THE MORNING SKATE
Remember the great yap and pasta war during the 2004 Eastern Conference finals?
That was when Tampa Bay coach John Tortorella told Philadelphia coach Ken Hitchcock to "shut yer yap" (which soon became a popular T-shirt slogan in Philadelphia), which prompted a back-and-forth war of words that prompted Flyers GM Bob Clarke to call Tortorella "The Great Tortellini."
It was great fun. And to a certain degree it was all part of a plan on both teams' parts to create a cocoon in which their players could exist and prepare for what was a fiercely competitive and wildly entertaining playoff series that ultimately went to a seventh game.
Hitchcock, one of the most eloquent men in the game but also a man possessed of a sharp tongue, is no stranger to this. In the past he and Pat Quinn traded jabs during playoff series between the Flyers and Toronto. And there have been other shots across the proverbial bow.
But Monday night the tone and tenor of Hitchcock's profanity-spiced "advice" to Buffalo Sabres coach Lindy Ruff reflect something beyond gamesmanship -- something closer to panic and certainly embarrassment.
The Sabres hammered the Flyers 8-2 to take a hammerlock 2-0 lead on the series.
Game 1 featured one of the most devastating hits in many years when Buffalo defenseman Brian Campbell laid out Flyer rookie R.J. Umberger with a clean open-ice check that Hitchcock compared to being run over by a train. Umberger failed a baseline concussion test and missed Game 2. So did most of the rest of the Flyers who were down 5-0 by the end of the first period.
The game unraveled after that with the Flyers trying to get back at Campbell. Then there was Denis Gauthier's hit from behind on rookie Thomas Vanek that earned him a five-minute major and a game misconduct and very likely a one-game suspension from the league. Earlier, netminder Robert Esche, who often plays with only one oar in the water, attacked Derek Roy near the Flyers' bench. Esche was yanked after the first period.
Ruff suggested after the game that "the more they acted like idiots, the more we wanted to play."
When told of this characterization, Hitchcock initially said Ruff should keep such thoughts to himself.
"Well, that's Lindy's opinion," Hitchcock said during the postgame press conference. "I've seen his teams do the same thing, so, he ought to not talk about that."
Then, as he was leaving, Hitchcock suggested Ruff should "[expletive] off" and "mind his own [expletive] business."
By Game 3, there's no doubt Hitchcock will have apologized. As well he should. But unlike the past where these little verbal skirmishes have been a means to an end, a chance to let players regroup and prepare in relative peace and quiet while the media follow the red herring of a hissing match between coaches, Hitchcock's reaction Monday tells a more sobering story for the Flyers. That is, after two games in which they've been dominated in almost every aspect, it appears the once Cup hopeful Flyers are built more for the 1975 playoffs than the current ones.
-- Scott Burnside
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