Flip-flopping more often than a fish out of water or a goaltender out of position, Philadelphia Flyer Coach Terry Murray will go back to goalie Ron Hextall tonight in an effort to keep the Detroit Red Wings from turning the Stanley Cup finals into a rout.
In the latest of a bizarre series of goaltending switches, lineup changes and altered line combinations, Murray said Wednesday he will start Hextall “for the duration. . . . We’re going to settle it down.” But the duration will be short unless Hextall improves on the performances he and Garth Snow have delivered--and unless the Flyers’ defense tightens and offense improves its output of one even-strength goal in two games.
Hextall started the Cup opener, a 4-2 loss last Saturday. After Murray publicly chided Hextall for giving up a demoralizing 60-foot goal to Steve Yzerman in the first minute of the third period, he went to Snow on a gut feeling. The next feeling in his gut might be an ulcer. Snow failed in the clutch, yielding a soft 50-foot goal by Kirk Maltby after the Flyers had clawed back to tie the score. The Red Wings scored an insurance goal on a two-on-one break in the third period for another 4-2 win to take a 2-0 series lead back to Joe Louis Arena, where they are 7-1 in the playoffs.
Snow became the Flyers’ playoff starter after Hextall faltered late in the season. Snow started every game of their first-round victory over Pittsburgh and the first four against Buffalo before a 5-4 overtime loss spurred Murray to start Hextall in the fifth and final game. Murray went back to Snow in Games 1 and 2 of the Eastern Conference finals against the New York Rangers, but reverted to Hextall after a horrible outing by Snow in the Flyers’ 5-4 loss in Game 2. Hextall finished that series.
With the situation growing dire--only two teams have rallied to win the Cup after losing the first two games at home--Murray is putting the Flyers’ fate back in Hextall’s hands.
“Why? To win games. That’s as plain and simple as I can say it,” Murray said. “Going back over the year, we got great goaltending from both our goalies, and we got great goaltending in the playoffs. . . . I don’t have any regrets [over his goaltending choices]. Snowy has played very well for us. He played very well against Pittsburgh and Buffalo. If the situation was that he hadn’t played any playoff games, that would be different.
“We’re down two games. Hexy’s playing and we have to go into their building and win.”
In another possible change, defenseman Paul Coffey is questionable because of a concussion he sustained when he was hit by Detroit’s Darren McCarty late in Tuesday’s game. That occurred after the many defensive gaffes Coffey committed to push his plus/minus ratio for the series to minus-five.
Coffey didn’t accompany the team to Detroit but is scheduled to undergo tests today in hopes of being cleared to play. If not, he would be replaced by Michel Petit, who was benched before the playoffs, played one game against the Rangers and was benched again after a foolish penalty in the third game left the Flyers short-handed for four minutes. The Flyers lost defenseman Petr Svoboda last Saturday because of a broken bone in his foot.
Hextall said he believes the Flyers can overcome the adversity of injuries and being on enemy ice.
“I’m extremely happy to have an opportunity to play again,” said Hextall, who is 4-1 with a 2.58 goals-against average and .904 save percentage in the playoffs. “We’re down, 2-0, but we’re excited about where we are. Being in Detroit is going to help us. We’re going to play a simpler game.”
Murray again said the Flyers must forecheck more persistently and eliminate giveaways. “We feel after two games, we’ve given up the two games,” he said. “Detroit has not come out and beat us. We’re the ones that made the bad decisions and the turnovers.”
The Red Wings insisted they’re more concerned about themselves than about the opposing goalies and are wary of the Flyers’ 6-1 playoff road record. “We know we have to be ready,” Detroit defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom said. “I think we can play better.”
And there’s the difference. They can improve after winning the first two games, but the Flyers must improve or face an 0-3 deficit. Only the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs have overcome that deficit in the finals.
“I think our hockey club is very well prepared,” said goalie Mike Vernon, who is one victory from triggering a clause in his contract that would give him a $2.3-million contract next season.
Former Buffalo defenseman Jim Schoenfeld, fired by the Washington Capitals as their coach on Tuesday, is considered a strong choice to become the Sabres’ general manager, and former Boston Bruins forward and coach Terry O’Reilly has interviewed for the Buffalo coaching job, which could become vacated by Ted Nolan.