Wednesday, April 14, 2004

Champions on the Brink

It’s never easy to repeat as a champion in any sport. It’s not possible if you can’t get your act together. The Devils are having their problems scoring at one end and stopping the goals at the other. Not a particularly good combination if you want to have your named etched upon Lord Stanley’s Drinking bowl.

Robert Esche is making Bob Clarke a lot more relaxed in the skybox as the series moves along. Wednesday night he made 35 consecutive saves, shutting out the New Jersey Devils, backstopping the Flyers to a 3-0 victory and a 3-1 lead in the Philly-New Jersey quarterfinal.

The Devils can take a bit of comfort in the hockey history books; they came back from a similar 3-1 deficit in the 2000 Stanley Cup march. Mainly on the strength of an insurmountable performance from Martin Brodeur.

The way this series is going it looks like Esche is the more likely of the two goaltenders that will be shutting the door. Esche’s performance Wednesday night was simply dominating, shot after shot deflected away or snagged by a catching mitt, none making it behind him.

After losing game three, Flyer coach Ken Hitchcock changed up his lines a bit, moving Keith Primeau in between Mark Recchi and John Leclair. Hictchcock also moved Michal Handzus on to the line of Simon Gagne and Sami Kapanen. That combination found success early in the first period as all three were involved in Kim Johnnson’s first goal of the game. Alexei Zhamnov and Keith Primeau both finished off the scoring for the Flyers in the third, the result sending the Devils to the brink of elimination.

Game five comes up on Friday night; the Flyers will be wanting to finish New Jersey off as soon as possible. They only need look back to the video of 2000 to realize what can happen if you let the Devils get a sniff of a chance.

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