Just because the Philadelphia Flyers
will be missing the heart-and-soul along their blue line doesn’t mean the Pittsburgh Penguins
will alter their game plan prior to tonight’s Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals (7:30 p.m. ET, VERSUS, CBC, RDS, NHL Radio).
The Flyers learned Thursday evening that All-Star defenseman Kimmo Timonen
, the quarterback of their second-rated power-play in these Stanley Cup playoffs, would be out of the lineup indefinitely with a blood clot in his left foot. His return for this series is doubtful.
The setback comes on the heels of the sixth-seeded Flyers having already eliminated third-seeded Washington and top-seeded Montreal in the first two rounds with Timonen spearheading the defensive effort against many of the League’s finest offensive stars. The second-seeded Penguins swept Ottawa in the opening round before knocking off the fifth-seeded Rangers in five.
Penguins captain Sidney Crosby
said the absence of Timonen will not effect how his team approaches Game 1.
“We’re not going to change anything,’’ Crosby said. “I think we come with a lot of pressure typically, and that’s not going to change because he’s out. It’s an obvious loss for them, but at the same time, we’ve proven that when guys go down, others can step up. So I don’t think we’re looking too much into it.
“And I don’t think they’re going to change too much. As far as systems go, everything’s going to be the same. The Flyers will probably change the power plays since he’s a big part of quarterbacking that unit. Timonen and Richards were together back there, so I’m sure they’ll make some adjustments and that’s when we’ll start adjusting as well since we don’t know who is going to fill that spot.’’
Flyers center Danny Briere
, who leads the Flyers with 14 points and eight goals this postseason, said the team has suffered many injuries all season and survived. This challenge is no different.
“We feel like we’ve battled through adversity all year long,’’ Briere said. “Yes, Kimmo is a big part of our team, but at the same time we’ve been faced with these situations before and it made us a better team. We believe we can do the same thing and that’s the way we have to approach it.’’
“I’m not going to lie,’’ Briere continued, “Kimmo is a big part of our team, but if we start to feel sorry about ourselves, it’s not going to take us anywhere anyways, so we might as well try to get our energy up and find a way to battle through it.’’
The loss of Timonen, who led the team in total ice time on the power-play, penalty-kill and was third in overall minutes per game this postseason, will certainly hit home with the team on the man advantage. The Flyers were connecting at a 24-percent efficiency on the power-play in the playoffs, second only to Calgary’s 27.3.
“My first thought when I heard the news about Kimmo was how bad I felt for him,’’ Flyers coach John Stevens
said. “He was devastated. I talked to his wife (Thursday) night and you could hear it that they’re all disappointed because he’s been a big reason why we’ve gotten this far. And it’s more about him not being with us, first and foremost, outside of him being a player. He’s one of us.’’
Stevens said defenseman Jaroslav Modry
, who was traded by the Los Angeles Kings
to the Flyers on Feb. 19, will be asked to play an even bigger role.
“Modry is going to come in and play,’’ Stevens said. “We’re going to change our appearance here a little bit and ask more of Mo, as well as other guys that are in our lineup already. Kimmo’s been a leader on our team but we’ll have to do it by committee now.’’
Flyers goalie Martin Biron
might be the one player most affected by Timonen’s loss.
“I think our whole group of six defensemen that are in there have to play better because we’re losing a guy like Kimmo who’s been a pillar for us on defense,’’ Biron admitted. “Our forwards are going to have do a much better job to help out our defensemen. When you’re challenging guys like this at this time of the year, on this stage, it brings out the best in everybody, and that’s what we want to see.’’
Briere is hopeful another player will step up.
“When situations like this arise, you need somebody or at least a chance for somebody to step up, play a bigger role and take more responsibility,’’ Briere said. “Sometimes it’s a player that you don’t really expect to step up. So I don’t really know who it will be, but defenseman Randy Jones
will have a chance. It’s not just on his shoulders, though, as everybody has to do a little bit more to replace Kimmo.’’
Crosby said his team will not assume Timonen’s loss will cripple the Flyers’ prolific power play.
“You can’t get caught thinking about it because you don’t want to assume anything,’’ Crosby said. “You might think maybe their power play is not going to be where it needs to be because he’s out, but that could make us pay and if that happens, would mean we were overconfident and we can’t afford to do that.
“To be honest, we’ve worked too hard to let other situations affect the way we play. We’d be hurting ourselves by doing that.’’
Contact Mike Morreale at email@example.com.