A positive spin on a negative result
By BRANT JAMES, Times Staff Writer
Trailing in a series for the first time this postseason, the Flyers still see some good signs.
Published May 9, 2004
TAMPA - John LeClair's two whacks at a puck in the crease had just resulted in nothing but another frustrating scoring chance smothered. Then Lightning defenseman Brad Lukowich planted the palm of his glove right in his face. The final insult.
LeClair took a roundhouse swing but missed that, too. With 7:36 left and the Lightning leading 3-1 in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference final, the Flyers were finally succumbing to the tenacious forecheck after dominating much of the game with physical play and surprising speed.
A 3-1 loss should have been the period on a bad chapter for the Flyers. They fell behind in a series for the first time this year.
After talking tough about how several player additions would reverse a season series the Lightning swept 4-0, they had been outdone again.
A first-period goal by Sami Kapanen that would have given them a 1-0 lead was disallowed because of goaltender interference. Their big forwards scored just one goal against the Lightning's smaller defensemen. And LeClair, a $9-million forward, remained without a goal in 12 games.
However, Philadelphia was upbeat after losing because of what players believed were three mistakes amid a game of positives.
"Compared to where we were in February," Flyers coach Ken Hitchcock said, "it's like night and day. And if we continue to improve on some of the things we did (Saturday) ... there's some really good stuff out there."
Then Hitchcock disputed the Lightning's supposed edge in the series.
"I didn't notice their speed," he said. "I didn't see it. I didn't notice it. They started icing the puck in the second period, and then they got in some foot races. That's maybe where you saw it a little bit. But they turned a lot of pucks over, which is good for us. That's a good sign. That means we're working."
So were the four total shots - two by Brad Richards, one a goal - among the Lightning's top five postseason scorers, including Vinny Lecavalier and likely league most valuable player Martin St. Louis.
The group had two shots through the second period.
Though the Flyers could explain some of their problems, they had no solutions - besides a score on a fine individual play by Michal Handzus - for a defense that has allowed 10 goals in 10 games.
And Philadelphia could not hide how much it needs a statistical contribution from LeClair, who had 23 goals and 55 points in the regular season but just one assist in the postseason.
After missing twice on two-on-one chances in the first, he is scoreless in six games.
"I think he's snakebitten a little bit and squeezing it a little bit tight," Hitchcock said. "He played a heck of a hockey game. He was physical and took away some people's space."
"I'm confident it will happen," LeClair said. "As long as I contribute in other ways, I won't get frustrated."
The Flyers won't call Game 2 on Monday a must-win, but they sound like it is.
"It's a big climb (going down 0-2)," right wing Tony Amonte said.
"We wanted to come down here and take one game and we have to put everything we have into it, play it like a Game 7."
[Last modified May 9, 2004, 01:41:11]
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