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Flyers' shorthanded 'D' feels the love

by Mike G. Morreale

The loss of Kimmo Timonen and Braydon Coburn has left a heavy burden on the Flyers' defensemen. Derian Hatcher highlights
It may come as a shock to learn there was a special moment for Philadelphia Flyers coach John Stevens following his team's Game 2 loss at Mellon Arena in Pittsburgh on Sunday.

While the setback put the Flyers in an 0-2 hole in this best-of-seven series, it was appreciative handshakes by the forwards to their five-man defensive unit following the latter's heroic effort that produced a smile on the face of the second-year coach.

"The one thing that probably impressed me most after the game was how appreciative the forwards were of the defensemen and they had no problem voicing that appreciation after the game," Stevens said. "They told them how proud they were, especially since we were down to just five defensemen for basically the whole hockey game. I thought that was great the way the forwards acknowledged their teammates like that. I think that defensive effort, despite the fact we lost, will inspire our forwards to work even harder from this point forward."

The Flyers, who were already without defenseman Kimmo Timonen due to a blood clot in his left foot, lost third-year defenseman Braydon Coburn just 1:07 into the game after he was struck near the left eye by a shot from Pittsburgh's Hal Gill. It left Stevens with just five defensemen for the remainder of the contest against a Pittsburgh team averaging 3.54 goals in these playoffs.

Coburn, who needed more than 50 stitches to close a vertical gash near the eye, is doubtful for Tuesday's Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Final at Wachovia Center in Philadelphia (7:30 p.m. ET, VERSUS, CBC, RDS, NHL Radio).

The loss of Timonen and Coburn, who ranked first (24:55) and second (22:25), respectively, in average ice time during the playoffs, left a heavy burden on defensemen Derian Hatcher, Jason Smith, Randy Jones, Jaroslav Modry and Lasse Kukkonen. The five performed admirably, combining for 31 percent of the team's total hits and 41 percent of blocked shots. Hatcher led the way with six hits and five blocks while logging a season-high 28:31 of ice time.

"If you talk to Hatch, he'd say the more he plays, the better he gets," Stevens said. "He's a guy who's used to playing big minutes throughout his career. I also thought (Randy) Jones (26:14) was on the ice often and showed a lot of composure. Defensemen always want to log ice time. They feel the more they play, the better they feel. The fact we don't have any back-to-back situations in this series allows them the necessary rest on the off-day so I don't see the amount of ice time being a problem."

Modry, who logged 20:28, feels the added minutes shouldn't be too big an obstacle to overcome in the midst of a playoff run.

"Injuries happen and are a part of a game, but they also give other players an opportunity to step up for the team," Modry told "That's where depth comes in and we have a good corps here. The coaching staff just told us to get some rest (on Monday) and prepare for (Tuesday's) game.

"It's up to me to step up out there and play at the level I have to play," Modry said. "I have to be ready to try and help this club get better."

Flyers goalie Martin Biron admitted his expectations of the defense never wavered in the wake of Coburn's injury.

"My expectations are always the same," Biron said. "You've got guys stepping in and playing big minutes and you expect they will do the same job they always do. You still have to play the game the same way, stick with the system and get into proper position. It's tough when an injury happens early in the game like that because then everyone has to step up. We want to play a physical style and be intense, but we can't afford to give Pittsburgh six power plays and expect to win. We have to be really careful to remain disciplined while maintaining that intensity and physical play."

The Penguins finished 2-for-6 with the man advantage in Sunday's 4-2 victory, including an empty-net goal with 29 seconds remaining in the game. Pittsburgh was 0-for-2 in a 4-2 triumph in Game 1.

Stevens, who will likely insert rookie defenseman Ryan Parent into the lineup for Tuesday's Game 3, would like to see his forwards exhibit more puck control in attempt to alleviate some pressure off his defensemen.

"We're capable of getting more out of our forwards since that has been the strength of our team all year," Stevens said. "There were a lot of pucks between the tops of the circle and the blue line that we could make stronger plays on and enter into more of an attacking mode. I'd like to see more urgency from our group of forwards."

Sami Kapanen, who actually played defense during the Flyers' last trip to the conference finals in 2004, admitted his switching to defense this spring might not be an option. Kapanen, who was forced to the blue line in '04 following injuries to Marcus Ragnarsson and Kim Johnsson, had two goals and four assists and was a plus-1 in 13 playoff games on defense.

"Playing defense is a whole different transition and playing the blue line in 2004 was not simple," Kapanen said. "I haven't played any time at the point this year so I don't know if that's an option right now. I think we have enough young defensemen capable of going into the lineup and getting the job done."

Contact Mike Morreale at

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