Sunday afternoon the Philadelphia Flyers wrapped up their opening round series with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 6 games. The first will not come to a close until the conclusion of Game 7 between the New York Rangers and Ottawa Senators.
The Flyers will have to wait until the conclusion of all three remaining Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series to find out who their opponents will be in the second round. In the meantime, they will be using these rare off-days to recharge their batteries and heal their wounds.
As the fifth seed in the East, the Flyers are in a peculiar position as the first round winds down. Depending on how the remaining series shake out, the Flyers have the potential of playing any one of the other six teams still alive.
After a series as brutally fun and ruthlessly entertaining as the one we just bared witness to between the Flyers and Penguins, the Flyers will need to stay focused as they head in to the second round.
No one would argue that a playoff series with the Rangers or Boston Bruins would bring out the same emotional turmoil that breeds legendary series like the one we just saw. While some fans may be salivating at the thought of a playoff series with either of these bitter rivals, the Flyers would be instant underdogs against either club.
The Flyers have had recent playoff history with the Washington Capitals and the New Jersey Devils, and a Round 2 matchup with either team could spark a currently dormant rivalry. Philadelphia matches up well against these two teams and could have great success in these series if they should become the Flyers next opponent.
It’s been nearly a decade since the Flyers met the Senators in a playoff series. The Senators would be coming off of a colossal upset of the top-seed Rangers, following what is fixing to be a classic Game 7. They would be riding a wave of momentum that no team would want to face, let alone the Flyers coming off a week-long break.
That leaves the Florida Panthers, a team that resembles the 1996 club the Flyers last faced in the playoffs in name only. Like the Senators, the panthers would be riding significant momentum thanks to winning their first playoff series since 1996. Unlike the Senators, they would be coming off a series victory over a much less-touted team in the Devils.
Certainly any team in the NHL that makes the postseason is a good hockey club, especially a team that advances beyond the first round. The Panthers would present their own unique set of challenges to the Flyers in a playoff series, but of all the teams the Flyers could meet in Round 2, the Panthers are easily the “dream” match-up.
All that said, the Flyers shouldn’t be expected to roll over the Panthers. Every playoff series in the NHL takes on a life of its own and no one can predict what will happen. After all, that’s why they play the games, right?
Breaking down the matchup, the Flyers won three of the four contests between the two teams this season. The Flyers have allowed less than two Panthers goals in 21 of their last 33 meetings and are averaging five goals for per game in this year’s playoffs.
The Panthers have shown brief scoring dry spells in their first round series with the Devils and have been shut out twice through five games. The biggest factor in this offensive inefficiency has been a problem the club has had to deal with all season long: a lack of scoring depth.
The Flyers have shown they can score in bunches, and they can get contributions from nearly everyone on their roster. The Panthers, on the other hand, have only one legitimate scoring line and only Tomas Fleischmann tallied over 25 goals and over 60 points during the regular season.
Defense was neither team's strong suit, but one would have to give the slight advantage on the blue line to the Philadelphia Flyers, if only thanks to having a veteran defense core that has been through playoff wars in years past and can draw on experience to handle the accumulating minutes that come with longer playoff runs.
Goaltending has been another problem area for both teams in the first round. Ilya Bryzgalov looked sharp at times for the Flyers and awful at others. Florida has had a revolving door in the blue paint in this postseason and may still be juggling net minders come Round 2.
Panthers did a great job last summer to bring in experienced veterans that without a doubt helped the team claim the Southeast Division. Players like Brian Campbell, Kris Versteeg, Tomas Kopecky and John Madden were all key contributors for the Chicago Blackhawks' Stanley Cup run in 2010. That also makes them players the Flyers know very well. These players are great assets for the Panthers, but they can only do so much.
The Flyers have a distinct advantage in the series in terms of experience. They are a well-seasoned playoff team. They are hungry and relentless. Most importantly, they are well led, not just on the ice and in the locker room, but behind the bench and in the front office as well.
Peter Laviolette and Kevin Dineen have done an outstanding job all season long preparing their respective teams for a run at the cup. Unfortunately, this is Dineen’s first rodeo. He still has some playoff coaching scars to earn. Laviolette has a Stanley Cup championship on his resume and a hunger to get this Flyers team back to the finals, which can push this team to unstoppable levels.
One thing we know for sure is that the Flyers will have to prepare for any possible opponent during the remainder of their week off. They can’t ask the NHL to give them a specific team to play. They can only watch and wait, but they will definitely benefit from a Eastern Conference Semi-Final matchup with the Florida Panthers.