BOSTON -- Any resemblance to last year is nothing more than a mocking coincidence. Let us begin there, as the Flyers again contemplate history.
Twelve months ago, they fell into an 0-3 hole against the Bruins in the second round of the playoffs; same as now. And while they do not award style points in the NHL, especially not in the springtime, the reality is that the Flyers played very well in those three losses in 2010 but have gotten thrashed in two of the three losses in 2011. The identity of the more complete team is not currently in doubt. The probability that the Flyers could pull off another miraculous comeback, playing at their current level, is approaching nil -- which is why they call them miracles, after all.
We will talk a lot about goaltending, because that is what we do. And, yes, Brian Boucher was pulled Wednesday night from the 5-1 loss in the second period -- the sixth time in 10 playoff games that the Flyers’ starter was taken out of the game. It is worth a long discussion, clearly.
But the only howler Boucher allowed was the last one, when the score was already 3-0 and the Bruins were wringing the life out of the game, and the Flyers, with their neutral-zone trap. They lost this one long before Nathan Horton shot the puck through Boucher’s legs and forced Flyers coach Peter Laviolette to go to his bullpen, again.
The only reason the Flyers struggled to beat Buffalo in seven games in the opening round was their goaltending. But this situation, in this series, is much more complicated than that. The Bruins, top to bottom, appear to be the sturdier and more persistent team. A Flyers team with scoring on three lines and lots of capable defensemen has begun to wilt.
Maybe they do miss defenseman Chris Pronger that much; another topic worthy of discussion. Pronger, with his mysterious series of undisclosed ailments, has played in only three games in the playoffs. They are 2-1 with him and 2-5 without him. Again, this is something that will be picked over at length, one would assume, after the season is over.
But it seems like more than that. The Flyers came out in the first period and had nothing. They had played very well in Monday night’s overtime loss in Game 2 and had reason to think there might be something to build upon. But they came out flat-footed for Game 3 and the Bruins ended up scoring twice in the game’s first 63 seconds.
The first was a rocket launched by Zdeno Chara, the Bruins’ mammoth defenseman. The second was scored by David Krejci. Neither was remotely Boucher’s fault. And one would presume that that is just what Laviolette told his goaltender during the timeout that he called right after the second goal. It was an odd scene -- the rest of the team gather around assistant coach Craig Berube, and Laviolette and Boucher conversing, alone.
The Bruins, with a lead, with their trapping style when leading, and with their emphasis in this game on hitting, just seemed to keep the Flyers from skating at all. There were none of the breathtaking rushes in transition from Game 2. There was little doubt who was going to win the game -- especially when you add in the fact that Tim Thomas is a better-than-pretty-good goaltender.
Little doubt. It really isn’t like last year.