Daniel Briere had just scored a power play goal to give the Flyers a 3-0 lead at the 4:06 mark of the second period in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals series against the Pittsburgh Penguins last season. It seemed as if the Flyers and Penguins would be getting ready for a Game 7; which would ultimately decide who would be moving on to the second round of the NHL Playoffs.
After Daniel Carcillo rocked Penguins grinder Maxime Talbot in a fight, the Wachovia Center was rocking and it seemed Game 7 was inevitable.
Just 29 seconds after Briere scored however, former Flyers forward Ruslan Fedotenko notched a tally that cut the lead to 3-1.
“Uh-oh, it’s not even close to being over,” said many Flyers fans who were watching the game inside of Pickles Tavern in State College, Pennsylvania along with many Penguins fans.
The rest is history. The Penguins scored four unanswered goals, including an empty-net series clinching goal from the Flyers arch-nemesis, Sidney Crosby. To make matters much worse, the Penguins prevailed in one of the most entertaining Stanley Cup finals in recent memory, defeating the Detroit Red Wings, 4 games to 3.
What went wrong? After trailing the series 3-1, the Flyers went into Mellon Arena and played a solid 60 minutes, shutting out the Penguins 3-0 and forced a Game 6 in Philadelphia. After scoring the first three goals, it seemed as if the comeback was a possibility. However, defensive breakdowns in front of goaltender Martin Biron, along with the grit and determination of the Pittsburgh Penguins, cost the Flyers another spring run towards Lord Stanley.
What some call defensive breakdowns, others may call the Flyers defense not being able to handle the offensive prowess that Crosby and Evgeni Malkin bring to the table. Kimmo Timonen and Braydon Coburn were undoubtedly the Flyers two best defensemen who were in charge of stopping the two superstars.
To put it in simple terms, they just couldn’t handle them.
Enter Chris Pronger.
Two and a half months after watching Crosby and the Penguins clinch a series on their own turf, the Flyers brass pulled off a move in which has mixed reactions.
The Flyers traded 20-goal scorer Joffery Lupul along with prospect Luca Sbisa and two first round draft picks for one of the biggest defensive names in the NHL, Pronger.
Some feel the Flyers gave up too much for an aging defenseman whose best years are behind him. On the other hand, some are loving the fact Flyers General Manager Paul Holmgren feels his team isn’t far from being a team that could win the Stanley Cup and Chris Pronger is a piece of the pie that definitely puts them in the conversation.
After much speculation, I’d have to agree with the latter. This trade, in more ways than one, favors the Flyers more then it hurts them.
First, I’m almost 100 percent sure if Chris Pronger is wearing the orange and black last year in that Game 6, there is no way the Penguins win and there is a Game 7.
Second, Pronger not only brings his hockey smarts, which won him the Hart and Norris Trophies in 2000, but he brings something that the Flyers lacked at times last season; leadership.
This is not at all a knock on Flyers captain Mike Richards, who is developing to join the names of Flyers greats Bobby Clarke and Bill Barber.
The Flyers, last year, and still into this season, are a young team.
In 2007-2008, when the team went to the Eastern Conference Finals, guys like Derian Hatcher and Jason Smith were at the helm to be the off-the-ice leaders.
Last year, in his first season as captain, Richards did a fine job, but adding the leadership and experience, not to mention the bone-crushing hits and scoring ability that Pronger brings only makes the Flyers a better team.
Looking at what the Flyers gave up to acquire Pronger, you can’t determine if it was a good or bad trade until everything pans out, however, what the Flyers gave up can be replaced immediately. Lupul was a role-type player that had great chemistry with fellow winger Scott Hartnell and center Jeff Carter.
With that said, the Flyers have not had any problems scoring goals. Carter, Richards, Gagne, and Hartnell all eclipsed the 30-goal mark last season and if Daniel Briere and Claude Giroux played a full season, they both could have easily clipped that mark.
Losing another 20-goal scorer and power play specialist Mike Knuble doesn’t help when it comes to goal scoring, but there is no doubt the Flyers will once again be at the top half of the conference when it comes to scoring goals.
The biggest problem the Flyers have had as a team is unquestionably defense over the last two seasons.
Adding a name like Chris Pronger to your backline instantly makes the Flyers a contender for the best team on paper in the Eastern Conference.
For all you superstitious Flyers fans out there, just look at what Pronger has done in his first year with his new team; take them to the Stanley Cup Finals. In Edmonton in 2006, Pronger played a big role in taking a No. 8 seeded team within one game of hoisting the Cup. One year later, after being traded to Anaheim, Pronger took that one leap forward and won the Stanley Cup with the Ducks.
In his first season with the Flyers in 2009, Pronger………….
Hopefully I can read this article in June 2010 and “…………….” will equal Stanley Cup.