It occurs to me that perhaps I should be rooting for the Canadiens to finish 7th, if the top half of the standings stay the way they are.

Of course, everything is still unspeakably close, but I'm going to work off of the premise that Tampa Bay is going to win the Eastern Conference. They're playing very well, and have an upcoming schedule filled with teams that you have to expect that they'll take points from -- the Islanders, Sabres, and Crapitals for example. The Flyers will most likely finish in second. They're in second at the moment, and have upcoming games with the Islanders (two, actually), Hurricanes, and two with the hapless Rangers. Boston's in third, with the toughest remaining schedule of the three - Tampa, Ottawa, Toronto, us, two easy ones, then two with Jersey to end the season. Fourth and fifth will likely be determined between the Laffs and Sens, though perhaps the Devils can get there if they sweep us this weekend, and continue to finish strong.

As for us, I'm certainly not saying we should tank it (it's always good to have momentum coming into the playoffs)...this is more me saying that I completely, absolutely, emphatically do NOT buy the Philadelphia Flyers once the second season rolls around. Here's why:

1. Who IS the # 1 goaltender there, anyway? Sean Burke started eight consecutive games after the trade, and went 4-3-1. Robert Esche came in and lost, then they went back to Burke, who lost again. They've played seven games since then, and Esche has been in for five (4-0-1), with Burke going 0-1-1 in the other two. The tie, by the way, was against the hopeless Penguins. Overall, Burke is 4-5-2 for them, with a 2.96 GAA, and .899 save percentage. In this "dead puck" era, that's not good. Oh, and he's 37 years old, and has never really been a winner anywhere he's gone. Let's look at his past playoff contributions.

-- 1987-88: He came up with the struggling New Jersey Devils, and basically became the #1 at the end of the season, going 10-1-0 to help the Devils sneak past the Rangers into 8th (they finished tied with 82 points, but I guess they won the season series). Anyway, they stunned the Islanders in 6 games, took out Washington in 7, and bravely took a great Boston team to 7 games before the dream finally died. However, while Burke was the main reason the Devils got there, he wasn't the main reason for their success. The Devils went 11-9 in the playoffs, of which Burke went 9-8 (Bob Sauve, the # 1 most of the year, played in the other two, I'd imagine), with a 3.41 GAA. Sadly, Slam! Hockey doesn't have a figure for his save percentage that year. By the way, this was his best-ever playoff showing. Look out below!

-- 1989-90: This was a better Devils team, finishing second in the division this time. Burke was the de facto #1, in the sense that he got a decision in more than half their games. It's worth mentioning, though, that he was a pedestrian 22-22-6. On top of that, Burke played 2 games in their opening round 4-2 loss to Washington -- he lost both, going 3.84/.877 in the process. We're not exactly talking Martin Brodeur here. Actually, I don't even think we're talking Chris Terreri.

-- 1991-92: Maybe this isn't exactly fair, but I think I should mention that he went 0-3/4.87/no save percentage listed in a first round loss for the San Diego Gulls of the now-defunct IHL.

-- 1997-98: Hey, now this is familiar, on two different levels. After starting the season with Carolina, Burke was shipped to Vancouver, where he had a disastrous 2-9-4/3.50/.876 stint. In fairness, that was a terrible team, who finished last in their division. So, they shipped him at the deadline to...hey! Philadelphia! And, tell me this isn't familiar -- he went 7-3-0 to give his team some real momentum heading into the playoffs. Oh...but once those started, he went 1-4/3.60/.877...against a pretty ordinary Buffalo Sabres team (who, to their credit, swept the Canadiens, and almost beat Washington).

-- 1999-00: After a few years in Florida (where he was supposed to be the guy who lead them to glory, but actually never even made the playoffs), they shipped him to Phoenix. Now, for full disclosure, this wasn't a great Coyotes team, and they DID have to play Colorado in the first round. But, instead of giving his team a chance to win, he came up with The Usual Sean Burke Playoff Series: 1-4/3.24/.904. Sure, the save percentage was a little better, but it still isn't indicative of a guy being a major contriubutor to his team.

-- 2001-02: This was actually a pretty damn good Coyotes team (40-27-9), but the result was SHOCKINGLY the same as always. In the first round, the Sharks easily took care of the Coyotes, although Burke wasn't the reason: 1-4/2.62/.902. However, while you can't point to him and say he's the reason they lost, he certainly didn't do anything to steal a game or two, either.

-- Oh, and this may be a cheap shot, but when he was still in junior, he went to the playoffs with Toronto of the OHL twice. The first year, he went 1-3/5.63, the second 0-4/6.05.

I tend to think the numbers speak for themselves. The guy just isn't a winner, and he never has been. If the Flyers are depending on this guy to carry them throughout the playoffs, the biggest competition they're going to have in the 2nd round is trying to schedule tee times before the other first-round victims.

Now, as for Robert Esche. He's had his best-ever season so far (20-7-6/1.89/.923), and if the Flyers have any sense at all, will be their #1 in the playoffs. However, he has exactly a period and a half of NHL playoff experience (at least he can say he saved 13 of 14). He wasn't so good for Springfield in the one AHL playoff series he played in (1-2/4.00/.878), and that's all you can point to. It's not a big enough sample size to be worth anything. Basically, we can't say anything one way or the other about Esche, especially because the playoffs are so completly different from the regular season. Brian Boucher isn't much as a goalie, but that one freakazoid shutout streak he had would have won a playoff series...keep that in mind. Likewise, one streak like that the other way sends you home. For the moment, assuming Burke is in makes Philly DEFINITE first-round fodder, while assuming Esche is in is a wash -- you have to depend on the other factors.

2. The most important of those other factors is injury. Jeremy Roenick (18-27-45) is out for the season. They're not only going to miss his scoring -- they're going to miss his drive, his willingness to get his nose dirty, and his proven playoff track record. Keith Primeau is out indefinitely with a concussion -- reports today indicate that he still has recurring symptoms. He doesn't have a ton of points this season, but guys like him are invaluable in the playoffs. Defensemen Dennis Seidenberg is likely coming back early from a broken leg (he was expected to miss the rest of the season), but take that with a grain of salt. That kind of thing usually results in another setback happening either before or right after the return, and even if he makes it to the playoffs, are you going to be on a guy rushed back from a broken leg making it through the postseason war of attrition? I don't. Eric Desjardins is out indefinitely with a broken arm, and like Seidenberg, is a big loss...going into the playoffs short on the blueline almost never helps. Mark Recchi is out day-to-day with a broken foot. Again, this is happening BEFORE the meat-grinder that is the playoffs.

3. This is a team prepared to give Vladimir Malakhov serious ice time. Make your own joke here.

4. It isn't always fair to judge a team by past playoff performances, but let's be honest. This club has had essentially the same core of players for 4 or 5 years now. Let's summarize:

2003: Did the world a favor and beat Toronto 4-3 in round one, but gets smacked down 4-2 by Ottawa in round two.
2002: Loses 4-1 to Ottawa in the first round, scoring two whole goals in the process.
2001: Loses 4-2 to Buffalo in the first round.
2000: Annhilated Buffalo 4-1 in the first round, outdueled Pittsburgh 4-2 in round two, lost in the semifinals 4-3 to Jersey.
1999: Didn't do the world a favor, and lost 4-2 to Toronto in the firsy round.

So, as you can see, they were a complete and utter flop for 4 of the 5 years, especially when you factor in payroll and expectations. I have to be frank -- nothing this year (their gaudy record aside) convinces me that this time around will be any different. And, as Ottawa showed in 2002, this team doesn't know how to handle a speedy team that can play tough, and who has a goaltender in good form. Sound like any team you know? It does to me...if the Canadiens draw the Flyers in the first round, I can see us beating them in as little as 5 games. Seriously.


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