The other night my wife said something like, “it’s weird to think that D.C. only had two pro teams until recently.” Needless to say, she’s no fan of Rod Langway or John Druce – she mistakenly believed the Capitals were like the Panthers or the Thrashers – south-of-the Mason-Dixon hockey newbies.
It’s understandable to some extent, as they play in a division with four clubs who are exactly that. Certainly the team’s up-from-the-cellar run these past few months had something of an arriviste quality.
And then there’s the Washington Post‘s Mike Wise, whose piece on the Flyers’ suffocating Game 3 win manages to make mild-mannered Flyers coach John Stevens (above, sans glasses) sound like the second coming of Reg Dunlop.
For most of the evening, there was this unmistakable air of testosterone coming from the Flyers’ direction that just reeked of physicality, a way of exerting their mauling style on the Capitals that just sent their denizens into some medieval state of euphoria.
“We want to make it physical between the whistles,” Flyers Coach John Stevens said. “I think it’s important for no other reason then it’s the best tool we have to defend to be honest with you. I think it’s very important that we move our feet and finish our checks and get people pushed off the puck.”
Translation: “We will keep punking the Caps until the NHL commissioner tells us not to….”
Did we mention they show fights on the video scoreboard every period here, more than most arenas show dunks in the NBA?
Something about this R-rated environment is just not conducive to Ted Leonsis‘ Family Pack Night or Ovie on Ice. The contrasts are so stark and revealing.
The Caps’ postseason slogan: “Rock The Red.” The Flyers? “Vengeance Now,” which comes across as less of a slogan and more of a sequel to Charles Bronson‘s “Death Wish.”
The Capitals didn’t come out as Eastern Conference foes; they entered the playing surface like Russell Crowe entered the Coliseum in “Gladiator.” Flyer fans didn’t want to beat Washington as much as see Ovechkin bludgeoned, his teammates emasculated.
It’s almost impossible to fathom, but the Capitals took the ice in front of a building as loud as Verizon Center last Friday. The fans wore orange instead of the Capitals’ red, and many of the women and children looked as if they could work security for Megadeth.
On I-95 entering town there is a billboard of Riley Cote, a stumpy rogue who engaged in 24 fights this season, twice as many as Capitals tough guy Donald Brashear. Cote’s wild-man eyes and his quick fists are the only features shown of the Flyers’ player.
Five minutes into the game, they showed a video of Philly’s top brawls this past season, many involving Cote grabbing hold of an opponents’ shirt for leverage before pummeling him to the ice, which is just a swell environment for children — children of Patrick Roy.
They flat-out market and sell violence here, sanctioned, unbridled assaults disguised as sport.
The Flyers are an instant repudiation of what Gary Bettman wanted the league to become.
Honestly, I can’t tell if these are the naive ramblings of a general sports columnist who I don’t think covered hockey once between February 1 and April 2, or the work of a master satirist. Has anybody ever used the phrase “what Gary Bettman wanted” while implying it’s a good thing? And has Wise met Caps forward Matt Cooke?
Guilty as charged on Flyers culture, but this is pretty much what playoff hockey looks like in all 16 cities. Teams play defense, hit and go to net. Ironically, this might be the Flyers’ flashiest and skill-first group of forwards in two decades, while the Caps’ greatest success so far has been with grind-it-out and dump-and-chase (noted choirboy Donald Brashear already has a goal and an assist).
I’m enough of a superstitious fan that I don’t want to gloat, especially since the series should already be 3-0, but (much to my surprise) the Capitals, and especially Ovechkin, look like a team that got away with fancy hockey in a soft division that they never would have won if not for Rod Brind’Amour’s torn ACL. Playing an Atlantic team for five or six or seven games presents a harder task. I also love the fact that one of the scary goons who’s giving Huet so much grief, Daniel Briere, is about the same height as Jon Stewart.
Asked if he is surprised that his team has not responded by taking a run at Biron, Boudreau joked, “We play by the rules.”
“I don’t think they are being overly aggressive,” Boudreau added of the Flyers. “They always play [that way]. They’ve done it since the early ’70s on the power play, get as close to the goalie as possible. That’s their style. We would like to have more attention on the crease, but we need more shots to do that. When you get 19 shots in a game, there’s usually not much happening in the crease.”