Berube getting a lot right

YONG KIM / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Brayden Schenn gives Rangers forward Rick Nash a seat on the ice with a second-period hit.
YONG KIM / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Brayden Schenn gives Rangers forward Rick Nash a seat on the ice with a second-period hit.
Posted: April 22, 2014

NEW YORK - You are Craig Berube, and you are the head coach of a team in the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time. You have lost the first game of the series to the Rangers and already been criticized for your chip-and-charge strategy. You lost the game after a rookie who arrived on the scene in Game 82 of the season took a 4-minute penalty that resulted in two goals against, so you have been criticized for your player selection as well as for your strategy. In all, an interesting debut.

Three days later, you are behind in Game 2 by a 2-0 score before most people have even sat down to Easter brunch. Madison Square Garden and its customers are fat and happy and sure that if the Rangers can just keep swinging the puck from side to side, Flyers goaltender Ray Emery will allow a half-dozen.

Standing there behind the bench, you see what is happening, and you assess, and you measure, and you do nothing. This is true even knowing that you very recently worked for a man, Peter Laviolette, who was justifiably famous for the strategic, fire-lighting timeout.

You are Craig Berube, though, and you choose another way.

"We were down 2-0 and I didn't think we were playing that bad," Berube said. "The bench was good. So I didn't feel there was a need to do anything other than keep playing."

Which the Flyers did. And when it was over, and Berube's team had come from behind to beat the Rangers, 4-2, evening the series and grabbing the home-ice advantage, there was plenty to talk about: Emery's excellence, solid penalty-killing, an impeccable third period in which the Rangers did not have a memorable shot on goal.

But there was also this: a rookie head coach who has gotten an awful lot right so far. This guarantees nothing going forward, but it seems clear - at least till this point - that Berube is someone who has had the courage of his convictions and been rewarded with a split on the road as a result.

Because he stuck with the rookie, Jason Akeson, and was paid back when the kid scored the second-period goal that tied the game at 2-2.

Because he stuck with his lineup and his overall strategy, tinkering a little (but only a little, sometimes moving Vincent Lecavalier to the second line) and continuing to insist that if the team just skated with more energy, it would work.

And because he has seen his comments before the series presage two goals against the Rangers so far.

The Flyers' strategy, Berube said last week, was to read the play and act accordingly - especially the top line (Claude Giroux, Scott Hartnell and Jakub Voracek) playing against the Rangers' top defense pair (Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi). What that meant was, oftentimes, they would have to play it safe and dump the puck into McDonagh's corner and go get it/him - making a guy who plays half of the game work hard during his minutes, and maybe testing the injured shoulder that kept him out at the end of the regular season.

In Game 1, the strategy got the Flyers their only goal, when Hartnell hit McDonagh and took the puck from him and threw the pass to the point to Andrew MacDonald, who scored. The problem after that was that the Flyers didn't skate well enough to hit him anymore after that.

But don't forget the read-the-play part of the strategy. Berube told the Daily News' Frank Seravalli, "To try to beat him wide with speed, other than Voracek, [McDonagh is] probably going to win that battle a lot of times."

Other than Voracek . . .

And so it happened: At 14:14 of the first period, after being sprung by a pass from Hartnell, Voracek roasted McDonagh to the outside, muscled back across the crease and beat Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist. This was the Flyers' first goal, the absolutely necessary goal. And of his first line, Berube said, "They were good. They were aggressive, they got on people and they skated. I think that was the one thing I was looking for for them - they were physical and battled."

And now they are tied. And now Berube is on the verge of another big decision. If regular starting goalie Steve Mason's unspecified health issues are cleared up, who will start in Game 3 tomorrow night at Wells Fargo Center?

Berube said he won't have to decide until he knows how Mason feels, which is the only thing he can say at this point. But, because the Flyers won Game 2, there are no bad choices - either Mason (who is the better goalie if he is entirely healthy) or Emery (who played well in both games and great in the second period yesterday).

Repeat: There are no bad choices. The reason is that Craig Berube had the courage of his convictions.


Email: hofmanr@phillynews.com

On Twitter: @theidlerich

Blog: ph.ly/DNL

 

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