2 New Jersey Devils vs. 7 Philadelphia Flyers
Storyline: Rivalry renewed: the last-second Flyers won the play-in and must now take on a familiar foe running out of chances to add to their dynasty, the New Jersey Devils.
Offense: In the same way that the Capitals are scoring wizards, the Devils can’t find the back of the net with precise directions and a detailed map. Bringing in Ilya Kovalchuk was expected to keep New Jersey afloat as they attempted to find goals, and for the most part, it worked.
Zach Parise shoots the puck more than most forwards in the NHL possess it during a season, scoring second place on the team with 38 goals (Kovalchuk, of course, was first with 41). New Jersey relies on gritty, hard-nosed players up the middle to pick up the slack. Brian Rolston and Jaime Langenbrunner still sport starring roles, but their more support players than team leaders at this juncture.
And while no Philadelphia Flyer mustered up 70 points this year, it didn’t stop the Flyers from lighting the lamp with several shooters on the puck. Jeff Carter’s season looked to be done when he broke his foot weeks ago, yet a steady recovery could see him escalate his play back to the top of the stat sheet in the postseason.
Behind obvious scoring threats like Mike Richards, Simon Gagne, and Danny Briere are a crop of young, talented forwards with big aspirations and bigger shots. Claude Giroux, James van Riemsdyk, and Darroll Powe round out an offense that might score from anywhere on the ice. Advantage: Philadelphia
Defense: The expression “defense wins championships” might as well be the calling card for the New Jersey Devils organization since 1995. While New Jersey doesn’t boast any top stars or standout two-way-style defenders, they manage to intimidate and infuriate opposing offenses on a nightly basis.
Andy Greene led the d-men on scoring for the Devils, a small trifle considering that he’s maybe the fourth best defender on his team behind Bryce Salvador, Colin White, and Paul Martin. The team may have parted with underrated blueline talent Johnny Oduya in the Kovalchuk deal, but they look no worse thanks to a stubborn yet effective style.
Philadelphia’s crash-and-bash defensemen aim to punish more often than please. As offensive threats to boot, it is starting to become rapidly apparent that the Flyers are one of several teams with the new hybrid style, two-way defender in their keep.
Still, Kimmo Timonen and Matt Carle are going to have their hands full if Chris Pronger incurs his yearly playoff suspension early on. Advantage: New Jersey
Goaltending: Is this even a fair fight? Perhaps the best goalie in NHL history, Martin Brodeur is trying to make fans forget about his last several playoff outings, in which he’s been quite mortal and the Devils have exited before the Eastern Conference Finals.
This year, Marty racked up his 12th 35-win season in the last 13 years (he was injured for most of the 2008-2009 season, preventing 13 consecutive years), a single feat that may never be matched in the NHL again.
Running low on options, the Flyers have snuck into the playoffs with a familiar face that wasn’t slated to be there 82 games ago. After the Ray Emery experiment failed once again and Michael Leighton was shelved for the long run, the Flyers, who had neglected to make a deal for a goalie at the deadline, were forced to turn to Brian Boucher for the entirety of the playoffs.
With less than 10 wins in over 30 appearances this year, it should come as no surprise that Philly will be shopping for another netminder, win or lose, on July 1. Advantage: New Jersey
Key Players: Chris Pronger had a surprising seven assists in six games against the Devils this year, making him Philadelphia’s key focus. New Jersey’s Patrik Elias, meanwhile, had two goals and three assists in just five games against the Flyers.
History: The Flyers and Devils have technically split their four playoff series against one another, 2-2, including a series in which the Devils were still known as the Colorado Rockies. Despite their current standings, the Flyers won the season series 5-1.
Outcome: Philadelphia has been in playoff mode for weeks now, but when comparing goaltending situations in the most serious environment, it is hard to fathom the Flyers coming out on top. Devils in 6.