How did the Flyers do it?
Neutralizing the Big Two Snipers: Jacques Lemaire proudly boasted of the luxury of sending Ilya Kovalchuk and Zach Parise -- two of the league's top nine goal scorers -- over the boards for over 20 minutes a game. One problem: whether it was Chris Pronger, Kimmo Timonen or Braydon Coburn, Flyers assistant coach Kevin McCarthy always had a defender to counter.
"Kevin did an unbelievable job," said Flyers head coach Peter Laviolette. "It's not always easy, especially when you don't have the last change, but he found a way more often than not to get our best people on the ice at the right times."
Pronger is often an easy target because he's so darn big, so well-decorated, nicely-compensated and seemingly has been around since the 1970s. But remember this: GM Paul Holmgren paid the price to get him for his 30-minute ability in the playoffs. Pronger delivered.
The Characters: Think of the Flyers' grinders who were nasty, gritty and consistently effective for the five games, and several names roll off the tongue. Blair Betts. Daniel Carcillo. Ian Laperriere. Darroll Powe. Arron Asham, who was outstanding in every zone and drew penalties. For New Jersey, even reliable agitator David Clarkson had a series he'd like to forget. Philadelphia has a locker room with off-center personalities in every corner.
"We took it to them physically," Carcillo told FanHouse after the game. "It was demoralizing for them. They didn't want to play with us."
Goaltending: In every game Brian Boucher either battled Martin Brodeur to a draw or was better than the future first-ballot Hall of Famer. Early in the series, Chris Pronger said Boucher's confidence had soared to a point where he was not just making saves, he was "sucking in the puck." What a story. A decade after being the goaltender-of-record when the Devils overcame a 3-1 playoff series deficit, Boucher -- Philadelphia's No. 3 goalie for portions of this season -- came back to beat the Devils in five.
When it was over, Boucher refused to make this series about himself. "2000 still stings," said Boucher. "I'm just grateful to have had this opportunity."
Coaching: Laviolette was downright reverential whenever he was asked about the chess game against Jacques Lemaire, and for good reason. Lemaire has made a profound impact on the NHL as a player, coach and executive. Laviolette proceeded to out-coach the great Lemaire from beginning to end.
His puck-pursuit system worked. He didn't over-coach, playing defense prospects at right wing, experimenting with raw rookies on the blueline or playing stay-at-home defensemen in front of the net on his team's power play. When the pedi-challenged Jeff Carter and Simon Gagne were lost for the series with injuries, Laviolette's corny there's-an-opportunity approach worked like a charm. So did his masterful sell that his $50 million-plus team somehow was the lovable underdogs. "I didn't see many people pick the Philadelphia Flyers," said Laviolette. Okay, Coach, don't rub it in.
Claude Giroux: Four goals and two assists in the series -- including 2 + 1 in the clincher. "Youthful enthusiam," Pronger called what he brings. "His first goal, that spin-around pass to me ... those are things you cannot teach," said Giroux's linemate Daniel Briere. In Giroux and New Jersey's own James van Riemsdyk, Philadelphia has a future, too.
Team D: Bite-sized goal scorer Daniel Briere is more likely to get Lady Byng votes than consideration for the Selke. But there he was in Game 5, fishing a puck out of his own crease in the second period to keep the score at 1-0. The play was typical of the Flyers' commitment to defense in five games over eight nights.
Then there was Laperriere, who took one for the team and in the face to keep the shutout.
Said Pronger: "When you got a good-looking guy like Lappy blocking shots with his face, the guys on the bench see it and it makes them want to play even harder." (Pronger was serious about most of that remark).
The Captains: The guy with the "C" doesn't have to be the best player on the team, but it's a wonderful lift when it happens. While Jamie Langenbrunner had one assist in five games – and you never got the feeling all season that he and Lemaire were having beers together – Mike Richards was the Flyers' most valuable skater in the series. His contributions were more than a pair of goals and six assists. For this round, he deserved to have his name mentioned in the same sentence as Bobby Clarke.
Besides all that, it was an even series.