Flyers' Berube sticking with his game plan

Posted: April 28, 2014

THROUGH THE first three games of the Flyers-Rangers series, Craig Berube coached less with urgency than he did with confidence. The NHL coaching manual says a coach is supposed to change his lineup, or his lines, or something, after a loss in a playoff series, but Berube obviously coaches by a different book.

He made no changes after losing Game 1 of the series and was rewarded with a win in Game 2. After losing Game 3, Berube again made no changes other than going to goaltender Steve Mason - a huge change, yes, but a change dictated by Mason's return to health, not by any attempt to generate a different look or a burst of emotion among his low-scoring forwards.

And Berube was rewarded again.

The lineup was the same. The lines were the same. The defense pairs were the same. That was true at the start of Game 4 last night. It was true at the start of the second period, too, even as the Flyers were tied at 1-1 but being outplayed significantly and outshot by 16-6. And then, a few minutes into the second period, Berube's trust was suddenly rewarded with the kind of effort against a fast, very good opponent that is required if the Flyers are to win this series as the underdog.

The coach appeared ready to die with his boots on. Instead, after a 2-1 victory that tied the series at two games apiece, he and his team again have life.

"I think he has a lot of trust in all four lines," said Matt Read, who scored the Flyers' first goal. "Every line plays big minutes . . . Maybe, in his opinion, it doesn't matter if we win or lose - it's that group of players who are going to win a series."

Game 1, without the benefit of the last change, you just play it as you drew it up and see how everyone reacts. As it turned out, Berube's team played a terrible game overall, and the rookie coach had a decision to make - about his lineup in general and about one player in particular, rookie Jason Akeson, who had taken a double-minor penalty that resulted in two Rangers power-play goals.

Berube stuck with Akeson and his lineup in Game 2, even after the Flyers fell into a 2-0 hole. His patience and confidence were rewarded, when Akeson scored a key goal and the Flyers came back to win, 4-2. The only change he made, in the third period, was to move Vinny Lecavalier up from the fourth line to the second line - a change he continued with in the next game.

Given all of that, there was no reason to make any other changes for Game 3. Coming home, Berube would have the last change and a chance to play more of a matchup game, if he wanted. But he did not play much of a matchup game. He played a confident game instead - and it didn't work, partly because goaltender Ray Emery allowed two shaky goals in a 4-1 defeat and partly because his team had 28 shots blocked by the Rangers.

Which brought us all to Game 4?

And the question: Would urgency trump confidence?

Seriously: The majority of coaches tinker with the lines after a loss, and the overwhelming majority do it after two losses in a series. Why didn't Berube? He kind of chuckled at the question.

"Last game, Game 3, I thought we played a pretty good hockey game," he said. "We got a couple of bad breaks on a couple of goals, but, overall, I thought our team did what they were supposed to do - get pucks to the net. The only complaint I had after the game were the blocked shots."

Twenty-eight of them. Not a minor issue. Still . . .

"I didn't feel there was a need to change the lineup," Berube said.

And even after the lopsided first period?

"The first period tonight, they stretched us out pretty good," he said. "We were on our heels there. I thought, obviously, the game got better after that."

Berube has a team that has come from behind in both of its wins. During a season when nobody in the Stanley Cup playoffs can seem to protect a lead, Berube has a team that has pitched two third-period shutouts with two different goaltenders after gaining the lead. He has kept them intact and, twice now, they have come together to even the series.

Trust. A fascinating thing.


Email: hofmanr@phillynews.com

On Twitter: @theidlerich

Blog: ph.ly/DNL

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