The teams met six times during the regular season with each team accumulating 21 goals and ending the series 2-2-2, with three games being decided by one goal.
They both won 20 games on the road, have 264 goals for the season, and ended up with 99 points to go into the playoffs. Similarities, similarities, similarities.
The beginning of the season was rough at best for both teams. We all know how the Michel Therrien era ended on Feb. 15, and we also know that Philadelphia started out the season by losing their first six games one way or another.
Thankfully for Flyers fans, things turned around, dramatically, with the team winning 11 of their next 17 games, with Carter, Gagne, Richards, and Hartnell all handing in a minimum of 30 goals each by the end of the season.
In the meantime, Pittsburgh was still pre-Bylsma. Malkin handed in 23 points in 12 games in November, but Fleury went MIA from Nov. 15 to Dec. 18, nursing a hurt groin.
What will be the difference between these two teams? In this case, I would have to say goalkeeping.
Martin Biron started the season out by losing his first three games with 13 goals against. His first start being a disaster, with four goals against in 16:13 of play when he was mercifully pulled.
Redemption finally did come and he ended up with 14 games of four or more goals against, winning 11 of his last 20 games.
Fleury handed in 17 games with four or more goals against, however, winning 14 of his last 20 games.
Fleury also ended the regular season 2.67 GAA and Biron handed in 2.76 GAA, however he has the better save percentage at .915 compared to .912 for Fleury.
This one is a close to call as the other areas, but I am going to give Fleury the edge on this one.
It took the Pens a while to get it going and fans looked on as they repeatedly were plagued by the third period let down as exemplified in their Oct. 14, 2008, matchup against the Flyers when they gave up a two goal lead in less than two minutes at the end of the second period.
The Pens took that game in overtime, but fans would be reacquainted with a third period letdown time and again.
After the Dec. 13 loss to Philadelphia, Sidney Crosby summed up what some fans were thinking, "We obviously wanted a better effort. We should always be ready for these games."
Fans were questioning that exact effort.
I have to confess, I am almost as surprised to see the Pens in fourth as I am to see the Blues in sixth. Frankly, even with the Bylsma improved team, I am still not convinced we will see the Pens or the Flyers in the final.
How can one compare or determine who will win the playoff series?
One thing to note is that Philadelphia has slowed down and Pittsburgh has gained momentum, but still I am skeptical.
A quick look at Philadelphia gives us four players with 30 or more goals with 140 goals combined (Carter 46, Gagne 34, Richards 30, Hartnell 30) and Pittsburgh gives us two players with 30 or more goals, (Malkin 35, Crosby 35).
Philadelphia has four players with 60 or points while Pittsburgh has two.
I give an edge to the even distribution of goals on a team verses two players who do it all. My primary reason is simple: Malkin and Crosby cannot play every shift, their teammates will have to step up.
That is why I like guys like Maxime Talbot or Jordon Staal. When it matters, these guys are there.
Neither of them are a powerhouse (yet), but both have surprised me at the right moments.
Remember Staal’s hat trick against Detroit on Nov. 11, 2008, all three points in the third period?
One thing you can count on is that this division rival will be passionate both on the ice and in the stands.
Fans of the sport love this matchup, and I predict that it will be one of the best matchups of the playoffs and perhaps the best overall.
Score wise? It will be tight. I do not expect any lopsided or blowout games. I hope Malkin goes from assist man to goal maker, Sid too. You cannot win without goals.
One thing for sure, Hartnell’s beard will match his hair and he may end up looking like Rubeus Hagrid from the Harry Potter series if the Flyers go far.
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