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NHL Handicapping: Can Flyers Continue Hot Play?
by Trevor Whenham - 5/17/2010

Philadelphia Flyers goalie Michael Leighton

For only the third time ever, and the first time since 1975, an NHL team has come back from a 0-3 deficit to win a seven-game playoff series. Philadelphia not only found themselves down three games to none to the Boston Bruins, but they found themselves on the ropes twice after that - they needed overtime to win the fourth game, and they fell behind 3-0 early in the second game before fighting back to win it 4-3. Because a comeback like this is so rare - not just in hockey but in other sports as well - it's hard to know just how the Flyers are going to react, and how to deal with them as bettors.

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In their first game back they were absolutely explosive - the best they have been at any point in these playoffs. They beat the Montreal Canadiens, 6-0, in a performance that was dominant in all aspects. You really need to just toss that game out when it comes to making a realistic assessment of the impact of the comeback on this team. The game came just two days after they had ended the last series, so emotions were high, and they were still living on adrenaline. They were playing a Montreal team that had been off for three days - enough time for the aches to start aching and the rust to settle in. Most significantly, this was the first time since the win that the Flyers had been able to play in front of a home crowd, so the emotional lift from that was an obvious factor.

The trick now is to determine how the Flyers are going to respond for the next few games and the rest of the playoffs. That requires an NHL handicapper to be an amateur psychologist as much as anything. Here are four things you'll want to think abut as you form your expectations for the Flyers:

Health - By this point in the playoffs there isn't a player that isn't feeling beaten and battered. If they didn't feel that way then they wouldn't still be in the playoffs. The best possible anesthetic for suffering players is winning. The Flyers now haven't lost in five games - almost two weeks. They have had a goal to focus on, and that allowed them to lift themselves and their bodies up to where they needed to be. Sooner or later, though, the bumps and bruises are going to start hurting again, and they are going to be an impact in the series. Truly evaluating the health status of any team or player is all but impossible in the playoffs, but you have to assume that Philadelphia just isn't as healthy as they have looked.

Leadership boost - As a general rule, the team that wins the Stanley Cup isn't the one that is the most talented, but the one that has the most effective leadership. Philadelphia has had serious leadership issues all year - stories of bitterness and in-fighting in the dressing room have been rampant all year, and they were forced to make a coaching change early in December. The leadership issues were never really addressed in the regular season - they only made the playoffs by winning the last game of the season. The only way they could have pulled off this comeback, though, is to have dealt with their issues and rallied together around a common goal. Most teams couldn't do what the Flyers did - that's why it's so rare. That can't be discounted.

Flaws of the Bruins - The Flyers deserve a lot of credit, but it would be easy - and a mistake - to give them too much. As much as they won the series the Bruins lost it. There was a total failure of their offense, and their goaltending - a strength all season - wasn't as consistent as it needed to be. It would be tempting to assume that the Flyers are all but unbeatable right now, but that would be a mistake. They were able to come back against the Bruins - a flawed team in many regards - but that doesn't mean that they would have been able to come back against any other teams. The Canadiens are a very different type of team from the Bruins, so they need to be evaluated separately. If you have watched any playoffs at all over the years then you know that what happens in one series has little impact on what happens in the next.

Reaction to first bad thing that happens - When a team gets on a streak like the Flyers are on - especially a team that isn't particularly used to large amounts of success - they can't help but believe that they are invincible and that they can't do anything wrong. Sooner or later, though, something is going to go badly for them and they are going to lose another game. We won't truly know how they are going to react until that happens, but how you think they will respond is the single biggest factor in determining how the series is going to turn out.


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