The Flyers are halfway to the Stanley Cup. But will they beat the Canadiens and get to the Stanley Cup Finals?
Here are a few predictions from the Daily News:
As I said in a position-by-position breakdown of these two teams, I think the Flyers have the slight edge top-to-bottom. Full disclosure: I said that in both the first and second round. The Flyers clearly have more top-end talent, with Mike Richards, Danny Briere and Chris Pronger. The Conference Finals are when these types of players shine.
I do not think you can underestimate the intangibles in this series, though. No Canadian team has won the Stanley Cup since 1993, a streak that will continue if the Flyers are able to knock off the 24-time champions in Montreal. The Canadiens are carrying not just the weight of their francophone city, they are also carrying the burden of their entire country’s national pastime. The riots that have occurred in the streets there are just a small glimpse at how badly that city wants another Stanley Cup. The Canadiens will crack under pressure.
Matchup-wise, as my colleagues have duly noted below, the Canadiens will finally face a team that is willing to grind it out and play the same style that made them so successful against Washington and Pittsburgh. That gives the Flyers, who have played that way against two similar teams in the first and second rounds already, an advantage. And then, there is the mental aspect – which cannot be forgotten. It doesn’t seem like there is anything this team cannot overcome.
Flyers in 6.
The oddsmakers have made their first, tentative statement. Bodog.com has the Flyers as slight favorites against the Montreal Canadiens. Another site I saw has them essentially even. It seems fitting, as the No. 7 and No. 8 seeds collide.
The Canadiens have the better goaltender in Jaroslav Halak. The Flyers have the deeper, healthier defense, led by Chris Pronger. Those two strengths will wear away at each other all series long. But here is the Flyers' decisive advantage: more of a willingness to throw the puck into the offensive zone and go get it than either Washington or Pittsburgh showed against a Montreal team skilled at clogging the neutral zone and taking away a team's ability to play pretty hockey.
That hard-nosed, forechecking style will be the difference against a Montreal defense already strained by injury.
Flyers in 7.
While Jaroslav Halak is being hailed as a reincarnation of Patty Roy, it should be noted that the Flyers have had some success against the Canadiens young goalie. In fact, it was the Flyers who hastened Halak's development when they chased Carey Price from the 2008 playoffs and beat Halak, a surprise mid-series substitute, in the final two games of the five-game series win. They also knocked him out of a February game, though he redeemed himself by throwing a shutout in April at the Wachovia Center.
Expect a low-scoring tight series for most of the games, though there's usually a blowout sprinkled in. Also expect a Game 7 at the Wachovia Center on the Friday of Memorial Day weekend. (Fortunately, the Phillies are at Florida that night or else traffic would be a bit of a challenge.) Danny Briere gets the game-winner that night and it takes two days to restore order on the Montreal streets.
Flyers in 7.
In New Jersey and Boston, the Flyers have defeated two teams with a similar m.o. to Montreal: Play defense, convert opportunities, lean on your goaltender to make the timely save and to not cough up fat rebounds.
Montreal, on the other hand, defeated two teams drastically different than Philadelphia. Right to the end, the Capitals believed they would prevail with all their offensive weapons. Until the end, so did Pittsburgh. Neither had much of a goaltending presence.
Because the Flyers have played 12 games of the kind of hockey that this series promises to be, they should have an advantage. Is it enough to overcome this postseason’s best goaltender? The bet here is that it will, barely.
Flyers in 7.
This was a very different Flyers team when it faced its last two opponents. It's a better team now.
It was a team that, playing without goalie savior Michael Leighton, barely qualified for the playoffs against the Devils, who proved heartless and without chemistry. It was a team that, playing without injured snipers Jeff Carter and Simon Gagne, found redemption through hustle ... and the swift , brave return of Gagne.
Now, it has Gagne, Leighton, a revived Scott Hartnell, an evilly effective Danny Briere -- who has little problem against goalie Jaroslav Halak -- and Mike Richards and Chris Pronger, perhaps playing the best of anyone in the left playoffs at their positions.
Flyers in 6.
Here are our picks for the Western Conference Final:
Frank Seravalli: San Jose in 6.
Rich Hofmann: San Jose in 7.
Ed Barkowitz: Chicago in 6.
Sam Donnellon: Chicago in 7.
Marcus Hayes: Chicago in 6.