2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs: 10 Key Players for the Penguins vs. Flyers Series

Ben Rego@@HereregoagainContributor IApril 11, 2012

2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs: 10 Key Players for the Penguins vs. Flyers Series

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    If this picture doesn't describe this series at the end, I will honestly be shocked. If you want to learn what hockey truly is, then watch this series, because you're going to see everything the game stands for and some extra.

    Both teams want the opponent's head on a stick and whoever survives this special viewing of World War II on ice will be seriously battered and bruised.

    The postseason is a brand new season. Whatever happened in the regular season does not matter now as anything is possible and any team can be hoisting the Cup at the end of the battle. These two teams have excellent offensive and defensive power and I don't see any of that slowing up in this series.'

    This isn't just a battle for the Cup, this is also bragging rights in the state of Pennsylvania. I love when two teams from the same state face off against each other, because you know that the state is divided and you either like one or the other, never both.

    This will be the sixth time these two teams have met in the playoffs and Philly has the overall advantage, owning three of the five series victories, but losing their last two meetings.

    The switch of Max Talbot to Philly and Arron Asham to Pittsburgh does not change the relationship between the teams because once you leave, you are cut off.

    It broke my heart along with many other fans when Talbot was given an absurd amount of money that he didn't deserve to pry him away from the Pitt, but he did his job for the Penguins and was one of the biggest reasons they won the Cup back in '09, but that's the past, and he'll realize that this week.

    There are going to be certain players for each team who need to step up big and if they do, then it will only make it easier to get the magic number down to 12 games. Here they are.

Ilya Bryzgalov

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    If the Broad Street Bullies are able to surpass the Penguins and move on to the next round, Bryz will be the reason. If they lose to the Penguins and they're sent packing, Bryz will be the reason.

    This series lies on his shoulders. Coming over from the Phoenix Coyotes, he started off slowly. There was a lot of speculation on whether he could survive in a city like Philly and he found himself riding the pine in the Winter Classic.

    But the net minder goes into the playoffs as one of the hottest goaltenders in the league. He was named the March player of the month after posting a 10-2-1 record with a 1.43 goals against average and a .947 save percentage.

    He led in the month of March with four shutouts and he didn't allow more than two goals in 11 straight games in the month of March as well so he picked a great time to get hot.

    This month did not come as a surprise, though, as Bryzgalov finished off his first season in Philly with a 33-16-7 record with a 2.48 goals against average and .909 save percentage. Not too shabby.

    He has proven himself as an elite goaltender, but will the goalie be able to fix his below-par record (12-13) with a few solid wins against their in-state rival? 

Marc-Andre Fleury

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    Just like Bryzgalov, Marc-Andre Fleury will also be the biggest factor for the Penguins in this series.

    We have seen him pulled in the playoffs in the past for bad games. However, we have also seen him transform into a brick wall and guide his team to eternal greatness.

    Which Fleury will we see in the playoffs?

    Fleury finished the season with a record of 42-17-4 and a 2.36 Goals against average along with a .913 save percentage in 67 appearances. Those 42 wins were second to Nashville Predators net minder Pekka Rinne, who had 43.

    At the age of 27, Flower has been in the crease for 69 Stanley Cup Playoff games, earning two trips to the Stanley Cup Final (winning in 2009). In the playoffs, he has put up a 41-28 record with a 2.52 Goals against average and .910 save percentage.

    If he can play like he did in '09 the Penguins will be a tough team to beat and will go very far in the playoffs.

    However, if he does not play well, then the Pens will have a tough time moving forward and they will have to rely on the Penguins' arsenal to take control, which can easily happen on a given day.

Claude Giroux

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    Claude Giroux had a breakout season this year, and he showed Philly that he means business. The winger put up 28 goals and assisted on 65 goals this year to give him a career-high 93 points.

    Going into the playoffs with his best season of his career will easily boost this young star's confidence, and I'm sure you'll hear his name a lot in this series as he will be all over the ice.

    In his last five games, Giroux has netted 1 goal and assisted on 6 goals.

    Giroux is known for his flashy moves and his ability to handle the puck, but he's been known to give up prime scoring opportunities to try and make the perfect pass.

    Giroux is going to need to take those shots this series to create opportunities for the bullies to score some cheap goals, because they aren't going to be easy to come by.

    If Giroux can be anything in this series, it will be a game changer because when he is on the ice, he does just that.

    No matter the score or the situation, Giroux can change the tempo of the game with just one shot, and his ability to shred through the defense is probably making Penguins defensemen sick to their stomach.

    I see Giroux having a monster series and if the Flyers advance, this guy will be the main reason.

Evgeni Malkin

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    Evgeni "Geno" Malkin is the key to the Penguins if they want to return the cup to the Steel City. I honestly think that if he does not perform to how we all know he can, then the Penguins will be playing 18 holes early this year.

    Geno has been known to take the Penguins and put them on his back. Everybody remembers the miraculous run he put the Penguins on when Captain Sidney Crosby missed 21 games with a high ankle sprain.

    Malkin was the reason the Penguins made it into the playoffs that year but he was rather quiet in the playoffs, only netting 9 goals and 10 assists in 25 postseason games which may seem good, but it is below Malkin's standards.

    The next year, though, Malkin put up 36 points in 24 games en route to hoist the coveted Stanley Cup for the first time in his career as the Pittsburgh Penguins took down the Detroit Red Wings in 7 games.

    I think the numbers alone make the case that when Malkin produces, the team responds by winning. I think Geno will have an excellent series, and if they advance, they are a force to be reckoned with.

    Geno's job for this series will be the job he's had all year: score. The Pens need him to score because when Malkin scores, the Penguins respond with wins, and it seems to boost the entire team's confidence.

    If he can bring the Malkin that we all saw in the regular season into the postseason, then I think it will be easy for the Penguins to move on to the next round.

Scott Hartnell

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    Scott Hartnell is a character to say the least, but along with that character comes an excellent addition to any team. He is a workhorse who played all 82 games this season and netted 37 goals into the twine along with assisting on 30 more helpers to give him 67 points overall.

    The thing I like about Hartnell is that when he is on the ice, his team usually scores and his plus/minus of +19 will back me up on that. He also ranked second in the league with 16 power-play goals, trailing Pittsburgh's own James Neal, who tallied 18 goals on the man advantage.

    Hartnell has been quiet lately, only scoring a goal and an assist in his last 5 games, but I'm confident that he will bounce back in the playoffs with an extra boost of adrenaline. Hartnell is already over the top every game with adrenaline, so I see him being a madman in this series.

    His main job for this series will be to try and get into the heads of the young team from Pittsburgh. I'm sure the Flyers won't be mad with a couple goals and some helpers, but as long as he stays the goon that he is, then I see his job being a success for the first round.

Sidney Crosby

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    This series is going to be Crosby's biggest test this postseason. The Flyers are out to knock his head off, and they won't stop until they do. I can already think of the cheap shots that Scott Hartnell and Wayne Simmons are dreaming of right now.

    If Sid can avoid a cheap shot or big hit that can potentially knock him out for the rest of the playoffs, then I see him having an excellent first round. He's in my opinion the best player in the league, and he's going to show you why with all the points he's going to collect in this round.

    Sid has come into the playoffs on fire, netting 4 goals and assisting on 8 goals to give him 12 points in his last 5 games and if he can duplicate that this week, then there's no doubt in my mind that the Penguins advance.

    Sid's job in this series will be to assist on as many goals as he can. Since he came back from his multiple concussions he has shown that he would rather pass than score, as he has 29 assists on the year to his 8 goals.

    If Sidney can hook up his teammates with goal-scoring opportunities, then his job will be complete and the Penguins will have a solid chance to move on.

Maxime Talbot

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    This series means more than just moving on to the next round for Max Talbot. He's facing off against the team that made his career. The team that he won the Stanley Cup for with his two goals in Game 7 back in '09, which clinched the Stanley Cup for the underdog Penguins team.

    Talbot, who now wears a new color and a new number, switched to the dark side after the Flyers financially pried him away from the team with whom he should have spent the rest of his career.

    Penguin fans aren't going to be very loving to Max when he enters into the Consol Energy Arena, a building that he once called home. Although he was a lovable guy and he won us a Stanley Cup, that will not stop the fans from showing their anger that he left to join the rival. The boos that he will hear this week will haunt him for the rest of his life.

    "Talbo" is a very gritty forward who will give you everything he has and leave everything he has on the ice. He is an outstanding leader who plays way past what his talent should be.

    His only problem is that he cannot make the red light go off often. He lacks a scoring ability but when he does score it comes in key moments.

    Max's job for this series will be to not get rattled being back at home in his first playoff series against his old team and to score some big goals which he is known to do.

    But as long as his presence is known on the ice, I think the Flyers will be okay, because everybody knows that is when magic happens.

Pascal Dupuis

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    Saying Pascal Dupuis finished the season hot would be an understatement. This high-energy player ended the season with a 17-game point streak and in his last 5 games, he has gone for 1 goal and 7 assists.

    Dupuis is entering these playoffs with a career year behind him. He finished the season with 25 goals (career high) and 34 assists (career high) for 59 points (career high) all together.

    He also joins Scott Hartnell in the group of players who never called in sick this year, as he played in all 82 games.

    Dupuis has been in beast mode lately and I don't see that getting deactivated in this upcoming matchup.

    Duper's job for this series will be to have him excel on the penalty kill like usual, because I see this series breaking records for penalty minutes.

    If the Penguins can have him out there, Philly won't score many power-play goals.

Jaromir Jagr

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    What to say about this mysterious Czech. He's a legend in Pittsburgh, where he was made famous and spent his prime in the Black and Yellow.

    He's rumored to come back to the Pitt every single year and just when everyone thinks he's going to be lacing up for the Penguins, he comes out of nowhere to sign with the rival Flyers. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention how he just randomly went missing for a little bit, too.

    In Jagr's first year back in the NHL after spending the last three years in the Czech Republic, he went on to score 19 times and assist on 35 goals for a total of 54 points in 73 games.

    In his last 5 games we have not heard much from the Russian superstar, because he only has 1 goal and 1 assist. This was not a good time for the Hall Of Famer to go cold.

    Just like Talbot, Jagr was loved in Pittsburgh and besides the few who still have a crush on him, most are sick of him. If you don't believe me, just listen to the reaction he gets in Pittsburgh this week.

    Just because you're at the end of your career doesn't make it okay to go to a rival team, and the Penguins fans will definitely show him that in this series.

    Jagr will need to give it all he has left in his tank this series. He's going to have to realize that he is not the player he used to be, and I see him with a Mark Recchi-esque series as a garbage man just creeping around the net.

    With that being said, I see Jagr being quiet this series. I think his time in the NHL is coming to a close, and this series will be a sign of what's to come.

James Neal

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    It seems like James Neal can score from anywhere on the ice. Give him the puck and the goalie's water bottle will be laying on the ice. He has come into form and seems like he is going to be an All-Star for a long time in this league if he can keep the talent he showcased this year going.

    Neal is one of the many Penguins who had a career year this year, and I'm sure I'll be saying the same thing next year. Neal accounted for 40 goals on the year and 41 assists for a total of 81 points (all three career high). In his last five games, Neal has taken the role as a sniper as he put 5 goals in the back of the twine.

    The Real Deal's job for this series will be to do what he did all season: score goals and create opportunities. If he can get over the playoff jitters quickly, then he can be a key ingredient to a Penguins advancement into the next round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

    Unfortunately, I don't have a good feeling about Neal for this series, however. I think he'll score a few goals and have an assist or two.

    But I just feel like the nerves of the young player, who does not have a lot of experience in the playoffs (7 games), will really show that it takes some seasoning before you are truly ready to excel in the playoffs.


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    This is one of the best first-round series this year, and I see it going all seven games. Every player on each team will be used for this series, and there will not be a single person who doesn't come out of this battle, scarred.

    The Penguins and the Flyers are going to go all out from when the puck drops to when the final buzzer sounds every single game, and goals are going to be hard to get because of the stellar play by both goalies.

    There are going to be multiple one-goal games and every game is going to be a classic. This series will also break a record for the most penalty minutes ever recorded in one playoff series, and Arron Asham and Wayne Simmonds will be at the top of the list.

    We're going to see top 10 plays by Malkin and Giroux and were bound to see one salute by Mario Jr. (Jagr). Big hits are going to be laid down by Joe Vitale and Scott Hartnell, and Marc-Andre Fleury and Ilya Bryzgalov will show you why they deserve the elite goalie status.

    If you love hockey, then you will watch this series because there will never be a dull moment. May the best team win, and I would like to wish the worst team an excellent year on the links.