In the first round of the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs, it looked like the Philadelphia Flyers could do no wrong. Their offense attacked in waves, their power play was unstoppable, their defense was poised and they were able to frustrate the Pittsburgh Penguins to the point that they took numerous penalties and even saw three players suspended for actions in the same game.
The Flyers suddenly had the look of an Eastern Conference favorite. And then just as quickly as the accolades arrived, they disappeared as the New Jersey Devils dismantled the Flyers over five games in the conference semifinals.
So how did the Flyers go from potential Stanley Cup champions to preparing to empty their lockers? Here are five reasons:
1. Absence of offense
In six games in the first round against the Penguins, the Flyers scored a League-high 30 goals and averaged 27.5 shots per game.
But in five games against the Devils, they scored just 11 goals, and after getting 36 shots in winning Game 1, they averaged just 24.5 shots per game over the final four games. More than the total number shots was the glaring inconsistency -- three times they had stretches of eight minutes or more in a period without a shot.
Not helping was the lack of contributions from some of the Flyers' most important offensive pieces. Wayne Simmonds, who had a career-best 28 goals in the regular season, was limited to two assists; Scott Hartnell had just one goal after scoring a personal-best 37 in the regular season; rookies Matt Read and Brayden Schenn, each of whom had major roles in the first round, had one goal each against the Devils; and Jaromir Jagr had just one point and a minus-2 rating.
2. Missing G
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The Flyers had to play Game 5 without top center Claude Giroux, who showed in the first round why many people agreed with Philadelphia coach Peter Laviolette when he called Giroux the best player in the world.
Giroux, who leads all playoff performers in goals, assists, points, power-play goals and shorthanded goals, was suspended for Game 5 after his hit to the head of New Jersey's Dainius Zubrus in Game 4.
Would his presence in the lineup made a difference in Game 5? No one ever will know, but certainly having him would have helped.
"He's our best player," Jagr said. "He was all year long. Even in the playoffs he was totally dominating the game. It was a big loss. You don't know what would have happened if he played, but we would have had a way better chance to win."
3. Emotionally empty
Every second of the first round series against the Penguins seemed like all-out warfare. Having a bitter rivalry with Pittsburgh and stars Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby seemed to motivate the Flyers.
Defenseman Andreas Lilja said it was easy to get up emotionally to play the Penguins because there are "a lot more guys in Pittsburgh, I think, who do more [stuff] after whistles."
Against a more disciplined team in New Jersey, however, the Flyers never found that extra bit of motivation.
"They didn't give us anything to be emotional about," Hartnell said. "They weren't in scrums and it seemed like they really didn't hit us. … It wasn't there and that was their mindset and game plan."
"I think what was tough on them was us not retaliating to any of the stuff they were doing," Devils goalie Martin Brodeur said. "All of the stuff they were saying every single game, guys just turned away and didn't respond to anybody. And I think when you're a team that you feed off of that -- they were able to get Pittsburgh all wrapped up in that stuff -- I think it must have got tough on them a little bit just to talk to themselves all day long."
4. Lack of mobility on defense
The Devils exposed the Flyers' glaring lack of puck movement on the back end with their non-stop forechecking. Time after time the Devils were able to hem the Flyers in their zone and keep them from escaping with the puck. Sometimes it was with just one forward.
Because the Devils were able to so easily disrupt the Flyers' breakouts, multiple Philadelphia players remarked how much they were playing defense in the series while not getting any significant time in the offensive zone.
It's no surprise that Philadelphia's best game came in this department came in Game 5, which featured the return of puck-moving defenseman Andrej Meszaros.
5. Where did the power go?
How dominant was Philadelphia's power play in the first round? It scored at least one goal in all six games, and in three of those games they scored at least two. The 12 goals were a team record.
That power completely disappeared against the Devils. The Flyers finished the series with just three goals in 19 tries.
The Devils' strategy was to pressure the Flyers at the point, which kept them from getting set up in the offensive zone and limited both time and opportunities with the puck. And when the Flyers were able to establish zone time, the Devils did a solid job of keeping traffic away from the front of the net and clearing pucks before the Flyers could get to rebounds.
When you look at how dominant the Devils were at even strength, it makes the Flyers' problems on the power play look that much worse.
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