A Flyers blogger weighs in
A Round 3 Q&A with The 700 Level's Matt Pesotski
The Flyers are not a team with a ton of active blogs, but the one I've been checking out lately is a general Philadelphia sports blog, The 700 Level, where Matt Pesotski is the resident hockey nut. And he knows his stuff.
What's The 700 Level? Wikipedia does the honours here: "The 700 Level referred to the cheap seats in the upper deck of Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia. Usually the most rowdy fans were there, especially at Philadelphia Eagles games and to a lesser extent Philadelphia Phillies games."
Here's what Matt had to offer on the conference finals:
Q. What's the level of interest around the team like in Philadelphia? I know there was a bit of unrest after last season — has that disappeared given the playoff run?
The interest level is as high as I can remember it being in my 28 years. The die-hards are elated, and the casual fans are upping their support and getting to know the team, which includes a lot of new faces this year.
Regarding the unrest after last season: I think the fans showed tremendous support by still packing the building during the worst season in franchise history, and most of them had faith that the team would rebound quickly. Owner Ed Snider is known around here for doing whatever it takes to support an NHL contender, even if we haven't seen a Cup since before I was born.
At the trade deadline and in the season's aftermath, Paul Holmgren moved incredibly fast to fill the gaping holes he saw, which showed the fans that the franchise would not endure another sub-par year. That went a long way to keep the fans interested, and the performance of the players Homer acquired, as well as those who have come up through the farm system, has attracted a lot of attention from the many four-sport fans in this city who don't rank the Flyers as their favorite Philly team.
Nearly everyone in town lauds Holmgren as the best GM in a city that sent three of four teams to the playoffs this year, and deservedly so. Under his direction, the Flyers went from the worst team in hockey to the conference finals, only the second team in the modern era to do so.
Running my site, I really get the sense that Flyers fans, and the team in general, aren't all that popular around the league. In fact, outside of Philadelphia, I'm not sure the Flyers have any fans.
Is that accurate? Unjustified? And is there a bit of an us-against-the-world mentality in the city when it comes to the team?
I agree the Flyers are incredibly unpopular among other teams' fans, and there's definitely a belief that the powers that be in Toronto have it out for our organization. I'm not sure if the latter is true, but it certainly feels that way at times.
However, I think the Flyers do have a lot of fans outside of Philly, both pilgrims and transplants. Before the Caps got hot down the stretch, you'd see orange all throughout the telecasts of Flyers games in D.C. Ditto in New Jersey, and even some of the west coast and Florida games. Last night, with the Phillies in Arizona to face the Diamondbacks, you could hear "Let's Go Flyers" chants.
But fans of other NHL teams love to hate the Flyers and their fans. Few things are more apparent to me after covering them for The 700 Level this year. I guess it all started before my time, when the organization won two Stanley Cups while still in their infancy, and there's just been a trickle-down effect. Original Six teams (especially the Rangers) had to despise the Flyers' fast success (little did they know, there'd be a biblical drought to follow). But the rough style they brought to the table was probably what truly made them hated. I guess the suspensions early this year awakened that hatred, because I don't remember there ever being so much leaguewide anti-Flyers sentiment. That could be a myopic view though, because (1) I wasn't around for the Bullies, and (2) we've never had as much access to the opinions of opposing fans as we do now.
A lot of this also comes from Philly being a four-sport, major-market town. We're a passionate and rowdy fanbase, and we have different primary rivals in every sport, as well as countless sub-rivalries, and that breeds contempt around the country.
However, I also think we appreciate some other teams and players more than we're given credit for. We got a lot of attention for booing (and worse) Alex Ovechkin in the first round, but I think most fans in this town have a lot of respect for him and love to watch him play. The same is true for Evgeni Malkin. From the Maple Leafs, I've always liked Mats Sundin's game, and although I obviously rooted against the team growing up, I was a Felix the Cat fan.
I'd be interested to hear Canadians perspective on why the Flyers are so hated up north.
Very few people are picking the Flyers to win in this series: What makes you optimistic they can pull it out?
The first thing that comes to mind is that both the Caps and the Habs were favored by most experts, and the Flyers beat them despite not having the home-ice advantage. Add to that the fact that the Flyers won the season series against the Penguins — although it was pretty close, and the Pens took their foot off the gas in the season finale. You can go further back and see that the Flyers have an overwhelming edge in the overall history between the teams, including never having lost to the Pens in the playoffs, but I don't believe anything that happened before the last 5-10 years has any bearing on this series, since most of these guys weren't even playing then.
Other than that, the Flyers have an abundance of guys who can light the lamp, including R.J. Umberger, who spanked his hometown Pens in the regular season and is on a Conn Smyth-caliber tear in the postseason. The Flyers also have the most important element of a winning team in the playoffs: a hot goalie who is flat out stealing some games for them.
Only problem is, the Pens are playing at least as well as the Flyers, and Marc-Andre Fleury won't be anywhere near as soft as Carey Price was. The Flyers keep saying they haven't played their best hockey yet, and I tend to agree. But if they want to win this series, they'll need to unlock that potential in a hurry.
You mentioned Umberger: I'm curious — who would you pick as a few of the team's unsung heroes so far? Who are some players who have played really well for the Flyers who will have to come up big, guys that the average fan might not know very well?
Before he went completely off, Umberger would definitely have fit that criteria; he had seen time on the team's fourth line in these playoffs, and he's already well over half his goal total for the season. Briere, Prospal, and Richards certainly can't be considered "unsung," but after them, there's been tremendous output from Jeff Carter, and Scottie Upshall and Joffrey Lupul are each young players who can now say they've scored a series-winning goal. We all know what Patrick Thoresen had to overcome to stay in these playoffs, and he's really earned his ice time despite not showing up on the scoresheet.
I'd be remiss not to mention the defense here though. True, they were maligned for stretches of the season, and they've left Biron high and dry a few times in the playoffs, but they've also blocked a ton of shots. Braydon Coburn has been outstanding, stopping offensive rushes in the Flyers zone and deftly sending the puck down ice to start a rush in the other direction. But the most unsung defenseman right now is probably Randy Jones, who has quietly put up a plus-8 so far (third best in the NHL).
I'd like to see Scott Hartnell be more of a presence in the Penguins series, both offensively and as a pest. He played that role well against the Caps, but was a little quieter versus Montreal. If Steve Downie dresses, he needs to stay out of the box (unless he can take someone with him), and display some of the scoring prowess that earned him a spot on two Canadian national teams. That's admittedly hard when you see as little ice time as he has lately though.
Keep an eye on The 700 Level for more from Matt as the conference finals get going. And stay tuned for blogger reports from the Penguins and Stars courtesy of The Pensblog and Mark Stepneski.
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