(Pittsburgh, PA)—Two months ago the chances of these two franchises who love to hate one another meeting in a playoff series were somewhere less than zero. The Pens were floundering, 10 points out of the final playoff spot and showing signs of a terse relationship with coach Michael Therrien boiling over.
Then came February 15th.
Pens GM had seen enough on and off the ice and sends coach Michael Therrien packing bringing in nearly unknown Wilkes Barre coach Dan Bylsma.
He follows that in quick order with the acquisition of Chris Kunitz from Anaheim and Billy Guerin from Long Island and the fuse was lit.
The Pens went tearing off on an 18-3-4 run that propelled them back into the playoffs, past the Flyers on the last day of the season and into home ice advantage and back into the conversation about legitimate contenders.
The Flyers played just over .500 hockey and couldn't save home ice on the last day of the season against a New York Ranger team with nothing left to play for.
Of all of the first round matchups, this is the one that is liable to get the dirtiest. The fans in both cities can't stand the other (or their town for that matter). The Flyers think Pens captain Sidney Crosby whines too much and the Pens think the Flyers are more interested in after-the-whistle goonism than winning hockey games. What the fans think (and chant) can't be printed here.
As they used to say in the old tire commerical, here's where the rubber meets the road.
For the Flyers To Win
For all of their balanced scoring, the Flyers need to turn the series into a special teams duel. The Flyers power play is one of the best in the league and masterminded by former Pens sniper Joey Mullen. The penalty killing must bury a couple of shorthanded goals.
Martin Biron must steal a pair of games somewhere, somehow.
Flyer forwards are going to have to lay back in the neutral zone and pick up Pittsburgh forwards before their speed becomes an issue with Philly's defensemen.
Get scoring from third and fourth lines. A top line against top line scoring battle will be fatal for the Flyers.
For The Pens To Win:
Continue the attack.
New coach Dan Bylsma has turned the Pens loose to attack at will. It turned out to be the perfect formula for a team with thoroughbreds like Crosby, Malkin and Gonchar. The Flyer defense is vulnerable to speed.
Don't take the bait.
The Flyers are going to do to everything in their power to turn this into a power play fest. Walk away from all of the chippy stuff and just play. It worked last year.
Keep crashing the net.
Kunitz and Guerin re-introduced the Pens to the front of the net. They have to continue to dig a path there and find all of Biron's rebounds.
Marc-Andre Fleury must continue to be the the solid goaltender he was in the second half of the season. As he learned in Game Six of the finals last year bad goals can be fatal from here on out.
Fasten your seat belts and get the faint of heart to a place of safety. This one could hurt.