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Shakeup in Philly paying off

Disregard the fights, cheap shots, hair pulling, assault with deadly weapons and verbal abuse between the Flyers and Penguins. Filth doesn't define toughness in my hockey dictionary. The display Sunday in Game Three simply confirmed how much the two division rivals from Pennsylvania genuinely despise one another.

Today, let's trade felonious conduct for common sense. Philadelphia doesn't have a 3-0 series lead because it has superior talent over Pittsburgh. Philly gained control mostly because it was stronger in three critical areas: discipline, chemistry and goaltending.

Their dominance, while surprising, isn't some wild fluke.

General Manager Paul Holmgren addressed all three last June after a cold, unsentimental evaluation of his roster. The Flyers had made the playoffs four times, reached the second round three times, the conference finals twice and the Stanley Cup finals once in four years. It was a good team, yes, but not good enough.

Holmgren thought certain players had grown stale and their dressing room lacked leadership and became disjointed a year removed from the finals. He knew bold changes and more money were needed if he was going to upgrade his goaltending.

Rather than hope his problems solved themselves, he started wheeling and dealing. A week before free agency opened, he locked up goalie Ilya Bryzgalov after acquiring his rights in a previous deal. Hours later, he traded away captain Mike Richards and high-scoring center Jeff Carter.

In no time, Holmgren changed the leadership and adjusted the attitude of his team. Newcomers Wayne Simmonds, Brayden Schenn, Jakub Voracek and a first-round pick Holmgren acquired to select Sean Couturier played significant roles this year in these playoffs.

Simmonds provided a missing edge and scored 28 goals this season. Schenn overcame concussion problems, came on strong late in the year and now has five points in three playoffs games against Pittsburgh. Voracek -- who, like Simmonds, had 49 points this season -- scored in overtime to win Game One. Couturier had a hat trick in Game Two.

Holmgren didn't know for sure how the trades would work out, but he had the creativity and confidence to give it a whirl. And he kept building his team and massaging his roster as issues became evident throughout the season.

Exhibit A: Holmgren grew tired in November of getting little production from former second-round pick Andreas Nodl, so he waived him. The Flyers, who had lost three times in five games before the move, stood to attention and won their next seven. When they needed defensemen at the trade deadline, Holmgren acquired veterans Nicklas Grossman and Pavel Kubina.

The Flyers don't need to say their goal is winning the Cup. Everybody knows. It's one reason they landed star free-agent winger Jaromir Jagr.

Good luck getting them to complain about injuries. The Flyers didn't reveal their man-games lost to injuries but, by my count, they had more than 340. Captain Chris Pronger has been sidelined since Nov. 19. James van Riemsdyk has missed all but six games since Jan. 10. Blair Betts has been gone all year. Only three Philly players appeared in all 82 games this season. They dressed 11 rookies, including five in the playoffs.

And they plowed forward.

People love to hate the Flyers, but they should respect Holmgren for making an effort that trickled down to his team.

By the way, things also worked out well for the Kings. They have a 3-0 lead over Vancouver. We'll see if Philly or L.A. can win the Cup, but both are a win away from sweeping NHL giants.

It's not a coincidence.