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Goaltending, lack of offense part of Flyers' demise

by Mike G. Morreale
BOSTON -- The ending was certainly not what Philadelphia Flyers General Manager Paul Holmgren envisioned when his team entered the Stanley Cup Playoffs this spring.
Being eliminated in a four-game sweep by the Boston Bruins in the second round? It's unacceptable. Particularly for a team that came within two wins of winning the Cup one year ago.
It wasn't too long ago the Flyers were winning 17 of 24 games in December and January to move atop the Eastern Conference standings. Somewhere along the way and just prior to the postseason, however, they lost something. Call it whatever -- magic, karma, the fight -- but it suddenly expired.
Sure, the Flyers would give their fans something to feel good about after rallying from a 3-2 series deficit against the Buffalo Sabres in the opening round, but then came Round 2 and the Bruins were the better and more desperate team.

"We'll sit down with obviously staff and the coaches and the players and just see what went wrong. My first reaction is that we got beat by a better team in this series. They deserve to be moving on." -- Flyers GM Paul Holmgren

"We lost the game because their team outplayed our team," Holmgren told reporters following Game 4.
It seems the biggest concern heading into the off-season is on the defensive side, where a three-headed goalie rotation dominated the headlines for all the wrong reasons in the postseason. The Flyers finished last among the eight survivors in the conference semifinal round with a 3.46 goals-against average, and were 11th in the regular season (2.63 GAA). They were the only team to not post a shutout in 2010-11 despite 93 chances to do so.
Not that a shutout is a prerequisite for Stanley Cup success, but it is rather bizarre that a defense considered to be one of the deeper units in the League failed to notch even one.
Sergei Bobrovsky would give way to Brian Broucher, who gave way to Michael Leighton, who was replaced again by Boucher, who was finally benched in favor of Bobrovsky in the playoff finale on Friday at TD Garden. It was enough to make your head spin.
Bobrovsky finished the regular season second in the League among rookie goalies with 52 appearances and 28 victories, and was fifth in goals-against average (2.59) and save percentage (.915). There were signs of some fatigue at the tail-end of the regular season but his 24-save performance in a 1-0 loss to Ryan Miller and the Sabres in Game 1 of the conference quarterfinals had tempered those seeds of doubt.
Then there was the Game 2 meltdown when he allowed 3 goals on 7 shots in the opening 12:30 of the contest before the goalie carousel commenced -- it was the first of what became seven in-game goalie changes in 11 playoffs games by coach Peter Laviolette. That included Bobrovsky in for an injured Boucher for nine minutes of Game 2 against the Bruins -- a contest Boucher would eventually re-enter and finish.
"It's unusual," said Flyers owner Ed Snider following Game 3 against Boston. "That's all I can say. It's unusual but I don't think it's wrong. I think it's something that had to be done and I think the coach has done a good job deciding what he's going to do and when he's going to do it."
Regardless of whether it was right or wrong, the results weren't pretty -- Boucher finished with a 3.13 GAA and .904 save percentage; Bobrovsky sported a 3.23 GAA and .877 save percentage; Leighton a 3.43 GAA and .862 save percentage.
Bobrovsky was peculiarly demoted to third and even fourth-string goalie for four games following Game 2 against the Sabres before finally dressing as the team's backup in Game 7. He appeared in all four games against the Bruins -- allowing 6 goals on 49 shots -- and looked relatively sharp in relief and his one start in Game 4 (22 saves on 25 shots).
"Goaltending, as I've said before, is a function of your team," Holmgren said. "Was (Bobrovsky) great (in Game 4)? No, but he's a young kid and under intense circumstances. But we didn't lose the game because of our goalie."
Despite the fact Bobrovsky was 0-4-2 while allowing 24 goals in his last 10 appearances of the season, it is likely the Flyers will show patience with him. Boucher (4-4 in the playoffs) tried to replicate what he was able to bring to the team in the opening round, but the Bruins were far more relentless in their effort to crowd the crease and shoot at will.
Did the loss of veteran defenseman Chris Pronger hurt? Absolutely, but players and coaches certainly felt confident that the club would compete and still have a chance against any team standing in the way. That just never materialized against the Bruins.
"It doesn't really matter how much we missed him," defenseman Sean O'Donnell said. "I'm sure they missed (Marc) Savard and I'm sure Pittsburgh missed (Sidney) Crosby and (Evgeni) Malkin. Everyone is dealing with injuries right now. We showed during the year that we are a good team when Chris wasn't in the lineup. Everyone would like to have a healthy team but that wasn't the case. We didn't get it done."
Bobrovsky is signed for two more seasons before becoming a restricted free agent in the summer of 2013. Other players about to enter unrestricted free agency are Boucher, defensemen O'Donnell and Nick Boynton, and forwards Nikolay Zherdev and Ville Leino. Those restricted free agents include forwards Andreas Nodl, Darrel Powe, Daniel Carcillo and defenseman Danny Syvret.
Management will no doubt take a hard look at the offense as well. Possessing a group of top-nine forwards that rivals any other in the League, the Flyers scored 2.64 goals-per game in 11 playoff contests despite having six guys with at least 20 goals in the regular season. The team produced 3.30 per game last spring after having only three 20-plus goal scorers in the lineup.
The top prospects within the system include defensemen Erik Gustafsson and Kevin Marshall and forwards Eric Wellwood, Ben Holmstrom and Zac Rinaldo. The organization is also hoping goalie Joacim Eriksson, the Flyers 196th overall choice in the 2008 Entry Draft, can emerge as a top performer. As it stands now, the Flyers own just five picks in the upcoming Entry Draft June 24-25 at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn. -- none of which are in the opening two rounds.
"Well, I will sit back and we'll spend a lot of time over the next little while evaluating," Holmgren said. "We'll sit down with obviously staff and the coaches and the players and just see what went wrong. My first reaction is that we got beat by a better team in this series. They deserve to be moving on."

Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale
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