Tale of Two Cinderellas: Philadelphia Flyers Meets Montreal Canadiens
We all know the story of Cinderella right?
She lives happily ever after with the prince.
But what would have happened if there were two Cinderellas?
I pity the prince who would have to decide.
In the case of both Cinderellas in this story, they get to decide for themselves.
The bottom two Eastern Conference seeds and the most unlikely of teams to be playing in the Conference Finals have been cast as the two Cinderellas and the fairy tale runs for both teams resume Sunday night in Philadelphia.
What the Flyers have over the Canadiens in momentum may be up to who believes in the entire team's philosophy of playing together.
The Montreal Canadiens, the last Canadian team standing in these playoffs, have come off two stunning upsets against the top-seeded Washington Capitals and the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins, both in seven games.
On the way, they upset two of the games brightest stars in Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby.
But now the past factors into how these two will play each other. There's a history here between these two clubs and it runs deep.
After a Game Seven win that ended the Penguins season, the hockey world knew they were in for a treat because it would get either a Montreal-Boston matchup, a rivalry that's roots go back over half a century, or a Montreal-Philadelphia matchup, another rivalry with similar intensity.
How the teams matchup against each other will make or break this series, as it does any series.
But this isn't just any series. This is a fluke. An anomaly. These two teams shouldn't be here, but because they believe in themselves, they are.
Here's how they stack up.
Offense: Advantage Flyers
Stacking up the Flyers and the Canadiens and looking down both rosters, the Flyers have more offensive punch on paper.
Throughout the playoffs, the Flyers have had scoring from their entire lineup, from Mike Richards, Claude Giroux, and Simon Gagne to Ville Leino, Scott Hartnell, and Daniel Carcillo.
The Flyers have a three-line attack that has an offensively dangerous player always on the hunt for a goal. Add into that mix a possibly healthy Jeff Carter returning this series and the chips are stacked in the favour of the Flyers.
On the other side, the Canadiens have the leading goal scorer in the playoffs in Mike Cammalleri, who has 12 goals through 14 games. His knack for scoring timely goals this postseason is reminiscent of many great Canadiens players. He tied the club record for most goals in a seven game series, when he notched seven against Pittsburgh.
But after Cammalleri, Brian Gionta is the only other offensive threat that has been scoring on consistent basis this postseason. Add in the occasional goals by Marc-Andre Bergeron (mostly on the power play) and timely Game Seven goals from Dominic Moore and sometimes Travis Moen and the Canadiens have many possible overdue players in the goal department.
Defense: Advantage Canadiens
This is hard because both teams have solid defensive players and systems. But the advantage goes to the Canadiens simply because of how they shut down two of the top offensive teams in the first two rounds.
The Canadiens blocked over 300 shots in the first two rounds to lead all teams in the playoffs. Though Philadelphia is next, the deciding factor was the depth of the Montreal defense versus the Philadelphia defense.
When Jaroslav Spacek was out of the lineup, the Canadiens recalled PK Subban and he has filled into the roll of top four defenseman beautifully. His poise and demeanour on the ice has helped the Canadiens, especially against Sidney Crosby in Game Six with no Hall Gill.
Even without Andrei Markov, the Canadiens defense found a way to shut down both Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby for seven games—two of the top scorers in the league. And Alex Ovechkin, Alex Semin, and Mike Green the round before that.
In Philadelphia, the defense is led by Chris Pronger, who is a wily veteran playing in his 14th straight postseason. Not only is a great leader but he's nasty to play against and he will be a factor in this series, whether offensively or defensively.
However, the question is: How will the Flyers overworked defense respond against Montreal? In Game Seven in Boston, the Flyers were down to four defensemen and the thought is are they being overworked?
With the likes of Kimmo Timonen and Matt Carle, the Flyers defense can be an offensive threat on the ice as well.
Goaltending: Advantage Canadiens
This one is a no-brainer. Montreal is in the Conference Finals on large part because of Jaroslav Halak.
Anything the Canadiens defense has let through, Halak has seemed to stop most of it. His success in elimination games is the stuff of legend. Halak's 5-0 elimination game record and .962 save percentage in those games defies the numbers set by two Montreal goaltending greats—1971's Ken Dryden and 1986 and 1993's Patrick Roy—two teams who relied heavily on their goalie.
Halak was said to be in both the Capitals and Penguins heads. A little far fetched, but Halak's brilliant play has been both timely and heroic.
At the other end, the Flyers set their hopes in Michael Leighton in goal. He posted a shared shutout with the now-injured Brian Boucher in Game Five against Boston and allowed four goals in the last two games to help the Flyers clinch the series in seven.
Leighton and Halak will both be huge factors in the series, just as Halak and Fleury and Boucher/Leighton and Rask were in the two series previous.
Coaching: Advantage Canadiens
Again, this one was close, but Jacques Martin may not have a Stanley Cup ring as Peter Laviolette does, but he out-coached both Jack Adams winner Bruce Boudreau into a fury and then defending Stanley Cup champion coach Dan Bylsma.
His defensive scheme is seeming to work better in Montreal than it did in Ottawa because he has the right mix of players who have bought into the system hook, line, and sinker.
Add to that the fact that Martin has finally won some Game Sevens in his coaching career and many may think that Martin may have a team that can get him over the "coaching hump."
Peter Laviolette has seen his squad beat a Stanley Cup champion on Jacques Lemaire in only five games and then comeback against a former Jack Adams winner in Claude Julien.
Laviolette's experience in the later stages of the playoffs will be invaluable as he is the only coach that has gone beyond this round of the playoffs of the remaining for coaches.
Series Prediction: Canadiens in seven
I know what you're thinking: Habs fan, he's calling it because he's a Habs fan.
On the contrary. I'm calling it because the Canadiens seem to be playing out of their minds this entire playoff. They've taken out two of the heavily favoured teams. Both teams they played were supposed to meet in this round. Because of the Canadiens, that didn't happen. Big momentum booster.
The Flyers came back from a 3-0 series deficit. Huge momentum booster. But what happened during the first three games? If those games told you anything, the Flyers seem to sit back at times and become complacent and let the other team in the back door and score.
Ultimately it comes down to goaltending as it should this far into the postseason. Halak has been playing more and much better than Leighton in these playoffs and if he continues his play, the Canadiens may be able to solve the defensive and rough-and-tumble Philadelphia game.
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