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How Zdeno Chara shut down Flyers and why it matters against Lightning



Before their Eastern Conference semifinal series, there was lots written and said about how much trouble the Bruins would have stopping the high-powered Philadelphia offense.

After all, the Flyers led the East in the regular season with 259 goals, behind only Vancouver and Detroit in the entire NHL [1]. Against Buffalo in the first round, Philly scored five goals in three of its four wins and four in the other, all against Ryan Miller [2], one of the elite goalies in the sport.

But the Bruins didn’t blink, after allowing three goals ‘€” two in garbage time ‘€” in Game 1, the Flyers scored just four the rest of the way in getting outscored 20-7 in the Bruins sweep.

Bruins captain Zdeno Chara [3] said every Bruins player understood what was expected in “the system.”

“It was big,” Chara said. “I thought eventually in Games 3 and 4 they started to find a way of creating speed through the neutral zone. But I thought the first two games, we completely took that away from them.”

Danny Briere, Mike Richards [4] and James van Riemsdyk scored in Game 1. Van Riemsdyk accounted for both Philly tallies in Game 2. Andrej Meszaros scored a harmless goal in Game 3 and Kris Versteeg scored in Game 4.

There was nothing from Claude Giroux, Ville Leino, Nikolay Zherdev, an injury-slowed Jeff Carter [5], a nicked-up Chris Pronger [6] and Scott Hartnell.

“We just really tried to be close to each other, work as a unit of five going up and down the ice and really not leaving big gaps between us,” Chara added. “Anytime you do that, you kind of crowd those areas and made it difficult for them to get through it.”

Ah, the classic neutral zone trap.

Fans of teams that have success with it, swear by it. Ask the Devils of the 1990s and early 2000s. Fans with lots of speed and skill, curse it. Ask the Flyers.

“I think if you look at the game, like I said, it is 1-1 halfway through the third [period], and the chances are relatively close,” Flyers coach Peter Laviolette [7] said after his team was swept away. “I would have liked to generate more offensively. I think in all the losses, we needed to generate more. We need to spend more time in the offensive zone. Defensively, we turned some pucks over in the neutral zone trying to get through their trap and trying to get a sustained forecheck that could generate some offense and we weren’€™t able to do that. In the losses, that seems to be one of the key things that factors in.”

Every Bruins player felt “lucky” to win Game 2 in OT. So did their coach. Not just lucky to win, but lucky to learn a valuable lesson about playoff hockey in the process.

“I think the best example to use is Game 2 in Philadelphia when we didn’€™t respect that part of our game, you saw how hard they came at us,” Bruins coach Claude Julien [8] said. “To be honest with you, we were lucky to come out of Game 2 with a win. They were dominant in the third period and obviously in a good portion of that overtime. All of that was because we weren’€™t respecting our game without the puck.

“I thought when we did a good job of it for the rest of the games, it obviously took away some of their strength, which was their offense. It certainly cut down on the scoring chances, but I also thought it gave us some good offense because when we turned the puck over, we were really good with our transition game and our offense stood out. So it’€™s a combination. They say, ‘Good defense creates good offense,’ and I’€™m one of those believers.”

And now, with Patrice Bergeron likely out to start the Eastern finals [9], and Vincent Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis and Simon Gagne on tap in the next round, it wouldn’t be a surprise if you saw more of the same.