Phil Sheridan: Flyers mad at Canadiens, themselves

Posted: May 22, 2010

MONTREAL - One thing you can say about these Flyers: They're harder on themselves than any fans or media could be. Whether this starts with coach Peter Laviolette or the players themselves, the Flyers were brutally frank on the day after their Game 3 meltdown here.

"I think last night, we got what we deserved," captain Mike Richards said. "Last night was distinctly not a great effort and it showed on the scoreboard. . . . With a score like that in a game like that, I think questions have to be raised and [answers] looked for."

Goalie Michael Leighton went so far as to say the Flyers were a bit "intimidated" by the Canadiens' intensity.

"We talked about it," Leighton said. "We said they were going to do that, but we didn't really respond to it. They had a couple of guys that were mouthing our players all game in our face, and that's the last thing we should be worried about. We feel we obviously have a tougher team than them."

The Flyers still lead the Eastern Conference finals, two games to one. But they sounded angrier and more upset at themselves than when they trailed Boston, three games to none.

It's all part of the complicated psychology of long playoff series. In the last round, the Flyers needed to believe they could overcome that 0-3 deficit. They needed to convince themselves they were playing well enough to win, even in the losses. And it worked. They staged one of the great comebacks in the history of sports.

The trend in this series isn't a good one for the Flyers. They have gotten worse in each game, the exact opposite of the approach Laviolette preaches. They were good in Game 1, mediocre in Game 2 and just plain bad in Game 3.

It is vital to turn that trend back around in time for Game 4. A 3-1 lead is vastly different from a tied series, obviously. But in this case, it would weigh even more on the Canadiens. Their balloon is full of air right now. Popping it would be a major blow to them.

"There's a fine line between cocky and confident," Daniel Carcillo said. Canadian reporters were asking him about a moment captured on the arena's scoreboard screen.

Montreal forward Michael Cammalleri was seen sticking his tongue out at Carcillo. That and some trash talk from Maxim Lapierre had the Flyers smoldering a bit.

So did an incident in the final minutes. With Chris Pronger and Braydon Coburn in the penalty box, the Canadiens put their top power-play unit on the ice. Given the 4-1 score, the Flyers took this as a breach of etiquette - kind of like stealing a base with a big ninth-inning lead in baseball, or throwing long passes with a four-touchdown lead in football.

"I'm not sure what they were trying to do," Richards said. "Obviously, [trying to] score is the first thing. Maybe stick it to us a little bit. But karma sometimes comes back to you, too, at some point. Hopefully, we can use that bitter taste in the mouth from them trying to do that, and channel it into energy that we can use in a positive way."

A neutral observer may note that the Canadiens scored that fifth goal with their top power-play unit just after a late-game fracas broke out. So it may well be they were responding to the pounding Scott Hartnell handed to Roman Hamrlik.

"I think as the series moves along and there is more and more hate from each side, things like that are bound to happen at some point," Danny Briere said. "We have a lot of guys who are good in that department."

Karma is in the eye of the beholder.

But it doesn't matter whether the Flyers are in the right here. This is really about convincing themselves the Canadiens are the villains - anything for a psychological edge.

"There are a lot of different ways to word it," Laviolette said. "Attitude, desperation, drive. But our attitude was a little more crisp [in Friday's practice]. They seemed to catch our attention [Thursday] night. We were a little crisper on the ice, and that attitude, you can build on that through the night right up until game time tomorrow and take a much different approach to the game."

The Flyers' strategy is to wear their opponent down physically over a long series. It worked against Boston. Trouble is, that takes a toll on them as well. So it's reasonable to wonder if fatigue is setting in with the Flyers just when they need to deal with Montreal's speed.

A little anger, at yourself and at your opponent, is a traditional hockey remedy for fatigue and subpar play. After a day spent simmering in it, the Flyers have to be at a full boil for Game 4.


Contact columnist Phil Sheridan at 215-854-2844 or psheridan@phillynews.com. Read his recent work at http://go.philly.com/philsheridan.

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