5 Burning Questions After Start of Philadelphia Flyers' 1st-Round Matchup

Dan Fremuth@@hometownphanContributor IIIApril 24, 2014

5 Burning Questions After Start of Philadelphia Flyers' 1st-Round Matchup

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    Three games into the opening-round series between the Philadelphia Flyers and New York Rangers, the fate of each team is just as undecided as before the matchup even began.

    At times, the Rangers' speed, power-play proficiency and world-class goaltending have appeared to give them a distinct advantage in the series.

    Still, on other occasions, the physicality, offensive depth and perseverance of the Flyers have seemed to put the Orange and Black in the driver's seat.

    The bottom line, however, is that even though New York leads the series two games to one, this best-of-seven showdown is far from over.

    With the series still up for grabs, here are five burning questions currently facing the Philadelphia Flyers.

Who Starts in Goal in Game 4?

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    This has been a topic of debate in advance of each game of the series so far and remains the key question surrounding the Flyers ahead of Game 4.

    Speculation abounds that Steve Mason, Philadelphia's No. 1 netminder during the regular season, will make his first start of the series in Friday's Game 4 after Ray Emery labored through a 16-save 4-1 loss in Game 3.

    Mason dressed for the first time this postseason on Tuesday, but served as the club's backup following Emery's 31-save victory in Game 2, which leveled the series at a game apiece and snapped Philly's nine-game losing streak at Madison Square Garden.

    Mason, who sat out the first two games of the series following a net-front collision in the team's second-last regular-season outing, was healthy enough Tuesday to not only serve as Emery's backup, but also to relieve the starter for the final seven minutes and change.

    The 25-year-old goaltender wasn't really tested during his Game 3 appearance and registered just three saves on the three pedestrian shots that came his way.

    If he was healthy enough to dress and subsequently play, wouldn't it stand to reason that he is healthy enough to start?

    Regardless of Mason's status, Emery earned a right to start Tuesday after his series-tying efforts in Game 2. However, the 31-year-old netminder labored mightily in Game 3 with rebound control (again) and was caught far too deep in his goal crease on two of New York's four conversions.

    As such, the door appears open for Mason to make his first start of the series Friday evening. That is, if he's healthy.

    Prediction: Mason gets the nod in Game 4. If he’s healthy enough to dress, he’s healthy enough to play. He’s been Philly’s No. 1 netminder all season and the Flyers won’t hesitate to use him in a virtual must-win.

Will Claude Giroux Deliver Guaranteed Win in Game 4?

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    Ok, so he wasn't exactly Joe Namath and never officially used the word "guarantee."

    Still, the Philadelphia captain made a bold statement when speaking with reporters following's Tuesday's 4-1 loss in Game 3, assuring the Flyers would even the series before returning to New York for Game 5 on Sunday.

    Giroux continued by emphasizing his team needs to remain confident and that the Orange and Black have a golden opportunity at home Friday to even the series once again.

    Unfortunately, while Giroux talks the talk, he hasn't been walking the walk.

    The NHL's third-leading scorer during the regular season has only two assists through the series' first three games and has managed zero goals and just four total points now in seven head-to-head meetings with the Rangers this season.

    What's more, the Hearst, Ontario, native didn't record a shot on goal in either of the series' two opening games in New York and has just two shots in four trips to Madison Square Garden this year.

    Giroux is a passionate performer who is more than capable of taking over a playoff game. Just ask Sidney Crosby and the 2012 Pittsburgh Penguins.

    Philadelphia's captain has made his claim for Friday's Game 5. Now he needs to deliver.

    Prediction: Yes. Well, sort of. The Flyers will find a way to win Game 4. Giroux may even find the back of the net, but he won't be dominant.

Are the Flyers Capable of Playing a Disciplined Game?

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    The Flyers were the most penalized team in the league during the regular season and that undisciplined style of play has carried over into the postseason.

    After averaging a league-high 14.4 penalty minutes per game during the regular year, the Orange and Black are averaging 14 minutes in penalties through the team's first three playoff outings.

    To make matters worse, the Flyers have committed the fifth-most minor penalties (20) in the postseason. The teams who have committed more infractions have all played four games.

    For a team that continues to emphasize a need to stay out of the penalty box, Philadelphia just can't seem to help itself.

    In Game 1, Brayden Schenn took a completely unnecessary high-sticking penalty which negated a would-be Flyers power play.

    Philly then closed the series opener with five consecutive minors highlighted by a crippling high-sticking double minor from Jason Akeson, which opened the door for the Rangers to net a pair of goals just 47 seconds apart.

    In Game 2, Wayne Simmonds took a holding penalty just 64 seconds into the contest followed by a completely superfluous roughing minor by Sean Couturier, which produced Benoit Pouliot's power-play conversion and an early 2-0 advantage for the Blueshirts.

    In Game 3, Simmonds opened the game with another stick penalty (high-sticking) just five-and-a-half minutes into the contest.

    The Flyers have been whistled for the game's first infraction in each of the first three games of the series, with each of those penalties coming no later than five minutes and 35 seconds into the first period.

    Prediction: No. The Flyers play an in-your-face style of game and haven't displayed the maturity to avoid crossing the line yet. There's no reason to believe that changes in the coming week.

Can Philadelphia's Power Play Solve New York's Penalty Kill?

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    If the brief history of this series is any indication, the Flyers must convert on the power play if they are to have any chance of advancing past the Rangers.

    In two losses, Philadelphia's man advantage is 0-for-6, including a discouraging 0-for-5 performance at home in Tuesday's 4-1 setback. Meanwhile, in their only triumph of the series so far, the Flyers' power play went 2-for-3 in Game 2 at Madison Square Garden.

    All told, Philly's man advantage is just 2-for-9 this postseason, with one of those two conversions deposited into an empty net.

    The Flyers' power play was a complete non-factor in Game 1 and failed to generate much in the way of genuine pressure in Game 3 despite a handful of opportunities.

    A big part of Philadelphia's struggles on the man advantage Tuesday was a direct result of a tremendous effort by New York to clog shooting lanes.

    The Flyers couldn't negotiate the puck into the middle and were left with point shots that simply couldn't get through a shot-blocking effort by the Rangers which produced nearly as many blocked shots in one game (28) as they did in the opening two games of the series.

    Power-play chances are 16-9 in favor of New York through the first three games of the series, so it's of paramount importance for the Flyers to take advantage of the limited man-advantage opportunities afforded to them.

    Prediction: Yes. Power play-chances will start to even out as the series gets even chippier and the likes of Giroux, Simmonds, Jake Voracek and company are simply too good to keep down forever.

Can the Flyers Win at Least 1 More Game in New York?

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    The Stanley Cup playoffs are full of uncertainties.

    After their Game 3 loss at home, though, one thing is certain for the Flyers: They must find a way to win at least one more game at Madison Square Garden if they are to advance to the second round.

    One of the biggest storylines entering the series was Philadelphia's eight-game losing streak at MSG dating back to February of 2011. That streak swelled to nine with a 4-1 loss in Game 1, but was halted by the Flyers' come-from-behind 4-2 triumph in Game 2.

    Still, until that series-tying victory on Sunday, it had been 1,153 days in between Philly wins in New York.

    The Flyers have been outscored 37-14 over their last 10 trips to Madison Square Garden and have managed the game's opening goal just once during that 10-game stretch. Philadelphia has also been outshot in six of its last 10 trips to Madison Square Garden.

    Be it at MSG or the Wells Fargo Center, the rink is still 200 feet long by 85 feet wide. Meanwhile, the nets are still four feet by six feet.

    The bottom line is that the logistics of winning are the same in every NHL arena. The Flyers simply must play their game for a full 60 minutes and this team can win anywhere.

    Prediction: Yes. The streak is over so any sort of psychological impact should be gone. What's more, home ice advantage in the Stanley Cup Playoffs is nice but it guarantees little this time of year.