Friday, April 29, 2011

Flyers - Bruins preview

By Dan Di Sciullo



2011 PLAYOFFS: Defeated Buffalo 4-3 in conference quarterfinals

The Philadelphia Flyers made NHL history last spring when they faced the Bruins in the Eastern Conference semifinals.

Peter Laviolette's club is hoping for another postseason triumph against Boston, but the Flyers would prefer the series to go a bit smoother this time around.

The Flyers became just the third team in NHL history to win a series after falling behind three-games-to-none. Not only did Philadelphia rip off four straight victories to claim the series, it also overcame a 3-0 deficit in the opening period of Game 7 and won the decisive test in Boston by a 4-3 score.

Philadelphia went on to win the Eastern Conference title after the historic rally and then lost in six games to Chicago in the Stanley Cup Finals.

Philadelphia earned a modest comeback in the opening round of this year's playoffs, taking the final two tests against Buffalo to overcome a 3-2 deficit in the series.

Goaltenders Sergei Bobrovsky, Brian Boucher and Michael Leighton all started games in the Buffalo series, as the Flyers became the first team in 23 years to win a playoff series while starting three different netminders. The 1988 Detroit Red Wings were the last team to pull off the feat, as Greg Stefan, Glen Hanlon and Sam St. Laurent each started games in the first round against Los Angeles.

Boucher enters this round as the club's starting goaltender, but with the way the first round went one wouldn't think he has a strangle-hold on that job. Boucher wound up seeing time in six games during Round 1 and he started Games 3, 4, 5 and 7. He was also the recipient of all the victories in the series and finished the set with a 2.10 goals-against average and .934 save percentage.

Outside of Game 5, when Boucher surrendered a couple of fluky goals and was pulled after stopping just 8-of-11 shots, the 34-year-old veteran had a solid series. He stopped 50-of-53 shots in Games 6 and 7 combined.

Boucher was the starting goaltender for the Flyers at the beginning of last year's series with Boston before a sprained left MCL sidelined him for the rest of the series. He was 2-3 with a 3.10 GAA before getting injured in Game 5.

Bobrovsky figures to be Boucher's backup at the start of this series. He filled that role in Game 7 against Buffalo after being scratched from Games 3-6.

The Flyers have tried to offset their lack of security in goal by putting together a deep defensive corps. The group is led by Chris Pronger and also features Kimmo Timonen, Andrej Meszaros, Matt Carle, Braydon Coburn and Sean O'Donnell. Meszaros and O'Donnell were not on the club last year when they posted the historic comeback against the Bruins.

Pronger missed the first five games of the opening round while recovering from a broken right hand that also caused him to miss the last 16 tests of the regular season. The former Hart and Norris Trophy winner was only used in power-play situations in Game 6, but he notched an assist and skated for 17 minutes, 27 seconds in the decisive seventh game.

Pronger had two goals and four assists in last year's conference semifinal series against Boston.

Meszaros, who was acquired in a trade with Tampa in the offseason, led the Flyers blue line with five points (1 goal, 4 assists) in the Buffalo series. He also paced the team with an average ice time of 25:33 per game.

Timonen also recorded a goal and three assists and was an plus-nine over seven games. Matt Carle added four assists, but was a minus-four.

Danny Briere is a player to watch on offense for the Flyers. He scored six goals in the opening round, including two in Game 7, and had five goals and five assists in last year's series against Boston.

Briere has 94 points (41g, 53a) in 93 career playoff games.

Claude Giroux was Philadelphia's leading scorer in Round 1, notching nine points on one goal and eight assists.

The Flyers had four players with two or more goals in the Sabres series. In addition to Briere, James van Riemsdyk potted four goals, while Ville Leino and Daniel Carcillo added three and two tallies, respectively.

Philly captain Mike Richards failed to score a goal in the opening round, but he did post five assists. Kris Versteeg, who was acquired from Toronto in a February trade, also had five helpers against Buffalo.

The Flyers are hoping to get Jeff Carter back at some point in this series, but he is expected to miss Game 1. Carter, who led Philly with 36 goals in the regular season, suffered a sprained right MCL in Game 4 of the Buffalo series and hasn't played since.

The Flyers scored five times on the power play in the first round, but that was over 35 chances. Philadelphia did go 3-for-9 with the man advantage in Games 6 and 7.

Philadelphia also has room for improvement on the penalty kill after surrendering seven goals on Buffalo's 31 chances with the man advantage.

BOSTON BRUINS (3rd seed, East)


2011 PLAYOFFS: Defeated Montreal 4-3 in conference quarterfinals

(Sports Network) - Boston has been waiting a year for a chance to redeem themselves for last spring's meltdown against the Flyers, but like Philly, the Bruins had to go seven games in the first round to even set up this rematch.

The Bruins' playoff run did not get off to a good start, as Boston lost the first two games of the conference quarterfinals against Montreal on home ice. However, Claude Julien's club rebounded to win four of the next five games and Boston won a series after trailing 2-0 for the first time in franchise history.

Boston has a handful of new faces on its roster this year, but the biggest change could be the resurgence of a player who was on the active roster when the Flyers and Bruins met last year. That player is goaltender Tim Thomas, who is back in form after somewhat of a lost season in 2009-10.

After winning the Vezina Trophy for the 2008-09 season, Thomas lost his starting job to Tuukka Rask during the following regular season. Rask wound up seeing all the time in the playoffs, starting all 13 games. He did an admirable job, going 7-6 with a 2.61 goals-against average and .912 save percentage.

This year, Thomas, who was bothered by a hip injury in 2009-10, has regained his swagger and picked up another nomination for the Vezina Trophy after going 35-11-7 with nine shutouts and a sparkling 2.00 GAA. The 38-year-old also set an NHL record with a .938 save percentage, beating former Buffalo netminder Dominik Hasek's mark of .937 from the 1998-99 campaign.

Thomas had a solid showing in the opening round against the Habs, recording a 2.25 GAA and a .926 save percentage over the seven games.

Of course, Thomas has one of the league's most feared defensemen playing in front of him in Zdeno Chara, the 6-foot-9 Slovakian with the hardest slap shot in the world. Chara won the Norris Trophy as the league's top defenseman in 2009 and he is a finalist for the award this year after posting 14 goals, 44 points and a plus-33 rating this season.

Chara only had one assist in the first round against Montreal and missed one game after being hospitalized for dehydration. He had four assists in last year's series against the Flyers.

Andrew Ference led Boston's blue line in scoring in Round 1, posting four points on one goal and three assists. Ference will not be suspended for his hit on Montreal's Jeff Halpern in Game 7 after speculation that he might received a ban from the league.

Dennis Seidenberg, a former Flyers draft pick, missed the playoffs last year due to injury, but he'll get a chance to face his former club this time around. Seidenberg had one goal and two helpers in Round 1 and was second only to Chara in ice time per game.

The Bruins are expecting more out of Tomas Kaberle in the conference semis after the offensive defenseman posted just two assists in the seven games against Montreal. Kaberle had one goal and eight assists in 24 regular season games with Boston following his trade from Toronto at the deadline.

Johnny Boychuk and Adam McQuaid will also see time at the back end for Boston in this set.

While Boston excels at making it tough for the opposition to score, the Bruins weakness is scoring. This was especially true of Boston's power play in the opening round, as the B's failed to score a single goal on 21 opportunities with the man advantage. It marked the first time in NHL history that a team won a seven games series without scoring a power-play goal.

Boston also allowed six goals on Montreal's 27 chances with the man advantage.

The Bruins had four players with two goals or more in the opening round. Chris Kelly and Nathan Horton each had three tallies, while Patrice Bergeron and Michael Ryder hit the net twice.

Bergeron led the club with seven points against Montreal and the superb two- way player was also a plus-five for the series. Kelly, who was acquired in a trade with Ottawa in February, also had three assists against Montreal to finish second on the club in scoring.

A big turning point during Philadelphia's comeback against Boston last year was the injury suffered by Boston forward David Krejci in Game 3. Krejci suffered a broken wrist on a crushing hit by Philadelphia's Richards and never returned to the series.

Krejci tied Milan Lucic for team lead with 62 points in the regular season, but the former had just one goal in the opening round. Lucic, who had five goals and two assists in the conference semis last year, had two assists in Round 1 against the Habs.

Rich Peverley and Brad Marchand each had five points on one goal and four helpers against the Canadiens, while 43-year-old Mark Recchi, a former Flyer, added one goal and three assists.


With the way last year's series ended it's pretty clear that this is going to be an emotionally-charged series. The question is: Who will that type of series benefit more, the Bruins or Flyers?

The Bruins did get the better of Philadelphia in this year's regular season, taking three of the four meetings and outscoring the Flyers by a 13-8 margin. Philadelphia's only win came in an overtime victory on Dec. 11.

Van Riemsdyk and Richards led the Flyers with three points apiece in the season series, while Krejci paced Boston with four assists. Marchand, Horton and Bergeron each had two goals versus Philly.

Thomas was 3-0-1 with a 1.95 GAA against the Flyers this season. Boucher was 1-2-0 with a 2.95 GAA.

The Flyers should have the mental edge heading into this series after last year's comeback, but that won't mean much if they can't solve Thomas early. However, Boston's goaltender did look human in the first round and Philadelphia's offensive depth should eventually wear Thomas down, just like it did in the opening round against Buffalo's Ryan Miller.

Boston should be able to push this series to the limit, but the Flyers will once again be the team moving onto the conference finals.

Sports Network predicted outcome: Flyers in 7

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