Flyers-Penguins: Get ready for a long series

     The Eastern Conference series between the Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins seems too compelling to be an opening-round playoff matchup.

     But here it is. A matchup between teams that, if they play to their capabilities, are good enough to reach the Stanley Cup Finals.

   In other words, one very talented team is going to have an early playoff exit.

     But not before a long, grueling series.

    Oddsmakers have made the Flyers slight underdogs in the best-of-seven series, which gets underway Wednesday in Pittsburgh.

     Each team has two bonafide stars _ Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby for the Penguins, Jeff Carter and Mike Richards for the Flyers _ who could neutralize each other.

     The Flyers appear to have a little more firepower and get the edge on special teams.

     The Penguins look a bit stronger on defense and have a more consistent goaltender.

     They also have momentum and the home-ice advantage on their side, which is why I'm picking the Pens in seven entertaining games.

     This series will be much closer, much more dramatic than last year's conference final, won by Pittsburgh in five games.

    But the Flyers will have an early summer _ unless Marty Biron stands on his head.

   Hey, he did it in last year's first two rounds, so anything is possible.

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   The Flyers will be trying to avenge last year's conference-final loss to the Penguins.

"We kind of got a little taste from last year with these guys," defenseman Ryan Parent said after today's practice in Voorhees. "I think there's going to be a lot of fire and a lot of emotion. We have something to prove here, coming in as kind of the underdog."

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   Jared Ross will center the Flyers' fourth line Wednesday, with Darroll Powe moving to right wing and Dan Carcillo playing left wing.

   Ross, who was promoted from the AHL Phantoms, said coach John Stevens told him "not to be afraid to use my creativity, because that's my game. But at the same time, you have to be smart and make sure I'm not making any mistakes or turnovers and to be strong defensively."

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  Staying out of the penalty box and not giving the Penguins' power play many opportunities looms as the key, winger Scott Hartnell said.

"Whoever wins this series is the team that is the most disciplined," said Hartnell, who led the NHL with 54 minor penalties this season.

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   Biron said the first five or 10 minutes Wednesday night "will be like they always are when you start the playoffs. It's going to be crazy."

He said the Flyers needed to play with patience.

"You have to stay the course. This is not one game or one period or one shift where you win it all," he said. "It's a seven-game series."

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Numbers Department

In all of their playoff series, the Flyers are 38-30, the Penguins 23-21. The Flyers have an all-time 189-174 playoff record, while Pittsburgh is 124-109.

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  Breakaways. The Flyers are in the playoffs for the 13th time in the last 14 years. . ...Luca Sbisa, who returned to the Flyers after stints with Lethbridge and the Phantoms,  has lost about nine pounds since he left the club, and Stevens wants him to gain it back.

- Sam Carchidi


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