Starting in the 2007-08 season, there was one constant on the blueline of the Philadelphia Flyers. Through three coaches, four captains and six playoff runs, Kimmo Timonen was always there, with his inimitable brand of steady, cerebral, fearless hockey. He never met a bruising power forward he couldn't slow down, a slapshot he wouldn't block, or a tough question he wouldn't answer honestly.
And tonight, fans had their chance to give Kimmo a proper farewell.
The February 27th trade to the Chicago Blackhawks helped the Flyers to restock their draft picks during a lost season, but it robbed the fans of a chance to see Timonen wear the Orange and Black one last time. Luckily, tonight's home matchup against Chicago gave the fans the opportunity to say goodbye to one of this era's most popular Flyers.
Timonen received a standing ovation before puck drop when the starting lineups were announced and got another resounding cheer following a video tribute during an early first period stoppage. And the cheers did not let up. Almost every time he touched the puck the crowd showed their appreciation, throughout the entirety of the game.
Backed by one of the more raucous crowds of a lost season, the Flyers brought their "A" game from the opening whistle. Soon after the Timonen tribute, Wayne Simmonds took advantage of multiple Chicago turnovers to bury a shot past Corey Crawford. Ryan White got a piece of a Carlo Colaiacovo shot to bring the score to 2-0, and Claude Giroux finally potted an even strength goal at home to put the game out of reach and quiet the beat writers.
But the big story tonight was Kimmo Timonen. And while a win tonight may have been fun, I suspect there will be quite a few Philadelphia fans who will adopt the Blackhawks in the playoffs, hoping that Timonen can conclude his career with a long-awaited championship. A second standing ovation at the conclusion of the game proved that.
A few more observations on tonight's game:
- It seems obvious that Timonen will eventually earn a spot in the rafters as a member of the Flyers Hall of Fame. But when? It took John LeClair and Eric Lindros both seven years after their retirements and Ron Hextall waited nine. It only took Tim Kerr one year to be enshrined, however, and Timonen seems like a similar slam dunk candidate. My guess is that he gets in before the decade ends.
- Say what you will about the drama surrounding Steve Mason and the coaching staff, but it certainly isn't affecting the goalie's play. Mason delivered another calm, controlled performance tonight, particularly excelling in his rebound control. Let's put a halt to any talk of moving one of the team's best players, okay?
- Strong game from the bottom-six forwards tonight. The Pierre-Edouard Bellemare line generated pressure throughout, and the Zac Rinaldo-Ryan White-Nick Cousins trio was even able to chip in with a goal. Somewhere in there is a really good NHL fourth line - we'll see if the Flyers can identify the dead weight and put together the useful ones for next year.
- Sean Couturier wasn't able to convert on a few top quality scoring chances tonight, but he was simply stymied by a goalie who played much better than the score would suggest. The frustration with the Flyers' young two-way center is understandable, but he's getting into these dangerous positions far more than ever before. Hopefully, next year is when the finishing touch arrives.
- While there's a good case to be made that the Flyers should split Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek to help balance the team's scoring, we would be missing out on wonderful bits of hockey like the Flyers' third goal. Voracek was able to set up Giroux for a picture-perfect deflection. It was Giroux's first even strength tally at home, so finally that storyline can be put to rest.
- After being criticized for lacking a finishing touch in his first season as a Flyer, Michael Raffl has really improved his shooting. He notched a power play goal late on a blistering wrist shot, as he continues to prove that the need for a top line LW is truly overblown. The Flyers just may already have one.
- Brayden Schenn burned Duncan Keith on a rush in the third period. You read that right. Someone get that on Youtube immediately, because it's never happening again.
- Wayne Simmonds scored his 28th of the season, but did suffer an injury late. The playoffs may be long gone, but it would still be nice to see Simmonds hit 30 goals this year. Hopefully the injury proves to be just a bruise.