Flyers get a reality jolt

AL STRACHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 10:52 AM ET


 Usually, wakeup calls come in the morning. The Philadelphia Flyers received one last night.

 Coach Ken Hitchcock, having given due deliberation to the 3-1 win by the Tampa Bay Lightning in the opener of the Eastern Conference final, delivered the message to his team in his usual straightforward fashion.

 It was an evening strategy session in the team's hotel and the speech was far-ranging. But its essence could be summed up in two words: Wake up.

 Hitchcock felt that his team played well for the first half of Saturday's game, but poorly the rest of the way. Therefore, his message was that the Flyers have to wake up to the fact that the Lightning did not get here by accident.

 "This is now the time to deal with realities," said Hitchcock. "It's not about what they did. There's a level out there they're playing at."

 MUST MAINTAIN IT

 The Flyers must not only reach that level, he added, they must maintain it. There can be no letdowns, no cavalier attitudes.

 "We could maybe get away with it in the last series," he said, "but we can't in this series."

 Hitchcock is worried that his players might feel that because they played well for a while, then committed a couple of costly errors, they don't need a major upgrade.

 That view, he said, is ill-advised. "If you focus on: 'We made a few mistakes and if we correct them, then we're good enough,' you're making a big mistake."

 But reputations are hard to shake in the National Hockey League. This is the Tampa Bay Lightning, for heaven's sake, a name long synonymous with ineptitude.

 Hitchcock is not about to be misled. "This is the same way they've played for four months," he said. "They've had the best record in the NHL since that time, and everybody is just going to have to get used to it."

 In the post-season, they're allowing a goal a game on the average, and riding an eight-game winning streak. If the Flyers are to win a game here in Tampa, they're going to have to grind out a close one. There will be no blowout.

 "You can't imagine that happening," said Hitchcock. "You have to have the attitude that you're going to win games in this series 2-1 -- and it might be in overtime.

 "As good as they are defensively, we have to be better defensively. That's the facts of life when you're playing with two teams as committed as these two teams are," he said.

 Already, with only one game gone in the series, time is running out on the Flyers. Hitchcock feels that the Lightning is too confident right now, and only a Philadelphia win can change that. Preferably tonight.

 'We've got to sow some doubt," he said. "That's our job."

 Furthermore, if the Flyers are to win the series, then they have to win a road game. They have at most four opportunities to do that, and one has already slipped away.

 EFFORT AND FOCUS

 But Hitchcock feels that if his team can match the Lightning's effort and focus, it will be successful.

 "This team is tenacious as hell," he said. "This is going to be mentally really challenging for us. Everybody talks about their speed, but it's their tenacity that changes the tempo; it's not their speed."

 On offence, the Flyers will try to take what they're given --which isn't much. Tampa drops back into an ultra-defensive mode when challenged, and every player on the team is willing to block a shot with his body.

 The Flyers like to jam the crease and score from the slot, but may not be able to do so.

 "You have to find the second and third effort," said Hitchcock.

 "You're not getting any shots from the slot, so get used to it. You have to find other ways to score. It ain't coming from the middle of the ice."

 For the most part, it ain't coming from anywhere. That's why the Flyers are so worried.


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