Here we are. The final two in the East ready to deul for the right to head to the Stanley Cup Finals. The Philadelphia Flyers and the Pittsburgh Penguins walked different paths to get here but it's evident that both badly want to bring a title to their respective town.
The Flyers entered the post-season looking as though they would be making an early exit, having delivered a mediocre stretch run and running into the red-hot Alex Ovechkin and his Capitals. But the Flyers fought tooth and nail and Joffrey Lupul's overtime goal in Game 7 pushed them into a second round battle with the top seeded Canadiens.
Once again, everyone had basically written off the Flyers as the inferior team and expecting the Habs to advance. It was not so. The Flyers looked even hungrier, out-working and out-skating the Habs, finally delivering the fatal blow with a 5-4 victory in Game 5 in Montreal.
The Penguins entered the post season as the second seed and the Atlantic Division champs. Their first round match up with defending Eastern Conference Champion Senators turned into a miss-match as the Pens steam rolled the Sens for a four-game sweep.
In round two, many expected the Penguins to meet their match in defensively sound New York. But the Pens refused to let up at any point and jumped out to a 3-0 series lead, bringing their playoff record to 7-0, before finally dropping their first game, Game 4, to the Rangers. A tough battle and a Game 5 overtime goal later, the Pens are back in the conference finals for the first time since 2000-2001.
So heading into their battle, the question is "who comes out on top?"
Well, after the first two rounds, it will be very hard to discount the Flyers. They have shown just how badly they don't want to go home. They have out worked both opponents and have gotten timely production from R.J. Umberger and others. However, I just can't pick against the Penguins, for a few reasons:
The youngster has been great in the playoffs so far, posting an 8-1 record with a 1.76 GAA and a pair of shutouts. He will need to be strong against a Flyers attack that comes from all angles and forechecks with authority. He went toe-to-toe with Henrik Lundqvist, one of the top goaltenders in the game, and out dueled the Swede. He should be up to the task against the Flyers.
Hossa, a trade deadline acquisition from the Atlanta Thrashers, has the kind of skill set that always makes him a potential game breaking performer. He began to pick it up in the Rangers series, posting four of his five playoff goals against the Blue Shirts. If he can continue with that sort of output, the Pens should be on their way to a Finals appearance.
The Crosby/Malkin Experience
Well now. Anyone who thought this wasn't going to come up is either incredibly short sighted or incredibly foolish. Both are tied for second in the playoffs in scoring with 14 points in their nine games. The Flyers had to deal with Ovechkin in round one and couldn't really stop him (4 goals, 9 points in 7 games), so what are they to do with two mega stars staring them down? Geno and Sid should wreak havoc on poor Marty Biron and end the Flyers run.
Prediction: Penguins in six. The Pens are just too deep and too talented to falter. Even if the team as a whole doesn't play well, Geno and Sid are always there to pick up the slack.