Here we are again. Last year the Flyers made history after coming back from a 3-0 series deficit to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals. Tomorrow at 3 PM, another series between the Flyers and Bruins will start in Philadelphia with both teams coming off of hard-fought seven game series in the first round. Both of them have questions marks surrounding some of their games, and the past two years have provided some hard-hitting and entertaining hockey between these two teams. What’s going to happen this time around?
You can bet your bottom dollar that this series will be just as physical and nasty as the Buffalo series, if not more. Boston just defeated their arch rival the Montreal Canadiens, so they have to be feeling good. But not too good, because even though last year is history (literally), the collapse is sitting well in Boston’s minds. The good thing for the Flyers is that the psyche of the team might go down if they can jump ahead in the series early. The bad thing is, they’re going to want revenge for last year’s playoffs. Both teams are strong defensively and have histories of playing old-time, bruiser style hockey. This rivalry was re-ignited last year during the Winter Classic and ensuing playoff series, so we’re in for a good one this round. Here are my keys to this series:
Like every preview I’ve ever written on here, playoff hockey ALWAYS comes down to goaltending. Look how much trouble the Flyers got themselves in after two piss poor outings by Brian Boucher and Michael Leighton and the consistency (until game 7) of Ryan Miller on the other end. Boston has another talented American goalie in Tim Thomas and a great back-up option in Tuuka Rask. The Flyers have grizzled playoff veteran Brian Boucher and rookie Sergei Bobrovsky. The edge has to go to Boston here. Thomas is a perennial Vezina candidate (usually) and can never be counted out of a play. His unorthodox style makes him unpredictable, and can dive across the crease with the best of them. His play is eerily reminiscent of Dominik Hasek’s saves that we were all used to seeing in the playoffs a little over 10 years ago, but let’s hope we can crack him.
Like Miller, however, Thomas is beatable, and the Flyers need to do the things that made them so successful against Miller last round and a hot goalie like Halak last year. Get to the dirty areas, create traffic, and SHOOT the puck ON NET. With as much talent as the Flyers have, there is no reason to score a few on Thomas. When teams try to get too fancy, they can be overtaken by a solid defense and great goaltending. Think to how the Habs beat the high-octane offenses of Pittsburgh and Washington last year. Limiting their chances and relying on Halak, they snuck into the Eastern Conference Finals before the Flyers got in Halak’s face and finished it in five.
The other side of the coin in playoff hockey is special teams. When you get a chance on the powerplay, you have to bury it. This one should be interesting considering the Flyers’ powerplay struggles have been well noted this year, but they seemed to get some momentum with the return of Chris Pronger in Game 6. The Bruins have not scored yet on their powerplay in 21 opportunities. If they can right that ship, they can be dangerous. They’ve let up six goals in 27 times shorthanded, while the Flyers have let up seven in 31 penalty kill situations. Pretty even on that front, and not surprising considering both teams have strong blue lines and some pretty good defensive forwards.
The Flyers win here, but it can go either way once 3 PM on Saturday rolls around. Boston will be good at blocking shots as usual, but if they can continue to build on the successes of the powerplay from their past two games, I think they can get a few past Thomas. It’d be a crime to see another series go by with the Flyers missing opportunities on the man advantage.
War of Attrition
Both teams finished a very physical seven game series in the first round. There might be some sore/tired bodies out there by the time game 4 comes around, and the team who can fight past the mental and physical fatigue of the NHL playoffs are usually the ones who win. I can’t say it enough, this series is going to be very entertaining for hockey fans. Two of the biggest goofy looking tough guys in hockey, Zdeno Chara and Chris Pronger, will be leading their teams’ defenses in a hard-hitting affair that promises some bad blood. Everyone is hurt this time of year, but the team who can overcome and be mentally tough can play their game and be victorious.
Two players on each team have some penance this series. Milan Lucic, the Bruins’ leading scorer this season, has yet to score a goal this playoffs. The same is for Flyers’ captain Mike Richards who has not lit the lamp yet, but has contributed in other ways with five assists and strong defensive play. Both players will have to answer the call of their demanding fan bases this series. Let’s see who can strike first. These will be two players to look for in this round.
Last round I predicted that JVR would be an impact player, and I was pretty correct on that one if I do say so myself… But this round I think there will be a few contributors, mainly JVR, Giroux, and I think Richards will finally turn it on. However, my main pick this series is Danny Briere. Danny B always goes wild in the playoffs, and he lit up Rask last year. I believe he will be getting some key goals and help us win this series.
I guess I always feel safe predicting the Flyers in 6. I always have since I started this blog, and I guess it’s a superstitious thing. If I predict the Flyers in 5, I feel too cocky and that the hockey gods will punish my team. If it were another team, I could see the Flyers in 5. But this is Boston, and both teams have great defense with Boston having better goaltending and us better offense. I would not be surprised to see this go another seven games. But I’ll keep to what I know. Flyers in 6.
I just got tickets for the game tomorrow, so I’m excited. My first playoff game since Flyers-Habs Game 4 in 2008. Tomorrow should be fun. Go Flyers!