes were exacerbated by the continued stellar play of Tim Thomas(notes) on the other side of the rink.
So sure, blame the goaltending. But don't dare lay all the blame there, because it's not Brian Boucher's fault this team has stopped skating and is getting physically dominated by the likes of Brad Marchand(notes).
It's not Brian Boucher's fault the Flyers are about to be eliminated.
From the Boston Herald, a spotlight on how the team in front of Boucher didn't answer the bell:
After their wretched effort Wednesday night, there wasn't much defiance. The Flyers were beaten soundly, beaten up physically, and they looked and sounded like a beaten team. After three games, they know this Boston team is better, tougher, and more committed - than last year's Bruins, certainly, but also better, tougher, and more committed than the Flyers.
It is an ugly truth about this team that it failed to show up for Games 1 and 3 of this series. That wasn't the case before last year's ultimate comeback.
"It's an awful lot to expect (another comeback)," Flyers chairman Ed Snider said after watching the 5-1 blowout. "Boston's playing very well. We're going to have to step up our game in order to compete with them. I don't think there was a lack of urgency. I just think that Boston's playing really well, and we weren't quite as prepared as we should have been for what they did in the beginning of the game."
Rich Hofmann of the Daily News calls it what it is: Exhaustion from constantly digging out of their own holes while playing shorthanded. From the News:
Maybe they do miss defenseman Chris Pronger(notes) that much; another topic worthy of discussion. Pronger, with his mysterious series of undisclosed ailments, has played in only three games in the playoffs. They are 2-1 with him and 2-5 without him. Again, this is something that will be picked over at length, one would assume, after the season is over.
But it seems like more than that. It isn't just the goalie. It isn't just Pronger. It is the exhaustion, physical and mental, from all of the digging out of holes that they do.
They got off to a poor start and looked like they just weren't ready to play at 7:07 p.m. at TD Garden tonight. But that's really so atypical of this Flyers team, isn't it? It's frustrating when we're so pumped up for the game, it starts, and it seems like the players themselves just don't care at all.
I don't see a team that doesn't care. I see a team that's just worn out. Physically, mentally, whatever. They've thrown so much at the wall in the last year or so -- the second half of the 2009-10 season, the comeback in last year's Eastern Conference Semifinals against Boston, the run to the Cup, the entire 2010-11 season, two in-game comebacks against Buffalo in the first round, 54 shots on Tim Thomas in Game 2.
They just have nothing left in the tank.
Finally, Marcello D. of Flyers Faithful had a fantastic take on why the team's issues aren't contained between the pipes of the goal cage:
A recurring theme throughout these season has been that it does not matter who is in net, as long as the skaters do what they are supposed to do. Whether it is because of injury — I, for one, this Mike Richards(notes) is hiding an injury — or fatigue, or mismatched lines/being out-coached (this has been covered enough by other writers so I won't focus on it) or the ever popular reason of lacking heart or guts, the forwards and defenders are not getting the job done. As a result, the goalies are being exposed for what we already knew them to be: players who can keep you in a game but can't steal a game for you.
Maybe Brian Boucher isn't Roberto Luongo(notes) but he doesn't need to be, or shouldn't need to be, anyway. He's taking a lot of grief for playing as well as we know he can play when it's the team in front of him that deserves more blame.
Thoughts occasionally drift to the "what if?" for Flyers goaltending. What if Ilya Bryzgalov(notes) or Evgeni Nabokov(notes) or Tomas Vokoun(notes) was between the pipes next season? What if instead of a tandem — or a triumvirate — there was one veteran keeper with whom the team lives or dies?
But you could have Ronnie Hextall circa 1987 between those pipes and it wouldn't matter if Kris Versteeg(notes) is blowing defensive assignments against Zdeno Chara(notes), the Flyers can't answer the bell in a Game 3 on the road and Boston looks like the Big Bad Bruins while the Flyers can't rise to the reputation of the Broad Street Bullies.