Five Reasons Not to Be Surprised at the Eastern Conference Finals
All I've heard these playoffs is how surprising it is to see the Montreal Canadiens play the Philadelphia Flyers in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Jaroslav Halak has stoned two top teams in the East.
Philly has rallied to beat the Boston Bruins after being 3-0 down.
I can see why they are surprised seeing where both teams came from.
On the flipside, I don't fully believe it's such a surprising story.
And here are five reasons why.
1. Teams Get Hot in the Playoffs
As the Boston Bruins found out, teams can get hot at the right times.
And the Philadelphia Flyers showed them how hot teams can get.
The Flyers rattled off four straight wins, with the turning point being Simon Gagne's game winning goal in overtime in Game Four.
Not only were the Flyers hot, they were so hot they came back from 3-0 down in Game Seven to become only the third team do rally from that deficit in a series.
And now the Flyers have taken that streak against Montreal in Games One and Two.
In Montreal, the Canadiens showed the President Trophy winning Washington Capitals and the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins how a team can get hot in the post-season.
Montreal got hot at the right times against Washington, coming back from 3-1 down and then against Pittsburgh when down 3-2.
2. Key Players Getting the Job Done
In the playoffs, either the big players get it done or they don't.
For Montreal, Mike Cammalleri has been getting it down, with 13 goals in 17 games so far these playoffs, his scoring prowess is well worth the $5 million a year that he signed for.
Brian Gionta has seven goals through 17 games these playoffs, one shy of his playoff high (eight) he scored in the 2007 playoffs. Gionta already has a personal best with 12 points in these playoffs.
Other big names performers offensively have been Scott Gomez (1 G, 10 A in 17 games) and Tomas Plekanec (4 G, 7 A in 17 games) despite not scoring in over 10 games.
For the Flyers, Daniel Briere always saves his best for the playoffs, as he leads the Flyers with nine goals and nine assists in 15 games.
Along with Mike Richards (5 G, 13 A) and Claude Giroux (6 G, 8 A) in 15 games, the Flyers have three top scorers who have been getting the job done who are expected to.
And that's without Jeff Carter.
Others, such as Chris Pronger (4 G, 8 A in 15 games), Simon Gagne (6 G, 3 A in 11 games), and the surprising Ville Leino (3 G, 8 A in 11 games) have also been producing for the surprisingly red hot Flyers.
3. Timely Coaching Decisions
For Peter Laviolette, it must have been gut wrenching to go down 3-0 to Claude Julien's Bruins.
But an overtime goal by Simon Gagne put the ball in Laviolette's court and his playoff savvy turned into a 4-3 playoff victory.
The Flyers comeback can be fostered by the coaching experience that Laviolette has. He is the only coach who has been to the Stanley Cup Finals out of the remaining four.
And he won the Cup.
For Jacques Martin, he outcoached former Jack Adams winner Bruce Boudreau while in a 3-1 series deficit.
And then outdid the defending Stanley Cup champion coach Dan Bylsma.
Both coaches wouldn't alter their play according to what Martin threw at them.
And they failed.
Martin has only been to the Eastern Finals once and lost in seven.
4. Hot Goalies Can Do Wonders
Throughout these playoffs, it has been a coming out party for netminders.
From Tuuku Rask to Antti Niemi all the way to Evgeni Nabokov finally getting to the Conference Finals, goalies have been the place to shine.
No one has shone brighter through the first two rounds than Jaroslav Halak. With a .924 save percentage through the first 16 games of these playoffs, Halak has been the hottest goalie.
But it's his bounce back ability that has been key to the Canadiens Cinderella run. After being shallacked in Games Two and Three against Washington and sitting Game Four out, Halak came up with three stellar performances to oust the Capitals.
He did the same to the Penguins after allowing six goals in Game One. He kept the Canadiens in the games all series long.
For the Flyers, Brian Boucher came up big against Martin Brodeur in the first round and for his part in the second round.
Boucher left the playoffs with injury after going 6-4 with a 2.33 GAA and .920 save percentage.
Michael Leighton followed Boucher's lead by leading the Flyers to end the comeback against the Bruins, and into the Conference Finals against Montreal, going 4-0 with two shutouts and a .970 save percentage in five games.
The 2010 playoffs may prove for both Leighton and Halak to get a higher standing amongst NHL goaltenders come next season.
5. If Both Teams Were Healthy, Would They Be Seventh and Eighth?
Both Montreal and Philadelphia were very banged up this season, especially at poor times of the season.
In Philadelphia, the goaltending situation hurt them the most.
Ray Emery was brought in to be the No. 1 goalie. Emery only played 29 games, going 16-11-1.
Brian Boucher played 33 games, going 9-18-3, while Michael Leighton held the Flyers in a playoff position with a 16-5-2 record through 27 games.
Johan Backlund and Jeremy Duchense also both saw playing time.
Losing Jeff Carter late in the season hurt the Flyers and was a big reason for them making the playoffs on the last day.
If the goaltending had been more consistent and healthy, the Flyers wouldn't have had to clinch a spot on the last day of the season.
In Montreal, injuries to key players hurt them down the stretch.
Mike Cammalleri missed 17 games this season due to a injured MCL. Brian Gionta was out 20 games with injury. Andrei Kostitsyn only played 59 games, Glen Metropolit played only 69 games, and Paul Mara and Ryan O'Byrne didn't play more than 60 games.
And the killer, Andrei Markov was injured in the first game of the year and ended up only playing in 45 games.
And now he's injured again.
The Canadiens lost well over 200 man games to injury this season and it hurt them dearly.
If you remember when the Canadiens finished first in the East, it was due to a lack of injuries.
Any team that struggles with injuries during the season cannot be counted out in the playoffs. Because usually that's when their big guns come to play.