The Flyers are making a lot of experts look bad, including columnists like me, who are just pretending to be experts. I wrote their obituary in this space two weeks ago, and yet here they are still breathing.
There’s nothing worse if you’re an obit writer than to be missing a corpse. Conventional wisdom has no chance against these Flyers. How many playoff teams use three goaltenders over six games and are still alive? How many teams lose in overtime at home, go on the road to a hockey hell like Buffalo and come from behind three times to beat one of the best goaltenders in the NHL?
The answers to those questions are none and none. What is happening to this team — just as it happened a year ago — is without precedent. A group of players who spent the final month of the regular season with no
apparent interest in their own fate suddenly clings to life now with a crazed desperation.
Even more unpredictable than their sudden revival are the circumstances surrounding it. Many of the players relied upon all season are invisible. The guys who did very little are making the big plays now, in the biggest games. And the coach, well, the best that can be said about him is that his insanity may only be temporary.
Peter Laviolette, who won a Stanley Cup five years ago and led the Flyers to the Cup finals last year, has been both fearless and clueless in these playoffs, especially when it comes to his goaltenders. Remember Sergei Bobrovsky? He was the goalie for most of the regular season; now he doesn’t even dress. Michael Leighton started one contest for the Flyers in the entire regular season and has played in two so far in the playoffs.
The best story has been journeyman Brian Boucher, who has come off the bench twice to save the team. In between those appearances, he has been far less sensational, but good enough to keep his team alive. At least he has provided more help than Chris Pronger, the on-ice leader who can’t seem to stay on the ice; or Mike Richards, who has made more headlines with his mouth than his stick; or Jeff Carter, who did nothing for four games and then got hurt.
I would love to predict what’s going to happen tonight, but there’s no point in even pretending anymore. I have no clue.
All I can say for sure is that the Flyers will either complete another improbable playoff comeback with an exhilarating victory, or they will die an unfortunate death — as I so wisely predicted two weeks ago.
Are Sixers better off?
It’s easy to say that the amazing comeback by the Sixers over the Heat in Game 4 was one of the best in years, both because it was so unexpected and because it inflicted distress on the disgusting Dream Team. What’s not so easy to say is what it means.
Yes, the Sixers have improved from 27 to 41 wins in one calendar year. Bravo. They have put up a valiant fight against a more talented opponent. They have played with more teamwork than most NBA rivals, and they have represented their city with more honor than recent Sixers clubs.
But are they better off than they were a year ago at this time?
Remember, last spring they had the hope of adding a superstar with the second overall pick. That player is Evan Turner, who must become a star to make this a truly productive season.
An inventory of winners and losers this season is easy to compile. Coach Doug Collins is a big winner. Jrue Holiday and Elton Brand are definitely on the plus side, as are Thaddeus Young and Lou Williams. Losers are Andre Iguodala, Jodie Meeks and Spencer Hawes, who may be the worst Sixers center in history.
‘Charlie proof’ — for now
Lost in the excellent start by the Phillies is the bizarre managing of Charlie Manuel.
Yes, I know. They are winning at a record pace. They are dealing with a growing list of injuries. They are the class of baseball. But none of those facts obscures the dumb decisions of our resident folk hero.
Is there any logical reason to bat Jimmy Rollins third? Rollins knocked in two runs in the first 21 games, a pace for 16 in an entire season. Manuel acknowledged thinking about a change, but decided against it, saying, “We’re winning this way.”
And then there’s Manuel’s obsession with David Herndon. His bad 2010 season (4.30 ERA, .310 batting-average-against) has only gotten worse in 2011 (8.22 ERA, .310). So why has Herndon been the first choice lately in the seventh inning of close games?
Finally, Manuel seems to be risking the one part that he can’t afford to lose — the rotation. Cole Hamels has thrown 126 pitches in a game, and Roy Halladay threw an ungodly 130 Sunday.
Look, the Phillies are Charlie-proof, for now. When the games get big this fall, though, Manuel is going to have to start thinking with his head instead of his butt.
–Angelo Cataldi is a Metro columnist and host of 610 WIP’s Morning Show, which airs weekdays from 5:30 a.m. to 10 a.m.
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