The Glass is Half Empty in Flyers-Panthers 4-4 Tie
Tuesday, April 9, 2002
By David W. Unkle
Some might say that Phantoms call-ups Guillaume Lefebvre and John Slaney brought the curse with them from the First Union Spectrum; others will say that bad trades (Billy Tibbetts) and injuries (Rick Tocchet, Jeremy Roenick, Jiri Dopita, and Keith Primeau) disrupted the team karma, others might even point out that the Flyers limped into the playoffs the last few years for various other reasons. But even the optimist cannot ignore the Flyers' recent slump of 4-8-4 in their last sixteen games (including last night's game). Following a 3-1 defeat of the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday, optimism started to creep into the Flyers' picture. Big games with the Devils, Rangers, and Islanders to round out the schedule stand between the Flyers and the Eastern Conference championship. But first up, the team that is in next to last place in the Eastern Conference, the Mike Keenan-led Florida Panthers.
Florida came into the First Union Center last night with a record of 22-43-8-5 (57 points), giving up 236 goals against while scoring only 169. The Flyers haven't faced the Panthers since the early part of the season and some faces have changed on both sides of the ice. The Flyers have 3-0 record against the Panthers and a 24-12-4 record all time. Interestingly though is their record at home (a paltry 9-7-4). While the Flyers have struggled in the final weeks of the season, Florida has gone 3-3-3-1 in their last ten games (tying Toronto 2-2 at the Air Canada Centre and playing the Rangers, Senators, and Canadiens close in losses). Tonight, they earned more than a point on the road late in the season; they left with the knowledge that a team that is laden with rookies and young players stole a point on the road from the Atlantic Division's leaders who desperately want the Eastern Conference banner. Watching this team's inconsistency over the final weeks of the season, I see the glass (arguably) as half-empty and how this team decides to play in their remaining three games will determine how long they play hockey in the spring. In his post-game press conference, Flyers' head Coach Bill Barber said we'll take our point and run with it here...we've had a lot of good opportunities tonight...it seems like we're not quite on top of our game, but I believe even tonight more steps were made in the right direction on how we have to play. When you're playing a team that doesn't have anything to lose and everything is on the offense, it seems that they're difficult to play against. We had our opportunities to score... the positives: Oatesy's (Adam Oates) line got some goals for us; Gags (Simon Gagne) got a big goal for us, so we're building on those aspects...we are working in all the areas we need to work in to improve...it is a team game. It's not a time to sit here...and point fingers...we, as a collective group, are trying to get better every game and you can't go to one area and say, this was our problem.
The Flyers showed some offense last night albeit facing Panthers' goalie Wade Flaherty who was playing in his fourth game of the season (2-1) with a goals-against-average of 2.67 in relief of Trevor Kidd. Mark Recchi's intercepted an outlet pass and set-up John Le Clair who beat Robert Svehla and Flaherty for the 1-0 lead at 8:33. Less than a minute later, the Panthers' Pierre Dagenais, flying down the right wing, got stonewalled by goalie Roman Cechmanek. However, the rebound came right back to Degenais' stick who easily nailed it past Cechmanek tying the score at 1 apiece. Again, looking at the glass as half empty, the shaky goaltending of Cechmanek and one of the season's worst performances from defenseman Dan Mc Gillis ultimately would cost the Flyers an important point. Skating with the puck at the top of the blue line, Mc Gillis fell (with no one around him) allowing the Panthers' Marcus Nilson to go in alone on Cechmanek. If not for Jeremy Roenick and his well-placed stick around Nilson's mid-section, the Panthers' number one draft choice (1996) would have had a clean shot at the end of his breakaway.
The Flyers fell behind 2-1 on a bizarre play that had everyone scanning the replay footage. Olli Jokinen beat Mark Recchi down the left wing boards and blasted a shot that beat Cechmanek but didn't go in the net. The puck hit the upper cross bar and deflected down to the bottom of the left post causing the puck to slide parallel to the goal line but not over it. Cechmanek was stunned and Florida came right back and this time found the net. Playing 4 on 4 hockey, Kristian Huselius blew past Mc Gillis giving Florida the lead at 15:33 generating the calls for Brian Boucher.
In the second period, the Flyers and Panthers traded goals within 60 seconds of each other like they did in the first period. The duo of Recchi and Le Clair teamed up again, this time with Le Clair feeding Recchi who fired from just outside the left circle beating Flaherty to the stick side. 49 seconds later, Dan Mc Gillis was again the victim, getting beat by Stephen Weiss. Weiss' feed to Sandis Ozolinsh allowed the Florida veteran to shoot one through the five-hole of Cechmanek giving Florida a 3-2 advantage. The Flyers knotted the score at 3-3 following an offensive zone face-off to the right of Flaherty. Adam Oates won the draw and feathered the puck to Simon Gagne who then passed to Recchi who found Kim Johnsson just outside the right circle. The puck movement caught Flaherty unsettled and the Flyers' defenseman had his eleventh goal of the season. The period was marked by two other events; the beating that Keith Primeau delivered to perennial nudge Igor Ulanov and the Flyers' stifling defense which allowed the Panthers one shot on goal in 15 minutes and 30 seconds. But the score was still tied at 3 apiece and the glass still looked half empty.
The third period opened in contrast to how the second period closed; this time it was the Panthers' defense which did not allow their opponent a shot on goal. The Flyers' were held without a shot for the opening seven minutes before testing Flaherty again. Cechmanek made some great saves in the period including stopping a series of shots while supine on the ice with about six minutes to go. The Flyers took the lead again on Simon Gagne's goal. Following a feed from Roenick and Justin Williams, Gagne collected his own rebound at 15:33. Uninspired play gave the Panthers multiple chances to score. Byron Ritchie almost nailed one home with a minute to go and with the empty net and the extra attacked, the Panthers knotted the score 4-4 with 16.6 seconds left in regulation. Dagenais took a feed to the high slot and hit slot went off of Cechmanek's glove into the net and the game went into overtime. The Flyers generated the only two shots in overtime and Mark Recchi's attempted stuffer with 26 seconds left in regulation was as close as the Flyers came to pulling this one out. They scored with 16 seconds left in the game, that's disappointing said Jeremy Roenick. That's they way it's been going; we make a mistake and it ends up in our net...we still played with a lot of emotion, a lot of energy. We had a lot of scoring chances; we scored four goals tonight, that's the most goals we scored in the last couple of weeks.
It's disappointing...we wanted to hopefully use that win against Pittsburgh and build on it...I think guys need to play with a little more confidence. I think with the skid that we're in, that everyone has the confidence that we need right now to play hockey and that's one thing you need. You need to have confidence in your ability to make plays...our first priority is getting our game on track said John LeClair.
Photos by Pedro Cancel
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