The Skinny: The Atlantic Division Champion Philadelphia Flyers and Northeast Division Champion Boston Bruins were both pushed to the limit by the seventh seeded Buffalo Sabres and sixth seeded Montreal Canadiens respectively and will now renew acquaintances in the second round of the Eastern Conference bracket for the second straight season.
The Bruins haven’t made it out of the second round since 1992 and the Flyers are coming off an appearance in the Stanley Cup Final for the sixth time since winning back to back in 1974 and 1975. Both are major sports cities and both are desperate for that illusive Stanley Cup title in droughts totaling 75 years.
In the regular season, the two foes met four times and Boston made the Flyers say uncle taking the series 3-0-1.
Forwards: Philadelphia is rivaled by only Vancouver terms of forward depth and feature scoring from every line. With names like Claude Giroux, Mike Richards, Daniel Briere, Jeff Carter, James Van Riemsdyk, Scott Hartnell, and Ville Leino Philly is an embarrassment of riches. Include super pest Dan Carcillo, Stanley Cup Champion Kris Versteeg, Darrell Powe, and elite penalty killer Blair Betts, the Flyers have the East’s best forward crop.
Boston meanwhile isn’t a slouch either. The Bruins feature the likes of David Krejci, Patrice Bergeron, Milan Lucic, round one hero Nathan Horton, and Brad Marchand. The Bruins bottom six are pretty solid too after acquiring Chris Kelly to anchor line three and Rich Peverley. That group can do a lot of damage as well so it will be an intriguing head to head match-up with two of the East’s biggest and baddest teams locking horns. Will be interesting to see what the Flyers do without emotional leader Simon Gagne who made all the difference in the world in last year’s epic comeback and how David Krejci who was knocked out by Mike Richards last year will make a difference for Boston.
Defense: Boston made the big move to acquire Tomas Kaberle to boost its struggling powerplay by sacrificing a big part of its future dealing away Joe Colborne and a first round pick. That however, has not worked out so well in Boston’s favor as Colborne has done well playing for the AHL Marlies and Kaberle has been reduced to fifth defenseman while being moved off the first powerplay for the B’s. Because of that, the Bruins powerplay finished a gaudy 0-33 in the seven game set against Montreal.
The Bruins still do have Zdeno Chara who should get a little rest with the two day break between games and Dennis Seidenberg, Andrew Ference and Johnny Boychuk round out the defense nicely.
The Flyers also feature one of the deepest bluelines in the NHL. Led by the bruising Chris Pronger who made his full-time return in game seven, the Flyers feature three puck movers on each line with Kimmo Timonen, Matt Carle and Pronger taking up that mantle as well as three bruisers in Sean O’Donnell, Andrej Meszaros, and Braydon Coburn. That kind of versatility is that of a champion.
Pronger is one of the NHL’s most successful playoff performers in recent memory. When he joins a team, they go far. In his only season in Edmonton he got the Oilers to the Cup Finals. Then after being traded to Anaheim the next year, Pronger went to the Stanley Cup Finals, finally getting his first Cup title. Then, after being traded to the Flyers, the Flyers were back in the Cup Finals for the first time since 1996-97. With that kind of resume you’d be hard pressed to vote against the Flyers.
Goaltending: Who will start for Philadelphia? That is the biggest question. In the opening round, the Flyers used an unprecedented three goalies against the Sabres, and it was Brian Boucher who led the way, winning game seven. It will be interesting to see how long a leash Boucher is given before Sergei Bobrovsky or Michael Leighton is given another chance. If none of them work out, I wonder if the Flyers would allow the Kings to let Ronnie Hextall start for them.
Boston has Timmy Thomas, the man who sported a 2.00 goals against average and an eyebrow raising .938 save percentage, numbers reminiscent of one Dominik Hasek. In the playoffs, Thomas sits at a 2.25 goals against with a .929 save percentage, both down from his regular season totals.
Edge: Philadelphia……..just kidding. Obviously Boston.
Coaching: The Flyers Peter Laviolette is one of the NHL’s better coaches with a Stanley Cup ring on his resume as well as being the coach that led the Flyers to the Finals last year. Laviolette’s teams are aggressive on the forecheck and do not believe in hanging back which is something the fans find exciting and fits right into the Philadelphia MO.
For Boston, Claude Julien was given an extra life after the Bruins knocked off Montreal Canadiens, however this is the same man who was fired with three days left in the regular season, and insists on his team sitting back on a lead once they get it. And more often than not, it ends up burning the Bruins as evidenced by their historic collapse last season against the Flyers. Julien coached teams have never made it past the second round either, so he fits right in with Boston.
Series Outlook: The Flyers have the edge in every category except for goaltending. Now that they have Pronger back, they become one of the most feared teams in the East again, and the same team that held the Eastern Conference’s number one seed for much of the regular season. Boston has some nice pieces, but a team with Tomas Kaberle on it, coached by Claude Julien is never gonna go very far. The Bruins probably make it a series, but will be done in if their powerplay doesn’t improve and if they continually sit on a lead. Against the Flyers, you can’t do that.
Flyers in six.
Vishal Hussain has been a hockey fan since 1987 and a Devils fan since 1990. A graduate of the critically acclaimed College of Sports Media in Toronto Ontario, Vishal has actively been a fantasy player since 2000, winning his first ever Yahoo! pool and continually finishing in the top 3 each year since. He watches every game, every night through NHL Centre Ice, both online and on TV and is an excellent evaluator of fantasy players and up and coming prospects in the league. Email Coach Hussain at [email protected].