Storyline: Fighting for their playoff lives just weeks earlier, the Flyers and Bruins tackled their division-winning juggernauts and will now rekindle the spirit from this year’s Winter Classic.
Offense: The words “score” and “Bruins” rarely came together in sentences this season that weren’t “The Bruins can’t score.” Boston’s game in the first round stayed primarily the same despite widespread injuries that have plagued the team nearly all season.
David Krejci rebounded from a lackluster regular season with a strong outing in six games against Buffalo, and ageless stars like Mark Recchi and Miroslav Satan proved they could still lead a team of go-getters to something relevant. And, for the first time in two years, I can safely announce that Patrice Bergeron is back to his old form.
All of these stats, however, could prove irrelevant if Boston retains one of its more consistent playmakers for the next round. Marc Savard’s season has been an abbreviated one at best, but with the potential of a return against one of the very teams that put him on the shelf, Savard has to be salivating at the opportunity to exact some revenge.
In the meantime, Philadelphia’s seemingly endless crop of young snipers went the distance against an otherwise comatose New Jersey team. Flyers forwards Claude Giroux and Daniel Briere got the jump early and often on the Devils, pummeling the net and Martin Brodeur with more offense than any Jacques Lemaire-coached team could have anticipated.
And Mike Richards was the centerpiece of this rush, netting eight points in the process. Four of his six assists came on the power play, a unit that, in total, netted eight goals over five games. And again, all this was against the legendary New Jersey Devils. Advantage: Philadelphia.
Defense: Put the other seven remaining teams on notice: Zdeno Chara isn’t afraid to play ugly, dirty, gritty hockey. Not that he ever was, but this playoff series has seen Chara kick up his mean streak to new levels, pummeling the Sabres with body checks and penalties. If you’re playing the notoriously pesky Flyers, this is a good thing.
With Chara rattling cages on the opposite end, Matt Hunwick and Johnny Boychuk are making the most of their exposure on the big stage. Both players are scoring as well as they are pinching in tight, giving top two-way defender Dennis Wideman a run for his money. This team may actually be better defensively since shipping Derek Morris back to Phoenix.
Philadelphia’s defense contained a New Jersey team that was billed to have a better offense than any other in years past. While this may not exactly have shone through, some credit will need to go to the Flyers. For example, Philadelphia rotated in Matt Carle and Braydon Coburn for more prominent roles within the organization, a duo that, when paired with comeback star Kimmo Timonen, made up for super defending in the first round.
Would it be too much to ask to write one article without mentioning Chris Pronger? I guess so. Pronger’s first round was just as stellar as his Stanley Cup trek with the then Mighty Ducks of Anaheim. He’s dirty, he’s nasty, and he’s effective. Just maybe not as effective as Zdeno Chara plans to be. Advantage: Push.
Goaltending: What do you say about the goalie match in this series? Both Tuukka Rask and Brian Boucher were their team’s respective backup plans (Boucher was, in fact, a Plan C or D). Yet after an entire season of floundering and follies, Rask and Boucher both dueled with considerably better keepers and flourished.
First, Rask stood up strong as the most consistent opening round goaltender, matching Ryan Miller every step of the way whilst also shutting down a Buffalo team that had the breakout potential to score three goals in three minutes. His 2.18 goals against average will need to stay in place if Boston’s offense continues to play like Boston’s offense.
Ranked dead last by media outlets ESPN and Sports Illustrated amongst the sixteen starting goalies of the playoffs, nobody had high expectations for Brian Boucher in the playoffs. But maybe two weeks of do-or-die games in the dusk of the regular season brought out the best in the veteran, who at one time, was best known for starting in Philly.
Boucher’s opening round marks of 1.59 and .940 in goals against average and save percentage respectively were outstanding regardless of who you’re playing against. Say what you will about the opposition, but he made the saves he needed to make.
Still, I’d rather take the complete package of Tuukka Rask and his backup plan, former Vezina front man Tim Thomas, over Brian Boucher and his backup plan…um…who? Advantage: Boston.
Key Players: For Boston, David Krejci will again need to keep up his pace against Philadelphia. He had a point a game playing against the Flyers in the regular season. If defense wins championships, then Kimmo Timonen of the Flyers will be one to watch against Boston. Timonen’s regular season two goals and one assist were tops on the team versus the Bruins.
History: The Bruins and Flyers are meeting for the first time in the playoffs in 32 years. They are currently tied at two, with Boston winning the last two playoff series. They also split the season series.
Outcome: The Flyers scoring may be Boston’s downfall, and despite their heroics during the Winter Classic, not even 200 choruses of geriatric Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” may be enough to save the Bruins for elimination. Flyers in seven.