(Voorhees, NJ) – For the Flyers and their fans, seeing Kimmo Timonen
leave the ice in pain in Game 3 was just as traumatic as seeing Alex Ovechkin score the game-winning goal in the first game of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals last Friday.
After all, Timonen has been arguably the Flyers’ most valuable player through the first three games of their series with the Washington Capitals. And that’s saying something, as Danny Briere
and Vaclav Prospal have six points apiece and Martin Biron has two wins in net, including a shutout in Game 2.
A collective sigh of relief occurred on Wednesday at the Virtua Center Flyers Skate Zone
, when Timonen declared himself ready to play in Game 4 on Thursday night at the Wachovia Center (7:00 p.m., Comcast SportsNet, Versus). Philadelphia leads the best-of-seven series, two games to one.
“Kimmo has such a good presence on our team. We all know about his power play prowess and the things he’s done there, but he’s shown an ability to be a really sound defender and he makes such great decisions with the puck,” said John Stevens, upon learning of Timonen’s availability. “He’s so good at both ends of the rink that he’s a guy we’re excited that he’s going to be able to keep playing.”
On the play in which he was hurt, Timonen charged the net and took a shot on goaltender Cristobal Huet, who made the save. The puck went over the glass into the safety netting, when Washington’s Brooks Laich shoved the defenseman from behind. He ended up crashing into the still camera installed in the back of the net.
“I couldn’t do anything. I was in the air flying into the camera, so I knew right away, this is probably going to hurt,” said Timonen.
He added he didn’t have any ill feelings towards Laich – at least none he would admit.
“It’s playoff hockey, so you have to be ready for anything. Those things happen.”
Stevens saw it a little differently.
“I thought it was a little bit of a cheap play,” said the head coach.
Regardless, it is now in the past, and Philadelphia will need Timonen on the ice to keep the Capitals' offense, led by Ovechkin, at bay. So far, the league’s leading goal-scorer has yet to make a big impact on the series aside from his goal in Game 1. Much of the credit has been given to Timonen, but he’s quick to deflect that praise to his teammates.
“We’ve been working hard, skating, hitting, and I have to give a lot of credit to the forwards,” he said. “How they work, how they forecheck, and how they come back…it’s a five-man forecheck and five men coming back."
While the strong team play is undeniable in the last two games, the modest Timonen is still a big key to that success. Briere explained on Wednesday why he always hates playing against guys like Timonen – presumably mirroring what is going through Ovechkin’s head.
“Kimmo is so smart. I hate playing against players that don’t really hurt you physically but they always make the simple plays,” said Briere. “It’s frustrating because you don’t get a lot of chances. They don’t make turnovers and they make the good passes going out of the zone. After awhile, it gets really frustrating playing against guys like that.”
Derian Hatcher, who was a +3 in his first game back from a broken leg on Tuesday, further explained what Timonen has been doing so effectively.
“If you can get there right away and check [Ovechkin] you do it, and if not, you just give him that room in front of you. That’s how Kimmo’s handled him,” said Hatcher. “If he can get there right away he does, and if not, just leave him be on the outside until you feel comfortable you can close and shut him down.”
One possible sign of Ovechkin’s frustrations occurred in the third period with the Flyers ahead 4-2 at the time. While skating in the offensive zone, Ovechkin’s skate collided with that of R.J. Umberger, sending the forward into a triple-lindy type dive that the referee ruled was a penalty to Umberger.
“Everyone tries to embellish some hits some time or another, and he was just trying to get his team going,” figured Scott Hartnell
. “I don’t know if he ended up getting hurt on that hit or not, but he’s been running around a little bit and getting away from his game and he’s probably frustrated. Our job in here is to just keep him frustrated and not give him that open ice he’s used to getting.”
Hatcher was asked if the players on the Flyers’ bench, who were right in front of the dive, lipped off to Ovechkin while he was getting back to his feet.
“I was still on the ice in front of the net, but I imagine they were,” he laughed.
Now, the Flyers will look to keep the momentum in their favor in front of another boisterous home crowd for Game 4. According to Mike Richards, they don’t need to be reminded to play just as hard and smart as they have the last two games.
“Momentum in the playoffs can turn on a dime. One hit or one goal can turn the momentum in a series. We just want to keep playing the way we’re playing and not do anything out of sorts,” said Richards.