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Healthy Timonen making a difference

by Adam Kimelman
PHILADELPHIA -- Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby are near the top of the Stanley Cup Playoff scoring list, just like they were during the regular season.

While the pair has made a point of torturing the Philadelphia Flyers during their short NHL careers, the Flyers for the first time have concocted a plan to slow the offensive onslaught of the Pittsburgh Penguins' twin All-Star forwards.

After combining for 5 goals and 12 points in the first three games of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series, Crosby and Malkin have been held to just one goal -- Crosby's disputed score in Game 4 -- and a combined minus-3 rating.

A great deal of the credit for stopping Crosby and Malkin goes to the Flyers' defense corps, most notably the top two pairings -- Kimmo Timonen and Ryan Parent, and Braydon Coburn and Matt Carle.

They have made a concerted effort to push the Penguins' high-scoring pair to the outside and hit them be physical when the opportunities have arisen.

"You have to take time and space away from those guys and you have to have numbers back," Flyers coach John Stevens said. "You have to be physical with them because they're both big, physical guys. Crosby isn't big but he's physical and competitive. Malkin is big, he can handle the physical play and he can score and he can make plays. You can't ask one guy to check those guys, you have to have numbers and I think we've done a pretty good job to this point."

Leading the way has been Timonen, the undisputed leader of the team's defense corps. He's second on the team and sixth in the League with an average ice time of 26:30 per game, and while he only has eight shots and an even plus-minus rating in five games, Timonen's value goes far beyond what might show up in the box score.

"Kimmo plays big minutes in all situations," Stevens said. "He's a first-unit power-play guy, he's a first-unit penalty-kill guy, plays against the best players all the time. He has an impact in all situations (and) he has probably as big an impact on the leadership of our hockey team."

As much of an impact the 34-year-old native of Kuopio, Finland, has had this series, he had just as much of an impact when these teams met in last year's Eastern Conference Finals. Timonen missed the first four games of that series with a blood clot in his left foot suffered in the conference semifinal-round clincher against the Montreal Canadiens. He returned for Game 5 against Pittsburgh, but wasn't near 100 percent as the Penguins ended the series in five games.

"He's calming, he can move the puck so well, power plays, breakouts, working the top of the power play," forward Scott Hartnell said. "It hurt us last year when he wasn't in the lineup and it's helped us big time this year."

His presence on the Philadelphia blue line might be the biggest difference in the series. He's been matched mostly against Crosby, and while the Penguins' All-Star captain has 2 goals and 6 points, nothing has been easy for him.

"There's no question being the elder statesman back there, playing the way he does with a sense of calm, it has an effect on the whole group back there," Stevens said.

Timonen has worn a bull's-eye on his sweater this series. He's been hit 16 times in the five games, including a pair of bruising blasts by Penguins forward Chris Kunitz. Timonen, though, doesn't let any of that bother him.

"You can't let that effect you," he told "If you do that you let your own game down. It happens (the hits). It's one of those things. You move on. It's not really a big thing for me."

That kind of poise and calmness is what makes his teammates follow his lead.

"He's huge, he's a big part of our team," Parent said. "He's more of a quiet player, but he's pretty poised, he's confident and he's calming on the ice, as well. He takes control, settles things down, always makes good plays."

He also makes good plays off the ice. Timonen doesn't have the loudest voice on the team, but it's certainly among the most respected.

"He gets the guys pumped up, you can have fun with him. Guys feed off his energy out there. He definitely is a game-changer out there."
-- Flyers Scott Hartnell on teammate, Kimmo Timonen

"I think in the dressing room he adds a calming influence," said Hartnell, who has been a teammate of Timonen's every season since 2000-01, when both were in Nashville. "He's a well-spoken leader even though English isn't his first language. He gets the guys pumped up, you can have fun with him. Guys feed off his energy out there. He definitely is a game-changer out there."

Timonen is an assistant captain, and Stevens said he definitely counts on the three-time NHL All-Star to be a leader.

"He might be more vocal than people realize," Stevens said. "He doesn't say a lot, but when he speaks people listen. I can remember last year we brought him in and had him read the lineup when he wasn't playing just because the guys love having him around. He's an important guy. He has a big voice here even though he doesn't talk all the time."

Timonen would rather let his play speak for him, and if the Flyers are to continue to climb their way out of this series hole, it will need to continue to speak loudly.

"That's what we lacked last year in the Eastern Conference Finals, and they were a big reason we lost, because of the injuries," Hartnell said of the absences of Timonen and Coburn, who didn't play after being hit in the face by a puck early in Game 2 of the conference finals last year. "Hopefully we'll be on the flip side and they'll be a big reason why we win this series."

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