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Flyers need more production from their top line

Thursday, 06.03.2010 / 2:53 PM / 2010 Stanley Cup Final - Blackhawks vs. Flyers

By Dan Rosen - NHL.com Senior Writer

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Flyers need more production from their top line
To overtake Chicago and win the Stanley Cup, Philadelphia needs more offense from its top unit of Mike Richards, Simon Gagne and Jeff Carter.
PHILADELPHIA  -- Peter Laviolette cited the 12 attempts at the net Jeff Carter had in Game 3. Philadelphia's coach also mentioned the five attempts Simon Gagne had, and the numerous chances that Mike Richards nearly scored on.
 
"To me, it's only a matter of time," Laviolette concluded Thursday morning.
 
The Flyers should hope he's right.
 
Even though no one would say it, it's hard to imagine Philadelphia winning three of the next four games in the Stanley Cup Final against Chicago without any kind of production from its so-called top line, which so far in this series has produced a goal, a pair of assists and a minus-13 rating. The Flyers trail 2-1 heading into Game 4 Friday night at the Wachovia Center (8 p.m. ET, Versus, CBC, RDS).
 

"We're playing well -- we're just unfortunately not getting the results that we want. If we keep going I think they're going to come." -- Flyers captain Mike Richards

"We're playing well -- we're just unfortunately not getting the results that we want," said Richards, who is a minus-4 with a lone assist and seven shots on goal in the series. "If we keep going I think they're going to come."
 
Richards pins the lack of scoring on bad puck luck.
 
"We're missing the net or (Hawks goalie Antti Niemi) is making saves," the captain said. "I don't want to put too much pressure on and say if we don't score we're going to lose. We have enough depth in our lineup that on any given night any line can score, so I'm not going to go that far. But, it definitely would be nice to contribute and get some goals."
 
The Flyers won Wednesday night despite their top line. Everybody on the second line -- Danny Briere, Scott Hartnell and Ville Leino -- scored and third-line center Claude Giroux had a pair of assists before sending Philly into euphoria with his overtime winner.
 
Richards, Carter and Gagne managed zero points, 10 shots and a combined minus-4 rating. Carter had 12 attempts but made Niemi work on only half. Gagne had five attempts, connecting on three shots. Richards had four attempts, but only one on goal.
 
"That's why we're a team," Briere said. "It's not just about one or two guys or just about one line. It's the same thing with Chicago right now. Those top lines on each side, because of the matchups, when you look at the top defensemen on each side, they make it tough on them. That's the game of hockey and that's why you can't rely on just one line.
 
"I'm sure at some point things will start clicking for them, but I can't worry about that," he continued. "I have to worry about what I can do on the ice, what my line can do, and I have enough to worry about there as it is."
 
Not really. So far Briere's line has been the Flyers' best by a country mile. Giroux's line has been good, too, and Blair Betts' line has provided some energetic lifts and even a goal (by Betts) in Game 1.
 
However, the Richards' line might have an excuse. Carter probably shouldn't, or at least probably wouldn't be playing if we were still in the regular season.
 
He broke his left foot in late March and missed eight games, coming back only when the Flyers were in a must-win situation to get into the playoffs. Carter played in the final two regular-season games and the first four of the playoffs before breaking his right foot, a setback that cost him 11 games before he miraculously returned for Game 4 against Montreal.
 
No matter how much energy, drive, motivation and talent a player might have, speed, timing and hands don't come back easily after you've missed a month of hockey. Carter scored twice in Game 5 against Montreal to help Philadelphia win the Prince of Wales Trophy, but he has only a single assist and is minus-5 in the Final.
 
Richards emphatically said Carter is up to full speed, so he's not slowing the line down. His hands are another story.
 
"When you're not on the ice for a long period of time your hands take time to get back. I think they're coming back now," Richards said. "He's starting to get more shots through now and the little passes out of the corner he's doing a much better job of finding the seams to make those plays through people. He's getting better slowly."
 
When he was asked specifically about Carter, Laviolette again went back to those 12 attempts at the net. He looks at that as a sign.
 
"When he's getting 12 attempts at the net, I always know it's just a matter of time," Laviolette said. "He's getting the looks. He's finding those lanes. He's finding the opportunities. You're right about where he is at with the injuries and to be able to play at the pace that's out there right now, he seems to be finding it. I'm good with his game."
 
Laviolette didn't show or express any displeasure with Richards or Gagne either, but how long can he continue to put up a strong front? Odds are that eventually the Flyers' big guns are going to have to connect.
 
"They're getting lots of chances, and typically when the chances are there the points usually follow," Laviolette said. "They have gotten some looks that they want -- they just haven't been able to fall for them."
 
Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl


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