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Hitchcock's blasphemy boosts the Flyers


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#1 Rock

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Posted 13 May 2004 - 06:40 AM

Hitchcock's blasphemy boosts the Flyers
Coach now telling players to take risks

http://www.thestar.c...ol=970081593064

ROSIE DIMANNO

PHILADELPHIA—Aliens have clearly taken possession of Ken Hitchcock's body.

Actually, given how much weight the roly-poly Philadelphia coach has put back on — after shedding a ton some years back — there might be a whole pod of extra-terrestrials in there.

(Cheap shot. We deserve to have our own fat ass spanked for it.)

In any event, it's Hitchcock's endlessly whirring brain that seems to have been co-opted. Suddenly, the guru of stultifying team-wide defence is preaching freewheeling offence, apparently prepared to run and gun with the young Tampa Bay pistols, if that's what they prefer.

This might all be mere rhetoric; the Flyers bench-boss is a gabby sort, as delighted to talk hockey — and horses (Smarty Jones in the Preakness to win) and Civil War battles (he's a re-enactor) and just any old subject that pops to mind — with the media as his opposite, John Tortorella, loathes it. Really, Hitch belongs in a baseball dugout, hands folded over his belly, holding forth for an hour or so before game time.

The Flyers go into Game 3 of the Eastern Conference final tonight riding a wave of confidence that comes from not yet losing a game at home in this year's playoffs (6-0) and still pumped from a huge 6-2 win back in Tampa, their first victory against the Bolts after five straight defeats, regular season through the Game 1 of this series.

That last encounter may have had its stringent defensive, puck-protecting qualities, but it will be remembered for goalsgoalsgoals and Philadelphia's remarkable ability to demolish Tampa from the blue line in. This involved a change in tactics, which Hitchcock, somewhat indiscreetly, had advertised would be the case. Indeed, it was very nearly a manifesto, issued between Games 1 and 2. Maybe Tortorella should have been paying attention.

Hitchcock delivered his new mantra in Tampa and repeated it in Philly: The Flyers will, egad, take risks. They will embrace the high-speed, high-octane, high-gambling style at which the Bolts have excelled, re-inventing themselves as required, thereby eschewing the stingy, preservative motif that has defined all Hitchcock teams in recent memory.

"When you play against a high-octane team like Tampa, you want to play conservative," Hitchcock mused. But, oho, that would be falling into the trap, he thinks, just what Tortorella might be expecting. "What we want to do is go the other way. We want to play with some risks. We want to take risks. And hopefully, they pay off."

This is blasphemy in the gospel according to Hitchcock, or at least the Hitchcock we've all known, castigated by some as Mr. Un-Hockey, a messiah of playing without the puck and adherent of the capital-T trap.

Hitchcock argues this reversal of cant is a Can-Do challenge forced by the barrel-housing nature of the Bolts. "The way they play the game is the way the game was played when the Oilers were in their heyday. It's `don't play safe.' And you admire it. There's two ways to play it. You either say, `We're going to try to outsafe you.' Or you say, `If you're going to play this way, we're going to play this way and see where it goes.'

"So that's what we're doing."

In Game 2, this strategy had the Lightning back on their heels, discombobulated by a Philly squad avoiding the allure of the cluttered slot, rifling shots from the point and charging in on the wing, looking for different-angle trajectories from which to score. It also resulted on Monday in an astonishing five odd-man rushes in the first period alone and an early 3-0 lead from which Tampa could never recover.

Expect more of the same tonight, Hitch said yesterday.

"Both teams will get pretty pumped up to start the hockey game. Then it's who can let the air out of the balloon."

Tampa will need to reassert itself after Game 2 and demonstrate they have no fear of the riotous Wachovia Center, where opponents tend to walk a little more decorously. Yet the Lightning have a dandy road record too, 4-0 in the playoffs, 2-0 against Philadelphia in the regular season.

"The playoffs right now, with four teams left, are played on an emotional edge," said Hitchcock. "If you don't have it, then you look like you are playing in mud. For us to win, we have got to control the emotional edge and try to keep them on their heels as much as possible. And they're going to do the same thing to us."

Hitchcock points to the last match contested at the Wachovia Center — a 7-2 pounding of Toronto — as evidence of his team's gusto, how they took that series by the throat.

"The last game we played in our building was the best hockey game we've played all year.

"We're hoping we can duplicate that."
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