Note: Discuss today's reported (via Arthur Staple) assistant coaching moves in this thread.
It's an odd feeling, rooting for the Philadelphia Flyers in these playoffs. They're a team that has dominated the Islanders often and given them fits forever. Their home arena, whatever it's called this week, has seen more Islanders losses than Charles Wang's checkbook.
At times, you can feel the players and fans, literally millions of eyes all at once, looking down on the Islanders as an inferior franchise. At least, I can.
I've always had a respect for the talented but workmanlike Kimmo Timmonen dating back to his Nashville days. Scott Hartnell, Claude Giroux, Wayne Simmonds and others are skilled players with toughness that anyone would want on their team. They always seem to have young guys that play like 10-year veterans. This year's crop: Matt Read and Sean Couturier. And after years of wishing him nothing but bodily harm and an uncomfortable retirement, I can finally appreciate Jaromir Jagr as an all-time great player and a secret deadpan comedian (check out the 38-second mark).
Of course, the Flyers' last game was against a Penguins team that tried to furiously punch their way back into their first round playoff series. Down two games to the Flyers and bleeding goals as if mortally wounded, Pittsburgh fought and tackled and scrapped all game long...and still lost 8-4. Game four, possibly the finale of their once-very promising season, is Wednesday night in Philly.
One year and two months after a fight-filled February game against the Islanders, the public perception of the Penguins has flipped. Where they were once seen as the recipients (of not victims) of unwarranted Islanders aggression, the verdict on Sunday's game was that the Penguins have lost control of their composure, their sanity and their honor. Now, they're the goons. Now, Pittsburgh is the "garage league" team and a "sideshow" that demands league discipline*. Judgment was immediate, ranging from mocking to diplomatic to melancholy.
I know who I was rooting for last February 11th. I think I can see why the rest of the world was cheering on the other guys. I saw the Islanders as an underdog that had had enough and was fighting back against the snobbish and sneaky evil empire that had gotten away with murder time and again. Today I see the Flyers as a strong, tight-knit group fighting for each other against a raging mudslide of random, senseless, stupid violence.
This is very, very weird. But for the next game or two, I think I'll cope.
But don't worry. I couldn't go Philly Phan Phul-Time. I could never throw a battery at an outfielder or boo Santa Claus. I would, however, not hesitate for a second to throw batteries AT Santa Claus in much-needed retaliation for the tragic 1986 holiday disaster which caused me to re-think whether I wanted to be a part of Christmas. It's a long story, but trust me, the son of a bitch deserves it.
* - Yeah, right. The only meeting that'll be scheduled after that game will be between Mario Lemieux, Gary Bettman and a waiter at Pittsburgh's best restaurant, Chateau le Sizzler.