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Therien's Take: Taking it home (and home)

Therien: It is no small feat in the NHL to defeat the same opponent twice within the same week, especially when the games are played back-to-back in each other's home arenas

by Philadelphia Flyers @NHLFlyers / philadelphiaflyers.com

It is no small feat in the NHL to defeat the same opponent twice within the same week, especially when the games are played back-to-back in each other's home arenas. 

That was true back when I played, and it's still true to this day. The Flyers deserve full marks for taking three of four possible points in a home-and-home with Pittsburgh (although the two games were divided on either end of the All-Star break and bye weeks), beating Florida in regulation last week both in Philadelphia and Sunrise and then sweeping a direct home-and-home set with the Columbus Blue Jackets this week. 

That said, this week's Flyers and Columbus home-at-home would have been perhaps a little bit more fascinating if Columbus did not have a MASH unit's worth of injured key players, including both Seth Jones and Cam Atkinson. The Flyers took advantage of superior depth, were more opportunistic offensely (yes, there was puck luck, but teams ultimately make their own opportunities to get luck) and got the overall better and more timely goaltending in both games. 

There are both pros and cons to home-and-home sets. One of the benefits is that you don't have to spend nearly as much time going over prescouts. That doesn't mean there aren't pregame and in-game adjustments but all of the other team's tendencies are fresh in mind.

The other benefit of a home-and-home is something similar to watch you see in the playoffs: both teams are the same travel schedule between games and pretty much equally rested or tired. That takes the "fatigue factor" out of the equation. 

There used to be a third benefit to a home-and-home: As the old saying goes, familiarity breeds contempt. It used to be automatic that Game 1 of a home-and-home would feature emotions that ran high, lots of physical play, a few fights and a palpable level of dislike for pretty much everyone on the opposing side.

As a player, that's a fun atmosphere that keeps the adrenaline pumping all night. I remember one home-and-home in particular from my playing days that we had with the New York Rangers in the spring of 1996. First place was at stake in our division (we ultimately finished first in the Eastern Conference).

A little more background: One spring earlier, during my rookie season, we had swept the Rangers, then the defending Stanley Cup champions, in four straight games in the second round of the playoffs. There were some who felt the Rangers went down a bit too meekly. 

Near the NHL trade deadline, both the Flyers are Rangers bid on two aging LA Kings veterans who had been part of the old Edmonton Oilers championship dynasty: Hall of Fame forward Jari Kurri and tough-guy defenseman Marty McSorley. The Rangers won the bidding (although the deal ultimately did not work as well as hoped). 
 
A final piece of back-story: Rangers captain Mark Messier had running on-ice feuds with two of our players. He and hard-nosed shutdown center Joel Otto had waged head-to-head wars for years as members of the archrival Oilers and Calgary Flames. Messier also had a running feud with one of our defenseman, Kevin Haller, dating back to a slashing incident earlier in Kevin's career. Lastly, there was a brewing rivalry with Eric Lindros, who had been compared to Messier ever since junior hockey. 

The first game of the home-and-home was played in the Spectrum. The building was absolutely electric that night, anticipating essentially a playoff-level clash. We were all super fired-up for that one, and our fans took it to an even higher notch; the hockey equivalent of "turning the volume up to 11."

The game was an absolute war. McSorley and Dan Kordic had one hell of a bout on the second or third shift of the game. Daniel Lacroix (then a Ranger, and later a member of our own Dan Line with Kordic and Scott Daniels) angered our bench with a late hit on Eric Desjardins. Adam Graves ran Ron Hextall. Lindros took a chop at Ulf Samuelsson and then had a face-wash battle with Jeff Beukeboom. 

Lindros also scored two goals in the game. And Haller,much to Mess's dismay, scored a shorthanded goal. We led 2-0 after the first period and then 3-1 after the second after recent acquisition John Druce and New York's Alexei Kovalev traded off goals. We went on to win 4-1. 

Perhaps the most memorable moment of the game, though, was a line brawl in the latter stages of the first period. The undercard featured Karl Dykhuis and Shjon Podein respectively dropping the gloves with Beukeboom and Sergio Momesso but the headline fight was between Otto and Messier, who was so enraged that he ended up throwing his equipment on the ice at Otto. 

Things calmed down after that but only slightly. I had a wrestling match with Graves two shifts after he left the box following his deliberate bump of Hexy near our net. There was stickwork, and after-the-whistle shoving pretty much untl the final buzzer. Lacroix alone earned himself multiple penalty box trips for high sticking infractions, and yapped from the bench and the penalty box most of the night. We returned the chirps right back. 

It was fun. The next night, we were in Madison Square Garden. That one wasn't so fun or quite as nasty; at least not untl near the end of of 3-1 loss. Lindros continued to do battle with Samuelsson, and Ulf got the better of him on this night. In the final minute of the game, a frustrated Lindros deliberately high sticked Samuelsson in the face. As a result, the NHL suspended Eric for the next two games.

While this particular home-and-home with the Rangers was a rather nasty one even by the still somewhat old-school standards of the mid-90s, it wasn't THAT much of an outlier. Actually, back in the 1980s and especially the 1970s, this one would have been pretty much par for the course in a home-and-home with a division or conference rival. 

You just don't see this type of hockey anymore. There wasn't too much nastiness in the Flyers-Blue Jackets home-and-home,. The games were both pretty peaceful and structured. An unlikely wrestling match between pint-sized Nathan Gerbe and Flyers defenseman Travis Sanheim (who fell over a glove with Gerbe landing on top of him) was about as chippy as it got after a routine hit by Gerbe on Claude Giroux. 

The lack of outright hatred between the teams is what it is: a change of style in a different era. As far as the hockey aspect goes, the majority of home-and-homes when I played ended up in splits of the two games or a victor in one and a tie in the second (back when the NHL had ties in the regular season). For one team to win both games was a feather in their cap. That was true then, and it's still true to this day.

The Flyers have another home-and-home set upcoming next weekend when they take on the Rangers. While I would be shocked if either of the games are conducted anything like the Philly/Manahattan home-and-home of 24 years ago that I described above, there are still two very valuable points on the line that the Flyers will have to work hard to earn at home in the first game and even harder to grab at MSG in the second. 

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