Flyers head coach
He also got it right when he acknowledged how proud he was of his team. Sure, he threw in the cliché that the Flyers never quit (what team does in the Stanley Cup Final?), but it was understandable in that some teams
The Flyers were relentless in overcoming every obstacle. But it's what Laviolette
To win the series or even have a chance, the Flyers needed a split in the first two games in Chicago or a win in Game Five there. Not only did they fail to get either one, the series wasn't really that close despite some scores that said otherwise. In what came down to a waiver-wire pickup in
Leighton, not so much.
He had his moments along the way, including some impressive shutouts against what amounted to offensively-challenged teams in the early going. But with the Cup on the line, he blinked -- on more than one occasion. It was never more obvious than on Kane's Cup-winning goal.
You can point a finger of blame at the overall team defense that allowed Kane to move so freely and with such breathtaking speed inside the zone. But at the end of that rush, Kane was put off to a bad angle. Though there was a Blackhawk (
It did, largely because Leighton chose to drop on the shot in an awkward one-knee-down, one-knee-back position when he should have been upright and snug to the post. His ill-conceived crouch gave Kane several openings to shoot at, and a player of Kane's talent and especially gifted hands won't miss. That the puck became embedded in the mesh made for some confusion in the arena and prompted the NHL to do the kind of video review it ignored after the controversial 1999 Cup-winning goal by
Kane, a native of South Buffalo, partied like it was 1999 and his hometown team had won the Cup. Almost everyone in the building -- and likely anyone watching on TV -- was at least unsure, but Leighton knew it was in as well. You could tell by the way he froze in that one-knee-down position, and his quick look back to the very spot where the puck was embedded in the mesh. While all around him were uncertain, he didn't bother to get back up and get in position to carry on.
The goal clearly stunned the Flyers who, even long after the review confirmed their worst fears, had trouble coming to grips with it. "It stings, it hurts," said
"It's going to take a little bit of time to get over the sting of this loss," added
"I don't think this will set in for awhile," said Flyers defenseman
No one in that room fingered Leighton per se, and in his next sentence Pronger went out of his way to praise him, but it was clear that the shot had an impact on them all, including the goalie. "It's usually not a great goal. It's usually a fluke, stupid kind of goal. And that's what happened," said Leighton.
The Flyers' quest for a quality goaltender has lasted almost as long as Moses' stay in the desert. They have been to the Cup final a total of six times since their last win in 1975 (at Buffalo) only to be beaten each time, and usually because they weren't quite good enough in net. That Leighton gave his best is not in question. That his best was not good enough is also no longer a question. It's a reality.
Leightion's contract expires at the end of this month and there is a real possibility that a new offer might not be coming. He was a hero of sorts in games against Boston and Montreal, but there were numerous points in the Chicago series where the Flyers' management team had to take notice that bad goaltending was costing the team a chance to win. They are likely to address that, and one could argue that Leighton,
Many things contributed to the Flyers' defeat. For one, the Blackhawks' superior speed was a factor in virtually every game. A lot of teams have good speed, but the 'Hawks can not only skate at a tremendously fast pace, they can execute at that speed, and that is a difference. That talent gave the Flyers' defensive pairs and their overall team defense a problem.
The Flyers' offense could compete, but when it pressed the area around the net and didn't convert, the 'Hawks were able to turn the play out quickly as the Flyers' forwards struggled to get back in time. The Blackhawks' defense was also six deep. The Flyers pretty much could only play four with confidence (hence the tremendous number of minutes logged by Pronger) and that played into Chicago's favor. No accident that the winning goal was scored with Pronger and his usual running mate,
Laviolette will also have some long summer nights thinking about Game 5 in Chicago when his counterpart,
The Blackhawks will surely enjoy a summer full of celebration, but there are also some well-known financial pressure points. The team has a multitude of stars, several of them coming off entry-level contracts, and is reported to have some $57 million committed to just 14 players for next season. There are contracts the team likely would love to unload --
There's not much the Blackhawks haven't done right in their climb to respectability, and now comes a Stanley Cup championship for a city that has gone nearly half a century without one. But it was odd to see so many people taking a bow and kissing the Cup on Philadelphia ice and not have
Tallon, fired as general manager last summer, made some budget mistakes while he was with the Blackhawks, but he knew talent when he saw it and one could argue that he completed the playoff puzzle when he signed Hossa and defensive standout
Tallon is now the newly-minted GM of the Florida Panthers, a better franchise for signing him, but if he couldn't find his way onto the ice Wednesday night, he should have at least have been a guest of the Blackhawks in a box somewhere in the building. It would have been hard to watch, especially when his replacements -- GM
I have no problem with the Bowmans being there along with the players, coaches, trainers, support people and, I suspect, the Blackhawks' Zamboni operator. Hey, it's a team victory and all those people had a hand in it, but this was, for better or worse, Tallon's team. He has a relationship with the players and the franchise that dates back to the early 1970s and he, more than even owner
Tallon deserved to be recognized for that. The Blackhawks as an organization, and McDonough as a person, should have made it happen.