Flyers beat thuggish Penguins, prove good guys can finish first

The Flyers did more than defy the odds when they ousted Sidney Crosby and his pack of Pittsburgh Penguin weasels this past Sunday, they righted a wrong. The good guys won. For once, virtue triumphed over evil.

And the best part was watching Crosby plummet to the ice in the first few seconds of Game 6, the victim of a check by Claude Giroux that delivered a clear message to a Pittsburgh team favored to win the Stanley Cup. Giroux’s wrist shot past goalie Marc-Andre Fleury seconds later punctuated the point. Not today, Penguins. Not this season.

It would be so easy to spend this entire column crowing over the many unexpected performances by these surprising Flyers — the exceptional work of seven different rookies, the clutch scoring of Danny Briere, the amazing success of the power play or the single-minded efforts of the incomparable Giroux. But I’ll leave those testimonials to writers far more suited to that sort of thing.

What I want to bask in is the demise of a contemptible group of star players who acted like bullies — until they got a much-deserved punch in the mouth. The Penguins are exactly where they belong, home, their championship dream in tatters. They may have Stanley Cup talent, but they are strictly bottom-feeders when it comes to character.

If Crosby is indeed the face of the NHL these days, then the sport should find a good plastic surgeon. He is a crybaby on the ice and a brat off it. Long after the outcome of this series is forgotten, his embarrassing response when asked why he mindlessly swept Jakub Voracek’s glove down the ice in Game 3 will remain etched in our memories.

“I don’t like him,” Crosby said. “I don’t like anybody on that team.”

And then there was the classless response by James Neal to the 8-5 trouncing in Game 3, a dual cheap-shot shift that earned him a one-game suspension and the contempt of Philadelphia forever. First, he head-hunted Sean Couturier with an illegal check, and then he swung an elbow at Giroux’s cranium.

This collection of social misfits was led by Dan Bylsma, a coach who tried to thug up a meeting between the teams just before the playoffs, to no avail. When Bylsma and his worms oozed out to a 10-3 lead in Game 4, the coach thought it would be a sweet gesture to call a timeout in the final moments. And then, even after his team was officially dead, Bylsma said he couldn’t bring himself to wish the Flyers good luck.

Well, in the end, the Penguins got what was coming to them, didn’t they? Crosby can go home now, a squawking jackal right to the end. Neal can find out just how sore a loser he really is. And Bylsma can call a five-month timeout until he begins screwing up another season.

The Flyers beat the Penguins. All is right with the world. The good guys won.

Sorry Charlie: Manuel wrong skipper for Phils

Charlie Manuel is many things to many people. He is charming, in a homespun country way. He is endearing, a quirky old guy just like Gramps. And he is even entertaining, with his folksy wisdom delivered in a halting style. But the truth behind his lovable veneer is hard for people to accept. He is a horrendous game manager.

In fact, I can’t recall a baseball lifer like Manuel who was worse at reacting to unique situations with creative solutions. If it’s not already in his dog-eared “Managing for Dummies” book, don’t expect Manuel to figure it out.

The latest example of his bone-headed strategy came last week in a brutal loss to San Francisco, when the skipper kept an ancient Jim Thome up at the plate to face a tough left-hander, Javier Lopez, needing merely to make contact to give the Phillies a lead. Thome struck out — of course — and the Giants prevailed soon thereafter.

Eventually, Philadelphia is going to have to accept the reality of a deteriorating situation. Manuel may be a maestro of personalities in a clubhouse, but he is no master manipulator of personnel on the field. And his shortcomings are going to become increasingly apparent on a weak-hitting team that requires a mind in the dugout to manufacture runs.

The debate over how good a manager Manuel really is will continue long beyond his tenure here, but one issue will soon become painfully clear even to his loudest defenders. He is the wrong manager for this team, especially this year.

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