Friday, April 29, 2011

Flyers-Bruins Series Preview

After defeating the Buffalo Sabres in seven game, the Flyers sat home on Wednesday night, watching, waiting to see who their next opponent would be. With the Lightning shutting out the Penguins on their own ice, the Flyers knew it would be either Tampa or Boston. Of course, Nathan Horton scored a little more than five minutes into overtime to send Montreal to the golf course and set a rematch of last year’s Eastern Conference Semifinal.

The Flyers did not start out the playoffs the way they wanted, dropping the first game 1-0 despite playing some of their best hockey, but Buffalo took advantage of some horrendous goaltending to keep them in the series and give the Flyers a little run for their money. The Sabres did not deserve to win that series and Tuesday night’s game seven showed why.

The Flyers dominated every facet of the game from start to finish, playing like the team that was on top of the league for most of the season. The question is, now that the Flyers have finally woken up, can they continue to play their brand of hockey? If you’re asking me, I say yes. The Flyers know what it takes to get to the final and came only two wins short of lifting the big prize last year, and the team looks poised to make another run.

The Bruins looked to be in trouble down 2-0 in their series and heading to Montreal, but three consecutive wins, including two in Montreal, gave the Bruins new life. If it weren’t for some questionable officiating, they might have closed out the series in six. For much of that series, the Bruins seemed to allow Montreal to dictate the pace and style of play. If that happens in this series, the Bruins could be in for a long four games.

Tim Thomas looked human in the Montreal series, allowing some pretty weak goals. The Habs were the first team that heeded my advice to shoot at his legs, it’s the best way to beat him. If the Bruins want to get past the Flyers they need to get their powerplay clicking, they were the first team in the history of the NHL to win a series without scoring a single goal with the man-advantage.

Offense – The Flyers have the decided edge in this category. They have the leading scorer of the playoffs in Danny Briere (6) as well as the overall points leader among active players in Claude Giroux. If that wasn’t enough, the Flyers depth completely outmatches the Bruins with names like Versteeg, Richards, van Riemsdyk, Leino, Zherdev…the list goes on.

The Bruins big line of Horton, Lucic, Krejci have done almost nothing so far and they will be going up against a much tougher defensive corps than the Canadiens blue line. Boston has had trouble scoring since the Kessel trade and if that continues they may fall to the Flyers in the second round twice in as many years.

Defense – Again, I would have to give the edge to the Flyers in this category thanks to a big man by the name of Chris Pronger. If Pronger is 100% healthy, the Bruins should be worried, though even a 75% Pronger is still a force. That’s not all though, as Philadelphia sports perhaps the best defensive unit in the entire league. Braydon Coburn has the ability to be a big time shut down defenseman and Kimmo Timonen is one of the best in the game at the position. Pronger’s partner Matt Carle has had an excellent year quietly going about his business. Carle has benefited greatly from Pronger’s presence to turn into a very solid two way defenseman.

Then there’s the much improved third pairing featuring Andrej Meszaros who has become an elite defenseman since the trade that brought him to Philadelphia and the ever steady Sean O’Donnell who has been through it all providing valuable experience along with Pronger. Not to mention emergency seventh defenseman Danny Syvret played well in the few games he got ice time during the Buffalo series and is an ample stopgap in case anyone higher on the depth chart goes down.

 The Bruins defense is headlined by who else but Zdeno Chara, but that’s where the list stops as well. His supporting cast includes Dennis Seidenberg, Adam McQuaid, Andrew Ference, Johnny Boychuk and Tomas Kaberle. The Bruins will have to decide who they want Chara to shut down, but shutting down one line is not enough to beat the Flyers, who can get scoring from anywhere.

Goaltending – Perhaps the only category the Bruins have the advantage in, and I only give them a slight advantage. Tim Thomas set the record for best save percentage in the regular season but did so in seven less games than Dominik Hasek. Thomas is capable of stealing games and frustrating opponents but is a very beatable goaltender. His feet are not very quick and he can often be caught scrambling. At the other end of the ice, the Flyers are going with Brian Boucher for at least game one, but we all know about the Flyers goaltending woes. If Boucher can be solid, he will give the Flyers a chance to win every game, especially with the players in front of him.

Special Teams – Despite going just 5-35 (15.4%) the Flyers have the decided edge on the powerplay after the Bruins went 0-21 in their series with the Canadiens. The return of Chris Pronger has sparked the Flyers powerplay who have scored three of their powerplay goals since his return in game six.

The Flyers are notorious for their penalty killing as well, and if those units are on top of their game they make it very difficult for teams to get anything going. The Bruins penalty kill was solid but they will have to cut down on the amount of 5-on-3’s they give up. They were also burnt a number of times by the Habs powerplay with seam passes across the ice. If they don’t start getting into lanes more, they could be in for another second round exit. Again, advantage Flyers.

With all that being said, the games are decided on the ice, not on paper. If the Flyers can play the way they can, and like they did in game seven against the Sabres, they should handle the Bruins just fine, and I predict a five game win for the Flyers in this one, with home ice playing a big part in the Flyers victory. We don’t have to wait much longer as the puck drops around 3:00 PM on Saturday in what is sure to be a thrilling series either way.

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