The autopsy isn't official or with a definitive conclusion, but the preliminary results for the cause of playoff death for the 2012 Philadelphia Flyers is simple: they faced a better team with better coaching.
As hard as it may be to admit for Flyers fans, the New Jersey Devils were faster, smarter and better coached during the Eastern Conference semifinals.
Devils coach Peter DeBoer asked his players not to get involved with after-the-whistle scrums, and they didn't. He asked his team to cut off the Flyers' normal defensive zone clearing paths, and they did. He asked them to put on a forecheck while not taking themselves out of the play and it resulted not only in defensive turnovers for the Flyers, but offensive opportunities for the Devils.
Remember the nightmare of a play when Kimmo Timonen, under pressure from New Jersey's Dave Clarkson, gave the puck back to goalie Ilya Bryzgalov, who then tried to clear it through Clarkson instead of playing it to a corner? Bryzgalov's clearing attempt bounced off Clarkson's stick and through Bryzgalov's legs for the series-winning goal on Tuesday night.
That nightmare sequence depicted everything that was wrong with the Flyers against the Devils.
Even after a loss in Game 4, Danny Briere pointed out that the Flyers would rather pass the puck to a teammate in a bad position than make the turnover themselves, and that's exactly what Timonen did on Clarkson's goal.
Simply put, the Devils played with speed and smarts and forced the Flyers into panicked decision after panicked decision. Death in the playoffs, at least preliminarily, was by asphyxiation of decision making.
Flyers coach Peter Laviolette's refusal to adjust his game strategy and tactics led directly to the poor decision making by the Flyers players. If the team learns just one thing from its playoff exit, it should learn that.
"If you want me to be honest, I've got to say they were very strong," admitted future NHL Hall of Famer Jaromir Jagr, whose big body was supposed to win battles along the boards for the team. "They were strong on the boards. I don't think they lost any battles on the boards. … I hate to say that, I hate that feeling, but they were very strong on the boards. That surprised me. They played close to each other and if somebody [made] a mistake, there was always a second guy, but they were very strong on the boards."
Everyone saw the boards battle going the Devils' way, and it's almost mind-boggling that a quality coach such as Laviolette didn't adjust his game strategy to bring more bodies down the slot in close proximity to each other, like the brand of hockey that's being played in the Western Conference playoffs.
The Devils relied on the Flyers' predictability by covering their breakout passing lanes and clearing lanes. Laviolette never adjusted.
It's one thing to say. "We're going to play our game, no matter what they do," but it's an entirely different thing to stick with that mantra five games into a series when you're getting beat at it. Remember that one definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results? That's what got the Flyers bounced from the playoffs.
So where do we go from here?
After luring Bryzgalov with a nine-year, $51-million contract last year, they can't part ways this summer. Bryz was supposed to settle down the turnstile that has been the Flyers' goaltending situation for more than 20 years. He secured the No.1 job, but only after individual performances that bounced back and forth between horrendous and marvelous.
In the playoffs, he was mediocre to good when what he really needed was to be unbelievable. He kept the Flyers in games but didn't win them any. He needs to spend some time with a sports psychologist to give a more consistent effort.
With the exceptions of the 34-year-old Briere and the 30-year-old Hartnell (who had a career year), all the forwards are younger than 27-year-old Max Talbot.
"A little more [playoff] experience is always good," Talbot said of what it will take for the Flyers to get to the next level of playoff success. "My first year in the NHL, I was playing with [Pittsburgh's Sidney] Crosbyand all these guys. We were young and it was our first year. We lost in the first round in five games against Ottawa and they went on to the Stanley Cup Finals.
"Experience is always big, and if you look in this dressing room and look at the guys who their first playoff game [was] against Pittsburgh, there's a lot of guys. Like I said, this team is going to be good for years to come."
Jagr, who was such a welcome addition during the regular season, and for parts of the opening round series win over Pittsburgh, looked every bit of his 40 years — and more — against the Devils. He indicated that he may not be coming back in the fall despite calling this the season the most fun he's had playing hockey.