Saturday's game in Pittsburgh actually might be sort of awkward. We all know it's a playoff preview between the Philadelphia Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins, and on the heels of last weekend's game between the two teams, we'd expect the energy level to be as high as the hatred level.
But at the same time, the game means absolutely nothing. The playoffs were determined last night thanks to the Penguins' win over the utterly-worthless New York Rangers, and with the Flyers' win over Buffalo, there's no chance the Devils can catch them for the No. 5 seed. The Flyers are locked into the fifth spot, the Pens are locked into the fourth spot and the Devils are the sixth seed, regardless of what happens on the season's final day.
That allows each team to ask the important question: Should we rest some of our key players? Peter Laviolette says no, but that comes off as sort of stubborn, doesn't it?
We've already learned that injury is possible when the Penguins meet divisional rivals. Pittsburgh took out two key Flyers on Sunday, and on Thursday, they took out Derek Stepan of the New York Rangers with an ugly knee-on-knee hit. Whether this is all coincidence or not (we'll leave that up to you), the danger is very real.
Further reading: John Tortorella calls out Penguins after knee-on-knee hit
Of course, the Flyers can't sit everybody. Players have to go out and play the game, but here's a list of guys I wouldn't hesitate to rest on Saturday:
- Ilya Bryzgalov: He's just coming off of an injury, and while the team has assured us that he's fine, there's not a single reason to risk further injury. There's always a chance, and in a game that means absolutely nothing, there's no reason to take that risk. Let him rest. He's played a lot of hockey lately anyway, and I hear Sergei Bobrovsky is pretty good at CONSOL Energy Center.
(By the way, resting him because you're worried about his confidence heading into the postseason -- an implication that one single game could derail that confidence, as some also asserted during Tuesday's game vs. the Rangers -- doesn't seem to make much logical sense. If one game this close to the playoffs can truly knock the NHL's March Player of the Month off mentally, we have much bigger questions to address than whether or not to rest players in Game 82.)
- Claude Giroux: Remember that video of Evgeni Malkin punching G in the back of the head behind the play on Sunday? Remember that time he had a concussion earlier this year? Yeah. He's a target. Bring an extra nice suit on Saturday, Claude.
- Kimmo Timonen: Dude has ice on after every single game. He's been injured for basically his entire Flyers career. His Ironman streak ended last month. There is no reason to let him play Saturday. Give him a week of rest.
- Brayden Schenn: We'll have to ignore the fact that Sidney Crosby was the one who initiated the little tiff between he and Schenn in the third period of Sunday's game. Thanks to media coverage and the belly-aching of Penguins fans everywhere, all anybody remembers is that Schenn was the one who cross-checked Crosby in the back after that play. Never mind the flop or the love-tap: Schenn hit No. 87, and there's no doubt the Penguins are going to be out for blood Sunday.
Don't let it happen. Sit Schenn and make the Penguins do something stupid in Game 1 when it matters if they truly want some sort of revenge for the hit.
The Flyers would still have enough personnel to ice a roster, even after sitting these three players: Sergei Bobrovsky starts in goal, Bryzgalov takes it all in from the bench. Giroux, Timonen and Schenn, meanwhile, can survey the situation from the press box. It's a new building out there in Pittsburgh, so they'll be nice and comfortable.
A few call-ups would be necessary. One defenseman and two forwards would need to be called up from the Phantoms, and sure, that would suck for Adirondack as they try to make a playoff push. But let's not kid ourselves here. There's a Stanley Cup to win, and squeaking into the Calder Cup Playoffs does not take priority. (Sorry, Glens Falls. Love youse guys either way.)
I'd recall Ben Holmstrom and Harry Zolnierczyk up front and Erik Gustafsson on defense, giving the Flyers the necessary 18 players to ice a roster. The only potential problem would be the so-called Four Recall Rule, which stipulates that a team can only make four recalls in the time between the trade deadline and the end of the regular season. I believe -- somebody can correct me if I'm wrong -- that the Flyers are at or near that limit, and thus this glorious plan to rest players could be thwarted.
But there's a simple work-around in which this organization has quite a bit of experience: Lie.
Under emergency conditions, the Flyers can basically call up whoever they need. So it's simple: Giroux has a headache, Schenn's wrist doesn't feel right and Timonen ... well, you don't have to fake that part. Teams do this all the time for all kinds of reasons, like when the Sabres claimed Ryan Miller had a concussion in an attempt to get Milan Lucic suspended. (That's a little extreme, but you get the point.)
Maybe it's not that honorable, but I'd rather swallow some pride and fake an injury or two than potentially lose another valuable player in what could be a heated game against the very rival we're set to see in the postseason next week.