Friday, April 30, 2010

Flyers vs. Bruins: Second Round Breakdown

After a loooong layoff, the Flyers are finally ready to get back to playing for the Stanley Cup. Thanks to an unprecedented series of upsets, the 7th seeded Flyers have drawn a relatively beatable opponent in the 6th seeded Boston Bruins, a team we should all be familiar with from the Winter Classic. Do the Flyers have what it takes to get past Boston and into the Eastern Conference Finals? Let's take a closer look.

Offense: With their 2.67 goals per game in the first round, the lowest of any remaining team in the playoffs, scoring isn't exactly Boston's strength. When the ancient Mark Recchi is your leading goal scorer, that's really saying something. Sure, Recchi still has a deft scoring touch, but he's 42 years old and shouldn't be the best offensive player on any team this far into the playoffs. Getting Marc Savard back should help out matters but there isn't anyone else to fear amongst the rest of the Bruin forwards. No, they aren't as bad as the Devils forwards were but it's actually pretty close.

As for the Flyers, they have lost some of their punch with Jeff Carter and Simon Gagne out of the lineup. Luckily, neither player was the biggest offensive threat for the Flyers in the first round and they have plenty of depth ready to pick up the slack. Look for Mike Richards (8 points in 5 games) and Claude Giroux (6 points in 5 games) to continue setting the pace for the attack. In the absence of Carter and Gagne, James van Riemsdyk will have to start scoring and one of the unknown forwards, like a Ville Leino or a David Laliberte, is going to have to chip in a few goals. Because of their depth and ability to score from multiple lines, the Flyers have the advantage at forward.

Defense: The two big boys and big names, Chris Pronger and Zdeno Chara, will be the focal point of this series. Each is going to be asked to shut down the top line on the opposing team and each will likely be very successful. When you start looking at the rest of the defensive units for these teams, the Bruins lack of a second shutdown pair becomes a real weakness. While the Flyers will able to send out Kimmo Timonen and Braydon Coburn to slow down Boston's second line, who will the Bruins be sending out to slow down Giroux? With former Flyer Dennis Seidenberg on the shelf, the Bruins defense looks very young and unproven. Due to the lack of a second solid pair of defenseman, the Flyers have to be given the edge on defense.

Goaltending: Before we go too crazy over how good Tuukka Rask is, let me first point out that Brian Boucher has the lowest goals against average and best save percentage of any goaltender in the playoffs. Yep, the goalie who was widely thought to be the worst in the league turned out to be the best, at least statistically. While some of Boucher's great numbers can be attributed to how terrible the Devils offense truly was, the man has to be given credit for being nearly perfect in net.

All of that said, Rask is the better goaltender. Since the Bruins are so offensively challenged, Rask has to be on his game if Boston wants to be in the game. Rask was pretty remarkable against Buffalo, stepping his play up to a whole new level while he out-dueled Ryan Miller. The Flyers are going to have some real problems getting pucks past Rask so give the Bruins the edge here.

Special Teams: Boston's penalty kill has been ridiculously good in the playoffs, killing all 19 penalties in the first round. While the Flyers power play is a few steps up from the Sabres, expect the Bruins to continue to be stingy when they are a man down. The Flyers relied on their power play to get them going against the Devils, scoring 8 of their 15 goals with the man advantage, so if the Bruins manage to keep them off the board, expect things to get ugly. As for the Flyers penalty kill, they will take quite a hit with Ian Laperriere out of the lineup as the drop from Laperriere to Darroll Powe is pretty significant. The advantage the Bruins have on special teams could be what leads them past the Flyers in the series.

With the teams pretty even on paper, this series will basically come down to whether the Flyers can solve Rask. Given that they found a way to score on Martin Brodeur, I'm thinking they can get a few past the young and relatively untested Rask and perhaps that will rattle him. Despite the injuries, despite the lack of a real goaltender and despite the fact that they barely made the playoffs, I like the Flyers to get to the Eastern Conference Finals after they beat the Bruins in 6 games. As they continue to play with house money and with the pressure completely off, the Flyers are a very dangerous team. If all goes how I think it will, we'll have another Battle of Pennsylvania in the Eastern Conference Finals. I can't wait.

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