Two teams will be thrown onto the ice pit Friday night in Washington D.C., but, obviously, only one team comes out to move on to round, numéro deux.
Cue the spotlight.
Lights shine on the Washington Capitals as they skate onto the ice. Better still, lights shine on Alexander,“The Great” Ovechkin; The Capitals’ savior.
He will skate around the ice in preparation of his first big test in the NHL. He has been nothing but phenomenal this season recording a memorable 112 points. Furthermore, he scored 65, and it goes without saying that he finally has a crew to work with.
Now, let’s get that spotlight on Mike Green, this season's defenseman of all defensemen when it came to scoring goals. He blasted 18 of them into the mesh this season, leading all other defensemen.
The spotlight now catches Nicklas Backstrom firing a puck. The rookie made some arms raise in celebration all season long as he tallied 69 points, not too shabby.
Obviously, we can’t forget Sergi Federov, who could?
The guy always makes a difference in his own way. Sure, his 41 points are nothing to sweat about, but this guy couldn’t come with more playoff experience. You’ll see him warm up Friday night, the spotlight gleaming in his direction, skating smoothly behind the net.
Now, for the final jigsaw piece to a possible Cinderella dream team, the acquisition of Cristobal Huet.
The spotlight beams down on him as he prepares himself mentally on the far side of the ice. Since checking into the Washington club at the trade deadline, his record stands at 11-2.
What's even more impressive is his goals-against-average, 1.63 or his .936 save percentage. Now that is something to shake your hockey stick at. The clocks starting to strike midnight.
Burst the bubble… Now!
The orange crush awaits the home opener April 15 in Philadelphia. After finishing dead last in the standings last season, the Flyers lived up to their team motto this year—“Back with a vengeance.”
A fearless rebuilding process transformed this team into a competing flashback of the “Broad Street Bullies.”
OK, sure, the Flyers tested the limitations of aggressive hockey many, many times this season, but, when they kept the aggression at a respectable state, their fast physical play usually saw them add a notch to the win column.
Let's take a look at the Flyers' Friday-night gladiators.
A lot of them are young, a lot of them have little to no play-off experience, but a lot of them played with giant confidence this season.
Let's start with Mike Richards, a possible candidate for the “C” in coming years.
Richards poured in the points, reaching 75, and just missed the 30 goal plateau with 28. He is arguably the best two-way skater in the NHL. I happen to agree with it.
Richards is always in the right place at the right time and his 23-year-old defensive mind couldn’t be sharper. Of course, everyone expects Ovechkin to be the highlight reel in this series, and he should be. The man scores everywhere and anywhere using everything attached to him.
But it will be the plays that never make the reels that will make the difference for Philadelphia in Richards.
Cut to Jeff Carter. The man who stepped up when Philadelphia’s key players were in the injury clinic. He took that opportunity and skated hard with it.
Like Richards, the 23-year-old dished out 53 points and earned himself a lot of respect with John Stevens, Flyers' head coach, who has been under fire all season with the media suspect that he wasn’t saying much to his team about some of the cheap shots.
R.J. Umberger, 25, stole 50 points and the other 25-year-old, Scott Hartnell nabbed 43.
Wow, a young team that produces decent numbers that resulted in their Eastern Conference sixth seed. Not many are giving the boys in orange and black much hope as most predictions rest somewhere between the Capitals winning in six or seven games.
Well, hold on now, I'm missing a few other combatants.
Daniel Briere is on the IR list but is planning a quick return, and, speaking of returns, Derian Hatcher may be able to defy doctor's predictions by coming back early from a broken leg that had him set to miss the rest of the season.
The biggest key at the trade deadline for the Fly guys is Vasclav Prospal. Prospal has fit in with Briere better than a pig in a blanket. OK, bad analogy, but you get the idea.
Briere found a line mate who understands his style of play, and together they have been juggernauts.
Now, I unfortunately have to state the obvious.
The Flyers will be burned if they buy V.I.P. tickets to the sin bin for this playoff series.
One of their major problems by far is their game-to-game penalty minutes. How could a team ever expect to win if they play a man short to Ovechkin, Green, Federov, and Backstrom?
So, let's say Philadelphia keeps cool and takes minimal penalties every game, I personally believe the Flyers depth will overcome Huet’s stellar performances.
Easier said than done.
Both clubs scored a whopping total of 29 goals in only four games—Did somebody call out Ovechkin’s name?
Biron has been the Flyers go-to goalie and has seen nights where he backstopped 50-plus shots.
Ovechkin peppers more shots than most players dream of so Biron should expect nothing less. Biron is coming off back-to-back shutouts against New Jersey and Pittsburgh, a recommendable feat.
This is what the pot boils down to. Let’s start with Washington.
Washington moves on only if Ovechkin can stay hot and only, only, if Huet keeps up the dominance between the pipes.
Philadelphia wins the playoff series if, as mentioned before, they stay away from penalty trouble. Will they do it?
Time will tell, but for now, I hope they are taking extra anger management classes, i.e. Steve Downie. Most Toronto Maple Leaf fans will never forget that cheap shot to the face on Jason Blake this season. Even the great Don Cherry called him out on that one. It will be errors like that which will sink the Flying ship.
So what’s my final prediction you might ask?
Philly in seven.
Let the games begin... Friday night.
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