They won’t come out and say it, but this is the matchup the Flyers wanted.
The Flyers learned Wednesday night that they will meet the Boston Bruins in the Eastern Conference semifinals. The Flyers would have played explosive Washington, but the Caps became the first top-seeded team to blow a three-games-to-one lead to an eighth-seed since the current playoff format started in 1994, losing a shocking 2-1 decision to Montreal on Wednesday.
And so, it’s a no-frills Flyers-Bruins series. The muckers against the grinders. It starts Saturday afternoon in Beantown, the first time the Flyers are playing in Boston since the Winter Classic at Fenway Park on Jan. 1.
Will this series become known as the Spring Classic?
Perhaps. But I think it will be a defensive struggle, a matchup that will feature more hard hits than goals. It will be a low-scoring series that won’t get a lot of style points, but WILL get one team closer to the Stanley Cup.
The Flyers, coming off an impressive quarterfinal win over New Jersey, are trying to maintain their momentum despite injuries to Jeff Carter, Simon Gagne and Ian Laperriere. For them to advance, they need their Chris Pronger-led defense and goalie Brian Boucher (1.59 goals-against average in the first round) to continue to shine.
Oh, and they need Mike Richards, Claude Giroux and Danny Briere to show their regular-season performance against Boston was a fluke. The three had zero points as the Flyers went 2-1-1 against Boston during the season.
All three forwards played well in the seventh-seeded Flyers’ stunning dismantling of the second-seeded Devils, four games to one.
Boston, seeded sixth, moved to the semifinals by beating third-seeded Buffalo _ and Ryan Miller, arguably the NHL’s best goalie _ in six games.
Like the Flyers, this is the matchup the Bruins wanted. For one, they don't have the firepower to match the Pittsburgh _ the team they would have faced if Washingtion had won. For another, they get the home-ice advantage despite being a sixth seed.
The Bruins, who should get a boost with the return of star center Marc Savard (recovered from a concussion), have struggled to score goals all season. They have lived on their Zdeno Chara-led defense and the standout goaltending of Tuukka Rask (2.18 GAA in the first round).
Because of injuries, the Flyers don’t have as much firepower as earlier in the season and, from here, look to be similar to the Bruins. The Bruins and Flyers both depend on team play and solid work on special teams.
Speaking of which….
Special teams will probably decide this series, much like they determined the quarterfinals for both teams.
The Flyers’ power play (8 for 29, 27.6 percent success rate) and penalty kill (28 for 32, 87.5 percent) were outstanding against the Devils.
Special teams also carried Boston to its playoff win. The Bruins were perfect on the PK against Buffalo, killing all 19 penalties. They were 6 for 22 (27.3 percent) on the power play.
And then there are the intangibles to consider.
The Flyers are trying to rally for Ian Laperriere, their fearless winger who had nearly 70 stitches administered, suffered a broken orbital bone, a brain bruise and a mild concussion while blocking a shot in the last round. He is expected to be sidelined for the rest of the playoffs, and the Flyers will miss his leadership and penalty-killing skills.
Will Laperriere inspire the Flyers in Round 2?
Will Pronger’s playoff experience and leadership continue to show? Will ex-Flyer Mark Recchi, who was brilliant in the upset of Buffalo, trump Pronger with HIS playoff moxie?
Stay tuned. This series has all the makings of a seven-game classic.
Pick: Flyers in seven.
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Here is the schedule: