Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Six Factors that are Needed to Comeback from a 3-1 Series Deficit

Is there a great comeback in the cards for Philly or Washington?

The dust has settled on the second round in the West. Phoenix and Los Angeles emphatically moved on to the Western Conference Finals. St. Louis and Nashville were unable to extend the series and push for a comeback. In the East, however, both series continue. The Rangers stole a victory from the Caps tying the game in the last seven seconds of regulation and then less than two minutes into overtime they struck for the winner.

If the Capitals are to win this series they will have to win two straight. They cannot allow the disappointment of Game 5 to carry over. They must move on and be ready to play intense, urgent hockey.

In the other series New Jersey has aggressively jumped out to a 3-1 series lead on Philadelphia. The Flyers have been beaten by an attacking Devils forecheck that has them playing on their heels. The Flyers skate tonight at the brink of elimination.

Nothing seems to be going right for Philadelphia in this series. New Jersey's ability to carry the play has muted the Flyers explosive offense. To be honest, besides Game 1, Brodeur has not been tested. Momentum is on the side of the Devils and the season is quickly coming to an end for Philadelphia. If the Flyers are to mount an epic comeback there are certain elements that need to happen to make a comeback realistic.

The elements of an epic comeback are somewhat simple but not totally within the underdog's control. Back in 2010 when the Flyers were down 3-0 and just trying to survive Mike Richards knocked David Krejci of the Bruins out of the series with a huge open ice check. It swung momentum to the Flyers side which they rode to a win. The 2012 Flyers will need to swing momentum whether it is with a big check, like Giroux's first shift check on Crosby in Game 6 of the previous round, or by scoring a big goal or Bryzgalov making a huge save at the right time.

In Game 4 of the 2010 comeback versus the Bruins the Flyers also saw the return of Simon Gagne to the line up. Gagne immediately made an impact on the series and would score the game winner in Game 7. A player that the Flyers could desperately use is Andrej Meszaros. He has been skating but is listed as day-to-day. You don't want Meszaros to risk his future but if he could come back it may give the Flyers a shot of confidence and support on a depleted D-corps that might change the momentum.

In Game 4 the Flyers were frustrated not only by the Devils but the officials. Acting off of his frustration Claude Giroux hit Dainius Zubrus in the head with an elbow. Giroux is suspended for Game 5. Can the Flyers use this as a rallying point? New Jersey won Game 2 without Ilya Kovalchuk in the lineup. They played a strong team game which began their ascent to a 3-1 series lead. The Flyers may be able to use Giroux's absence as a rallying cry to "play one more game" so Claude can come back in Game 6.

The Flyers have been unable since Game 1 to hold a lead. The Devils have routinely carried the play after a Flyers goal. Philly must stay aggressive and smart after they score (Peter Laviolette has been imploring his squad to do this from the bench). In any successful comeback the team losing has found a way to take control of the game, possess the puck, and put their opponent in a defensive mindset. The Flyers must their bring the game to the Devils and make them react. These changes must happen immediately. The Flyers cannot afford another poor 20 minute stretch. They must bring constant pressure and control the game. With the energy of the home crowd it will be important for the Flyers to get up and control play in the first period. They can use the crowd's energy to their advantage.

If a comeback is going to happen the collective team must expect success even when they get a bad bounce or call. In the 2010 comeback Brian Boucher was injured in Game 5 and Michael Leighton held down the fort. Like 2010 there will be adversity, for sure. A team must have resilient confidence, the belief they can get it done despite the struggles. The Flyers' resiliency is being tested at this time. They must keep believing that they can win one shift at a time, one period at a time, one game at a time. Bill Clement, back in 1987 when the Flyers were down 3 games to 1 to the Oilers, made the analogy of coming back from a 3-1 series hole to that of climbing a mountain. To get to the top you have to take one step at a time. If you focus on the summit of the mountain then you will likely fail. The journey will feel insurmountable. The Flyers have to focus on the next shift, bring everything they have to that shift, recover and do it again.

The Devils have a stranglehold on the series. But, if you remember, the Devils were down 3 game to 1 to the Flyers in the 2000 Eastern Conference Finals and found a way to win the series. The Devils buckled down in that series and gave the Flyers few scoring chances the last three games. To return the favor the Flyers must buckle down and play a solid game.

Can the Capitals or Flyers pull off a comeback? The Capitals only need to win two straight which is much easier to achieve than three. Ultimately each team will need to focus on the things they control and try to swing momentum their direction. If they can make a huge play that is a series-changer, shake up their line-up, be aggressive and capture control of the game, focus one shift at a time and keep believing a comeback is possible. Oh I almost forgot. As in any comeback it never hurts to have a little puckluck.

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