Danger on the Horizon...
I can't stress enough how important this time of year is for any hockey team. The hot hand is the nature of the game, especially for the first couple of rounds of the playoffs. How many major upsets have we seen post-lockout? 8-seeds beating 1-seeds, home ice advantage going right out the window and division leaders being playoff busts. It may help to finish as high as possible, but a hot handed low seed can go deep in the playoffs. Remember in the 2010 playoffs when the Eastern Conference championship was battled out between the 8th seed Canadians and the 7th seed Flyers? How about the year before when the heavy favorites and presidents trophy winning Sharks got knocked off in six games by the 8th seeded Ducks? While your best bet is regular season success, being the best team in the last two weeks of the season can send a lot of hopeful teams and fan bases home way earlier than they seemingly deserved.
That being said, the last two weeks have been stellar for both the Flyers and Kings. The two teams are boasting a 5-2-1 and 6-1-0 record, respectively. It's time to get hot, and that seemed to be happening for both teams. However, tonights games are very troubling to me.
First, for the Flyers:
Last game vs. the Canadiens, the Flyers managed to be just the fourth team in the league to clinch a playoff berth this season. They looked great in all ends of the ice, for the majority of the game. It was a game that mattered, and their play reflected that. Tonight looked a bit different. Sure you could say that Bryz was off his game (letting in too many given the amount of shots he faced) or that Roloson was on fire (seeing the puck very well even with bodies stacked in front of him) but to me it looked like a complacent Flyers team. I know Laviolette didn't walk into the locker room saying "OK, it's locked up, lets just ride it out for the next two weeks." I'm also sure that this is not the team that goes out onto the ice with any kind of similar mentality. However, this lingering feeling of "we're in" can get caught in the back of your mind, and if you listen to it, even just for a second, it's going to take over your game. To put it lightly, if the Flyers don't hit the ground running for the remainder of the season, they don't stand a chance, especially if the first matchup is against Pittsburgh or New York.
and for the Kings:
I want nothing more than to see the Kings find success this season. This team has faced so much criticism, adversity and injury that I believe they deserve a chance to prove it where it counts. These last two weeks have gotten me so excited until the offense fell off again, against St. Louis. They came out of it with a win, another stellar shutout for Quick and two shootout goals by my two favorite Flye... I mean Kings. But something didn't sit right after that game and the subsequent losses to Boston and Vancouver tonight has me worried once again. These next four games need to see the Kings come away with eight points. If they do that, they may be able to avoid the make-or-break situation with the home and home against the Sharks. Lucky for the Kings three of the next four games are against teams that cannot make the playoffs. The only problem with that is, can the Kings play with enough intensity and find the back of the net with enough consistency to match these teams that have nothing to lose.
It's going to be an interesting two weeks, but I'm as frightened as I am excited...
- Trevor Rocco
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