Sam Donnellon: Was this Timonen's swan song?

Scott Hartnell (left), Wayne Simmonds and the rest of the Flyers salute their fans who were still around for the bitter end.
Scott Hartnell (left), Wayne Simmonds and the rest of the Flyers salute their fans who were still around for the bitter end. (YONG KIM / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER)
Posted: May 10, 2012

HE FINISHED another postseason looking again like an old action figure, his limbs long misshapen from too much bending and wear, his effectiveness frayed by too many hits, too much dependence, too many years of doing this.

Kimmo Timonen ends his latest postseason at 37 years old, a year left on his contract, the tread on his tires visibly worn. You have loved the guy for his smarts and for his fight, for being a guy who will play with a bad back, a bad knee, a bad shoulder, and still find a way to impact a game. But he is 37, and the bendable parts aren't bending much anymore.

"I'm running out of time, to be honest," he said after the Flyers were eliminated, 3-1, by the New Jersey Devils Tuesday night. It was a sentiment he expressed at the end of last year's aborted run as well.

"After the Pittsburgh series I really thought this was our chance," Timonen said. "Look at the teams that were out. Look at the teams that were in. I thought every team that was still in was beatable."

His team included, as it turned out. When the Flyers finished off the Penguins in that sixth game last round, Danny Briere alluded to a ton of undisclosed injuries, how the week off would most certainly help. Judging from who did not practice in the early days of that, you can conclude that Briere was speaking of himself, of Jaromir Jagr, and of Timonen.

"There's so many injuries I don't even want to go there," Timonen said when I asked him whether he was hobbled in this series. "It's part of the game, and if someone wants to talk about my injuries you can ask Homer."

General manager Paul Holmgren will undoubtedly disclose this in the days to come, but Timonen's most significant injury was his back. And made him look slow at times, tentative at others, and there's just no way around this: His impact in this five-game series was more about bad plays than good. Sunday night, he allowed Adam Henrique to sneak in along the boards behind his own net and intercept a slowing pass from Braydon Coburn. Henrique hit Dainius Zubrus wide-open in the slot for what proved to be the game-winner. While Scott Hartnell allowed Zubrus to spring from the half boards into the slot untouched, the play underlined that the Flyers veteran defenseman was playing on less than two healthy legs, and with a balky back to boot and for much of this high-pressure series, a step or two behind.

Last night, the game again tied, Timonen played a puck back to goalie Ilya Bryzgalov as David Clarkson bore down on him, played it as you would in soccer, where the distance between players is often longer than the width of a hockey rink, a game in which the last player before the net must perfect a play like that before being allowed to play that position.

Bryzgalov was not schooled that way. He's also not a guy who sees the whole game the way those goalies do, the way most NHL goalies do, the way Martin Brodeur most certainly does. Despite the 1-1 score at the time, Bryzgalov was most decidedly fighting the puck by that juncture, which is why Timonen's play seemed less about trust and more about tired. Clarkson kept coming, Bryzgalov played the puck rather than cover it, and a postseason that began so electric with those comebacks against Pittsburgh had its final awful, unfortunate bad bounce. Bryz hit the shaft of Clarkson's stick - something he couldn't do again if you gave him another 100 tries - the puck bounced into the net and New Jersey once again had rallied from an early hole.

A day before Timonen had said, "If we do the little things and we correct a few things we're going to be fine."

After being eliminated Tuesday, he said, "This is a game of mistakes. It was a mistake. It happens. Usually if you don't score more than one goal, you don't win."

Someone asked him whether the system had to be changed. He said, "That's coach's decision, not mine," but at least this seems clear. If not the system, the personnel. It seems like a reach to think a defensive unit of unlike parts and no real physical presence could survive the kind of high-risk, high-reward game that makes the Flyers equal parts exciting and frustrating.

The Flyers scored one goal in two of their four losses. And yet this series seemed less about their offense and more about their failure to clear pucks, to escape their own zone, to win battles along the boards. A team built to trade one of your chances for two of its own seemed either undone by such a philosophy or by the soldiers implementing the plan. A couple of years ago, this team seemed well on its way to building back to front, but now it seems unlikely Chris Pronger will play again, and they will be hard-pressed to find the cap space to re-sign Matt Carle, or another guy who could shore up what we saw this last week.

And of course, the 5-10 action figure doesn't get refurbished, not at 37, not with the parts so beaten on and bent.

"I really thought we could do something this year," he said.

He wasn't alone.


Contact Sam Donnellon at donnels@phillynews.com.

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