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More than Laperriere's loss hurting Flyers

by Mike G. Morreale /
PHILADELPHIA -- It was moving tribute to their fallen hero.

It occurred with 13:44 remaining in the second period and the Philadelphia Flyers about to go on their first power play of the game against the Boston Bruins in Game 3 of their Eastern Conference Semifinal. That's when the familiar piano overture of the NHL's "History Will Be Made" campaign flashed across the center-ice scoreboard at Wachovia Center.

The fans looked up and began to cheer -- and it grew as they suddenly realized the man being saluted. There, the reversed replay of Ian Laperriere's excruciating puck to the face in Game 5 against the New Jersey Devils was recalled. It ultimately would end his season due to him suffering a brain contusion, but it also served as a reminder of the importance of sacrifice.

"What if Ian didn't believe in sacrifice ..." was the concluding message.

Laperriere then was introduced to the fans, and when his face appeared on the Jumbotron, the roof of the arena nearly blew off. The standing ovation lasted for almost a full minute as Laperriere waved and smiled at the camera -- he's still sporting one heck of a shiner, too. His teammates also were banging their sticks on the boards along the bench, obviously happy to see their friend again.

The home team tried to pull even on the ensuing power play, but it just wasn't meant to be on this night against a rookie goalie playing like a savvy veteran.

"I thought it gave us a boost," said Flyers forward Arron Asham of Laperriere's appearance. "He's one of the best team guys I've ever been around and I got chills. I got energy from it, but it was just one of those nights."

"It was a pretty emotional moment and it did give us a boost but we couldn't find the back of the net," Flyers forward Danny Briere said. "The sacrifices Lappy (Laperriere) has made ... we're all trying to follow suit. We tried, but it just wasn't happening."

Briere's statements beg the question: What aren't the Flyers doing against the Bruins that they were able to do so well against the New Jersey Devils in the opening round?

Here are four points to ponder:

Not-so-special teams --
The one area the Flyers always could depend was their power-play and penalty-killing units -- which finished third and 11th, respectively, during the regular season. Against the Devils, Philadelphia converted seven of 28 opportunities with the man advantage, and was fifth in the League following their five-game ouster of New Jersey in the opening round. They also entered the Boston series sixth on the penalty kill, denying the Devils on 19 of 23 chances. Well, neither unit is having any measure of success against the resilient Bruins. They're 2-for-13 (15 percent) with the man-advantage in the second round, including no goals over their last eight opportunities. The penalty kill has yielded two goals on 10 chances -- not bad, but it's not as though the Bruins needed goals, either. The Flyers have held a lead in this series for just 1:39.

Not alive when five-on-five -- The Flyers have given up 10 even-strength goals in this series, including an empty-netter in Game 3. That's a rather perplexing statistic when you consider the team yielded just four against New Jersey through five games in the opening round. In fact, the Flyers didn't allow the Devils an even-strength goal over the final nine-plus periods of the series, which included 3:35 of overtime in a Game 3 triumph. The Flyers have generated plenty of chances against Boston, but for the most part have been bottled up in the neutral zone while attempting to navigate their opponent's 1-4 defensive posture. And that's a direct result of having to play from behind, which has been disastrous so far in this matchup. When the Flyers are able to get in on goalie Tuukka Rask, he's made the key save each time. In three wins against the Flyers, the 23-year-old Rask has stopped 90 of 97 shots for a .927 save percentage and 2.33 goals-against average.

Sacrifice --
The impact of losing Laperriere wasn't supposed to be this glaring, but, quite frankly, it is. And we're not just talking about blocking shots or dishing out body checks, though that certainly plays a part this time of the year. Fact is, the continuity and swagger the Flyers seemed to have against the Devils just isn't there against a more determined and passionate opponent in the Bruins. Others haven't been able to step up in the absence of Laperriere and injured forwards Simon Gagne and Jeff Carter, although rookie James van Riemsdyk had a game-high seven shots in 14:18 of ice time in Game 3. But none of the Flyers players were too proud of their third-period effort in Game 3, when it seemed everyone checked out following Mark Recchi's goal at the 2:30 mark that gave the Bruins a 3-1 lead. While we're on the subject of blocking shots, it might be a good time to point out that the Bruins blocked 21 in Game 3, compared to eight by the Flyers.

Can't beat Bergeron --
Is there any question Bruins center Patrice Bergeron is an absolute beast in the face-off circle? He's basically put on a clinic on faceoff proficiency, and it made no difference when he was forced to put his stick down first playing on the road Wednesday -- he still won 67 percent of his faceoffs. For the playoffs, Bergeron, who credits his junior coach with the Acadie-Bathurst Titan in the QMJHL for transforming him into a proficient faceoff man, is fourth in the League with a 59.5-percent success rate (116 of 195). The success of Bergeron and his teammates on draws cannot be ignored, since it dictates puck possession, line changes and matchups. Boston won 58 percent of all draws taken in Game 3 and 59 percent in Game 2.
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