Imagine this: A slugger steps up to the plate in a baseball game. The defense goes into an exaggerated shift in an attempt to prevent a hit. So the batter steps out and refuses to hit until the defense goes back to its normal spots. Ridiculous, right?
That's essentially what the Flyers did Wednesday night when the Lightning, missing several regulars, sat back in its 1-3-1 (prevent) defense hoping to slow the league's top-scoring team. In protest, the Flyers took their puck and tried to go home. They skated figure eights, played with the puck and made little attempt to attack the goal.
Then they whined about the Lightning's tactic, as did the Versus announcers calling the game nationally. That outrage became hockey's hot topic across the United States and Canada on Thursday.
And somehow, the Lightning is the bad guy.
Never mind that Sabres coach Lindy Ruff estimates half the league plays a form of the 1-3-1. Never mind that Lightning coach Guy Boucher was hailed as an innovator for introducing this style to the NHL more than a year ago. Never mind the Lightning held the Flyers to a mere 15 shots, half their normal output. Never mind the Lightning won the game 2-1 in overtime.
Versus analyst (and former Flyer, by the way) Keith Jones called the Lightning's style "embarrassing,'' said Boucher "should be embarrassed,'' applauded the Flyers' work stoppage and summed up his comments by saying the Lightning should be "punished.''
Punished? Punished how? And for what? For winning? Exactly what rules were broken?
Meantime, Jones' sidekick, Mike Milbury, who thinks that the louder he talks, the more right he is, walked off the set during the second intermission in protest of the Lightning's style. (Gee, if I'd known that's what it took to get him off the air, I would've paid someone to play the 1-3-1 years ago.) Before he left, Milbury ripped into the Lightning and said, "The objective of the game is to score goals.''
Wait, isn't the objective to win the game? Milbury's definition of the game's purpose might be the reason the former coach now spends his time in a broadcast studio instead of behind a bench.
Stanley Cup-winning coach (Devils, 1995) and Hall of Famer Jacques Lemaire, often criticized for his neutral-zone trap that suffocated offenses, said, "Are we supposed to coach so we please the people? We please the people who are announcing the game? Is that a new style, or what? Do we have to please Milbury when we coach? It's the first time I hear this.''
Boucher's defense was less sarcastic but more direct: "I'm paid to win games, and our rink is full, and (GM) Steve Yzerman is happy.''
As for the Flyers, see: Yap, shut your.
For much of this season, the Lightning's 1-3-1 defense has looked like a none-3-none defense. Entering play Thursday, the Lightning was tied for 24th in the league in goals allowed, which suggests the other teams on its schedule figured out a way to score against Tampa Bay. Yet the big, bad Flyers, the Broad Street Bullies, would rather bellyache than come up with the brains to figure out an antidote and the brawn to execute it.
Maybe someday the league will have a rule outlawing the 1-3-1. But how can you blame a team for putting in a legal game plan it believes is best suited for success and then having it succeed? Isn't that the point?