Game Three of the Stanley Cup playoffs between the Washington Capitals and Philadelphia Flyers was disgraceful.
What occurred at wasn’t just a single event that made any one person look bad it was the culmination of events that pretty much made the National Hockey League, the Philadelphia Flyers franchise including, or most especially, the players, the Wells Fargo Center staff, the Officiating Crew for the game, and to a lesser degree the NHLOA, the city of Philadelphia and most especially the fans in attendance all looked bad.
This is not to say every Flyers fan or every player to pull on the orange and black is is bad or that it’s even fair that the select few of them have tarnished the reputation of all of those mentioned above but the reality is you are, in part, who you associate with. The whole thing was an ongoing shitshow though and apart from those who made a valiant effort to no make the evening bad were few and far between compared to those that participated or just let it happen.
The league losses on this one because of the embarrassing antics that ensued when the President’s Trophy Capitals were hosted by the Cinderella-story-esque wild-card entry Flyers who were memorializing their recently deceased founder. The potential for a great story line between two of the better known league franchises representing two of the top ten Nielsen DMAs with some of the top players in the league facing one another, playing in a city prideful of it’s championship caliber teams even when they haven’t won it all. The Caps seeking their first in the 40 year history of the franchise while the Flyers are trying to end what is a drought dating back exactly as long.
However, all of that spirited excitement was quickly forgotten in the mele that ensued.
The ending was set, technically, before the series even began.
The regular season matchup featured two regulation wins by the Capitals versus an overtime and a shoot out win for the Flyers. With three of the four games coming after the Caps were already in control of the Metro division overselling the outcomes of those games should have been tempered.
The first game, a Caps whitewashing of a Flyers club struggling to adjust to their rookie head coach early in the season, featured 60-plus hits between the two teams and fisticuffs between Michael Latta and Ryan White. Next was a tight checking but relatively cleanly played OT win for the Flyers in late January followed up less than two weeks later by another tight checking by relatively clean regulation win for the Caps. By the time the final game of the season happened in March the Flyers were desperate for standing points which resulted in another 60-plus hit affair complete with a chippy 24 minutes in mostly roughing penalties as they went on to take the low-scoring affair to a shoot out.
Both teams had players suspended during the year. The Caps AHLer-on-a-callup Sill sat for 2 on a boarding supplemental while the normally reserved and almost never sent to the sin-bin Johannson was tapped for 2 on a questionable hit. Meanwhile, the Flyer's notoriously edgy Gudas sat for three on a head check while VandeVelde was tapped for 2 on elbowing. However, in general, the Caps are a much more disciplined team overall. Philly racked up 966 PIM, forth most in the league, while the Caps were a more respectable and disciplined 20th at 753. Philly's 30 majors were tied for 7th while 12 misconducts were 3rd while the Caps came in T-17th with 23 majors with only 3 misconducts to put them at the bottom third of the league. Philly is also 9th in fights with 28 and 4 instigators while the Caps rank 22 with 19 and zero instigators.
During the regular season the Caps matched or set a number of all-time records for their performance both as a team and as individuals including never losing back-to-back games in regulation all season. The Caps built up a 14+ point lead in the division, clinched a playoffs spot in early March, the President's Trophy before anyone in the conference clinched their spot and even when they weren't playing their best hockey were the bastion of consistency in terms of outcomes. The Flyers went through fits and ebbs of streaky play and battling for a playoff spot for the entire second half of the year as the team looked to figure out who they were under a new coach during their rebuild-on-the-fly.
As the Caps coasted into the playoffs with a 2-2-2 April record after going 9-4-2 in March with some pretty middle-third of the league and lower-than-their-season average advanced stats over the final 20 games . Meanwhile the Flyer posted a 9-3-2 March followed by a 3-2-1 April record and much improved underlying stats for the final 20 games compared to their season average even if it only left them in the middle-third to close the year out.
This lead the media, both locally in Philly and nationally, as well as both old school pundits and modern stats driven guys using predictive models heavily weighted toward recency to claim the two clubs were closer matched than one might otherwise have assumed based on their records and began to raise fan expectations of the Flyers from being in a rebuilding mode and happy about making the playoffs to expecting the possibility of a first round upset of the Caps and an opportunity to face one of their other Metro rivals.
Then came game one as the Caps shut out the Flyers 2-0. Nearly 60 hits including a clean but injury provoking one between Ovechkin and Cooter. 10 special teams opportunities off of 56 penalty minutes between them including a third period marred by a Simmons-Wilson fight and several matching roughing calls to close out the game which featured a scrum that resulted in a Ryan White misconduct.
Game two picked up right where game one left off with 74 hits between the two teams. Although it was a more casual 21 minutes of penalties dispersed over 6 special teams opportunities there was quite a bit of roughing including an interesting incident by Cousins in the second and a dust up between Raffl and Wison in the closing minutes. In the end the Flyers came out 4-1 losers and down 2-0 in the series heading home.
Emotions were bound to run high in game three. For everyone.
First, the Flyers missed the playoffs the previous season and were largely expected to miss it again this season based on their rebuilding strategy. It was really big lift for both the team and their fans to have the opportunity to slip into the playoffs in the closing games of the regular season.
However, coming into their building 0-2 certainly had to feel a bit deflating. And, that was exasperated by the frustration of the expectations set upon them as mentioned earlier based on one interpretation of their final 20 or so games.
And, combine all of that with founder Ed Snider's passing and you had to know things were going to take on a special kind of intensity.
So, of course, the cliche of Philadelphia sports was out in full force immediately at the game.
During pre-game warmups there were some fan led shenanigans. While it isn't uncommon for fans to give the opposing team a hard time before the game the fact that it was so easily documented that it was being covered in real time by several news outlets before the rest of the disgracefulness even took place. Again, it's not that it is necessarily abnormal, it's that it attracted the kind of attention it did.
Then during the pre-game ceremonies rather than respect their own team's moment of silence, several fans in attendance decided to reign down cat calls. While it's one thing to be disrespectful during a memorial by chanting the rival in the building's name, it's quite another to go off the rails and begin chants taunting a rival that you aren't even playing that night. And yet, among the classless noise unceremoniously de-silencing the moment was not only profane laden shouts at the Caps as well as Holtby and Ovechkin specifically but derogatory remarks towards the Penguins (and from what I've been told the Rangers) as well.
At least it was only boos raining down for the moment.
As the game got under way things were looking up for the Flyers and their fans as they got on the scoreboard first within the first minutes of action.
A few minutes later Marcus Johannson answered back with a nice tip-in from John Carlson. The quick comeback score took some of the life out of the arena but for the most part everything was pretty much as expected.
It didn't last long though as Philadelphia showed just how unbrotherly it is when Caps Dman Brooks Orpik went down with an injury. Now, it's not as if Orpik is an angel. He has a reputation of being a big body and has played for two of the Flyer's biggest rivals in his career. So you can easily understand why some fans my be happy to see a bit of pain come his way.
Adding insult to injury was the tantamount of unsportsmanlike conduct by White as he deliberately skated by the Caps bench in order to taunt them about the hit. While White might say he didn't realize the extent of the injury at the time it was pretty obvious the hulking Orpik was down for the count at that point. Considering White's history his antics aren't surprising and didn't go unnoticed by the stadium.
Typically, the area gets pretty quiet when a guy is down on the ice though. Or, down in any sport really. As humans our collective concern for a person's health and well being should always trump that of our sport passion. These guys on the ice aren't mortal enemies and we shouldn't be advocating permanent injury. Ever.
And yet, a contingent of Flyers fans thought enough to join White to celebrate Orpik's injury. From the time Orpik remained down after the initial hit causing a stoppage in the game to the medical staff helping him off the ice it was painfully obvious they were cheering his injury. While we don't yet know exactly what the injury is and without trying to play arm chair doctor it really didn't look good so to see fans rejoicing in a guy not able to leave the ice without assistance is a sad critique on humanity, even if it almost seems like one should expect it given the very public rejoice they once showed the Cowboys' Micahel Irvin or the accusations by the NY Daily News they did the same to the Giants' Victor Cruz back in 2014, or even the coverage of it supposedly happening again during San Bradford's injury last year, or 76ers fans celebrating the injury to Joakim Noah, or Phils fans being accused of mocking Jason Werth's broken wrist,
So far there's been a litany of excuses why some fans behaved as they did. It is hard to image it was residual cheering from the intensity of the original hit when it continued on as long as it had or that it was an attempt for fans to get back into the game after the lull from being scored on that they didn't notice the injury or that it was somehow cheerful support of Orpik not requiring a stretcher as he left the ice. No, if you listen to the audio and watch the video of fans there was malicious intent behind those inappropriate cheers.
In defense of Philadelphia, none of those incidents are isolated only to Philly fans. Other franchises have fans who have on occasion done the same. It's more that it keeps happening in Philly that makes it so cliche.
Truth be told the hit itself wasn't terrible. Orpik was in an awkward position on the boards and at real speed during the game looks fairly legal. The fact it wasn't called a penalty during the game and the league didn't flag it for DOPS review after the game confirms it was most likely legal even if it could be construed as a bit reckless and unnecessary while including what's mostly likely incidental knee-to-knee contact and bit of an upward launching motion by White visible in the slow motion.
As the game wore on the intensity ramped up too. The hits piled up. The Caps scored again. This time on an absolute lazer by Ovechkin. And then the penalties started coming.
Goals for the Flyers have been hard to come by so going down 2-1 in what's dubbed as a must-win type of game for the Flyers probably didn't feel good. After the goal five were called between the two teams and both sides got away with a couple of others that the officials seemed like they just didn't know what to do with.
The period ended with the Flyers Schenn taking a late penalty negating the power play the Flyers anticipated starting the third with and this is pretty much where the wheels fell off for everyone.
The Caps scored on the Schenn penalty to start the third putting them up 3-1 on a super quirky off the boards play between Williams and Kuzy. While there's a bit of luck to the bounces in a game, that's the kind of goal that's frustrating for everyone which is why it was nice to see neither Williams or Kuzy or the rest of the Caps bench make much of a big deal over it.
The Flyers were pressing hard and playing chippy which is exactly what you'd expect them to do. Playing from behind they took back-to-back penalties to Streit and Guda who were both struggling on their coverage. The ensuing power play put the Caps up 4-1 on a beautiful Carlson slap shot. The Caps celebrated a bit more on the score but generally one would call it subdued and workmanlike in their demeanor overall.
Fans began leaving and some isolated altercations reportedly broke out in the stands between Flyers fans and some visitors in attendance. That's on the Caps fans decorum as much as it is on the Flyers if there's stuff happening in the stands and every team runs into these problems especially during big rivalry games. It's exacerbated when the home team is losing.
The Flyers chippy play turned dangerous though as Bellamare was awarded a game misconduct for a patently illegal check into the boards on the Caps Dman Orlov. It was a play born out of frustration and the Flyers propensity as a team as well as Bellamare as an individual to play on the edge.
The Flyers didn't deal well with the aftermath of the hit either. Gudas and White both picked up 10 minute misconducts for their participation fracas. Several other Flyers were lucky at that point not to pick up roughing penalties.
Meanwhile, the Caps did their best to diffuse the situation and avoid being drawn into fights which is why not a single one was awarded any penalties in the mele.
That's notable because the Caps and Flyers do have a history. Lest we not forget the Caps-Flyers brawl that featured goalie Ray Emrey mugging of Holtby (not the first goalie fight for the flyers, just ask Garth Snow or Ron Hextall about their experience) or think back to the game last season that pulled together nearly 100 minutes in penalties. For the Caps to maintain their discipline is a really big deal.
It feeds the Flyers franchise reputation though. While the franchise is long-removed from the original Broad Street Bullies one only need look at the recent past to see not much as changed with the team despite the changes in the league overall. It especially stands out when it comes to the big stage of the playoffs such as when three fights occurred in a single 2012 playoff game between the Flyers and Penguins that featured several other meles during the series along with the 2009 edition of that match that had five fights total include three in one game. In 2008 Flyer-Rangers line brawl included Orr-Cote, Howrig-Dowd & Tyutin-Downie in a who's who of gooning it up. They led the league with 77 regular season for the Flyers in 09, and were top three two more times since then breaking the 65 fight mark according to Hockeyfights.com. In 2015 the Flyers racked up four fights in a single period against the Penguins and another game with several roughing heavy near fight scrums against the Rangers in a single period. This coming from a franchise that in just over a decade ago also set the all-time brawling record when it paired off against Ottawa in March of 2004. While other teams might have a bad season or a tight rivalry that brings it out it's the consistency again that makes the stereotype so notable for the Flyers – they fight everyone, anytime they can.
Thanks to the Caps de-escalation tactics and a few smart Flyers along with the better-late-than-never work of the officials the on-ice animosity between the players calmed down pretty quickly
Fans didn't take well to any of the situation either and their response wasn't quite as easy to reign in.
There are many, many excuses for the fans actions such as general frustration with what was a must win game finding the home team down already 4-1. Maybe it was the unsubstantiated by the facts belief the refs were giving the game to the Caps by penalizing the Flyers so much. Maybe it was not understanding the circumstances leading to the three consecutive misconducts being cast on the Flyers. Maybe it was because the Capitals "refused to answer the bell" for any of the fights the Flyers were trying to invite them to, thus breaking some kind of unwritten hockey code. Maybe it was frustration with a team that seemingly could not score and was now reduced taking unnecessary penalties. Maybe it was some supposedly unrepresentatively small contingent of fans had been tailgating in the parking lot since the mid-afternoon and were obnoxiously drunk making it bad for everyone else.
Whatever the reasoning behind it not only did the fans rain down even more derogatory cheering at the Orlov injury than they did during the Orpik one but they then began throwing the commemorative bracelets they were given during the game.
That's a great way to show respect for your dearly departed owner. To show respect for the franchise. To show respect for yourselves.
There is footage of the bracelets hitting the injured Orlov and the medical staff as they worked on him.
The announcer Lou Nolan came on the PA and asked the fans to stop throwing stuff on the ice. The boos rained down louder. The bracelets kept falling. Then came the beers.
Philadelphia's Alternate Captain Wayne Simmonds was joined with Caps Captain Alex Ovechkin at center ice trying to beg the fans to stop throwing stuff. The boos rained down louder. The assorted trash kept falling and it was clear that fans were trying to get the players if they could. When they missed they inevitably where hitting other fans which just made the situation in the stands worse.
The officials, frustrated at the situation award a bench penalty against the Flyers for the actions of the fans. An exasperated Lou Nolan can be heard saying, "you've done it now" as the penalty comes up. The boos rained down louder.
Throwing stuff on the ice is a long honored tradition by the fans. When a player scores a hat trick the hats rain down on the ice. When teams win big games fans will throw stuff on the ice at the end of the game, like the seat cushions by Caps fans at last year's Winter Classic and and the infamous rats of the Florida Panthers (which were originally thrown after every goal). Some of it's funloving like Sens fans showering Hammond with hamburgers in reference to his nickname while others are game time good luck rituals like the Red Wing's octopus, the sharks of San Jose, the snakes in Arizona, the Catfish of Nashville and even for a little while a weird beef ritual involving the Oilers. Sometimes its just awesomely intentional like the annual Teddy Bear Toss.
But, there's a difference between showering the ice in celebration and doing it maliciously as Flyers fans were. It's classless considering it was a sentimental token of appreciation to the fans that they would be so disrespectful of the gesture. It's horid that they were attempting to use it as a weapon furthermore. And, that they just couldn't bring themselves to stop even when being asked in every conceivable way by the refs, the players and the stadium staff it continued.
While other teams have had unfortunate instances where the fans threw inappropriate stuff it's almost like right of passage for Philadelphia. We don't even have to go as far back as the snow balls, or the batteries, or any of the other infamous yesteryear references. In 2008 there was the stink bomb incident against the NJ Devils,
Simmonds is clearly seen mouthing words of discontent and on the bench is caught calling the fans a "fucking embarrassing” It's too early to speculate,but It's not unreasonable to think this taints his perception of the franchise. It might not quite rise to the Patrick Roy versus the Habs fans as of yet but the Flyer's franchise definitely loses in light of this. What kinds of players want to play for a franchise who's fans demonstrate that level of disrespect to their dead owner, to their own players and to the game itself? Even if none of the current players request a trade to a less barbaric fanbase it's possible it makes it more difficult to lure in free agents who have any self-respect or convince prospects this is where they want to sign in the future.
Nolan was equally as peeved calling the fans "classless" over the PA for their continued actions.
It is completely embarrassing behavior at this point by the fans and they don't stop there.
There's footage of fans tussling in the stands yet again. It's not just Flyers versus Caps fans either. There's Flyer fans getting physical with one another. Perhaps it is an attempt to quell the beers and bracelets from being thrown. Perhaps it's a negative reaction from being hit with the garbage. Perhaps it's the heightened emotions gone awry from the excessive imbibement of alcohol. Perhaps we'll hear of some other reason on the off-chance it turns out anyone was injured or arrested, even though none of the footage seems like it got quite that out of hand.
The city of Philadelphia loses because the antics of fans simply reinforced the negative stereotypes that were built up over the years about Philadelphia teams and fans in general. While it's not fair to point out all of the long ago instances of misbehavior that have lead to critiques by GQ, Sports Illustrated, the Philadelphia Inquirer and many, many others to name the city as one of the sporting world's worst one needs only to look at the recent past to be reminded Flyers fan Chris Trumbore attacking opposing player Ty Domi while he sat in the penalty box or more recently the game six fan brawl during the Flyers-Rangers series, or the 2012 incident between Flyers and Rangers fans at Geno's Cheesestakes after the Winter Classic, or the fisticuffs between fans during the Pens and Flyers fans in 2009.
It isn't limited to hockey either when you consider a drunken Phil's fan Mathew Clemmons vomitting on an 11-year old girl before assaulting police officers, or the string of fan incidents between the Phils and the Mets between 2007 & 2010 to the inter-fan mele that happened opening day this season as well as the 2002 all-out brawl between Eagles and Redskins fans, the 2013 Giants-Eagles and Chiefs-Eagles fan fights, 2014 Eagles fan-on-fan-on-fan fiasco that September as well as the Eagles-Cardinals fan fight, 2015 Cowboys-Eagles and Eagles-Panthers fan fisticuffs and the list goes on. While you can certainly find examples of this kind of stuff happening to other franchises (hello New York Jets) it's the consistency in which it continues to occur across all the Philadelphia sports.
When the chaos was eventually contained and play finally got back underway things were downright uninspired on the ice. The Flyers where hemmed in their own end on what probably felt like a never ending penalty kill. In an attempt not to run up the score and make the situation worse Caps began icing a squad of power players consisting of the team's bottom-six most of whom would never otherwise see special teams from the man-advantage side. Unfortunately for the Flyers they were just too tired, too frustrated, too unfocused and let in a goal by not-so-noted plugger Jay Beagle.
Final 6-1 lead by a Caps franchise record five Power Play goals. Ovechkin tied the franchise record for game winning goals and took sole possession of the franchise post-season points lead with his dual tallies. He moved further up on several more all-time league leader boards as well.
The Caps remained of high decorum being careful to not blame the city of Philadelphia, the Flyers franchise, the NHL or the refs for how things went down, electing to take the politically correct high road and simply condemn the actions of a few fans:
Caps forward Jason Chimera: “A lot of people come to the games that don’t want to do it. You get a few people that are just not acting right, and they cost their team. The guys are not trying to lose out there. They’re trying their best. They’re trying to win. It was one of those things that it’s unfortunate for a few fans to ruin a good moment.
Caps Alternate Captain Nicklas Backstrom: “It’s not fun to see…a few bad fans ruining it”
Capitals Coach Barry Trotz: “You never want to see that. It is what it is. I really don’t have any comment on it – anything good anyways.”
On the flip side the immediate response by some of the Flyers? Continued classlessness.
Ryan White: "Whatever. I 've Philly fans. I'd be doing it too."