The Boston Bruins, thanks to the Montreal Canadiens, are playing the Philadelphia Flyers in the semi-finals. The Flyers are known for their physical and sometimes dirty play, and are a much better matchup for the B’s than the Pittsburgh Penguins would have been. The B’s play a lot better against physical tough teams than they do skill teams like Montreal or Washington or even Pittsburgh.
How They Got Here
The 7th seeded Flyers upset the 2nd seeded New Jersey Devils 4 games to 1 in a quick 5 game series. The Devils, who loaded up with Ilya Kovalchuk at the deadline, were unable to put it all together, and struggled offensively, scoring 1 goal or less in 3 of the games, and only scoring 3 or more once. Martin Brodeur also was not himself, and was shelled by the Flyers offense. Goaltender Brian Boucher looked like a prime Brodeur in net for the Flyers, leading his team to a upset.
The 6th seeded Bruins beat the 3rd seeded Buffalo Sabres 4 games to 2 in a close series. This was the matchup B’s fans had been hoping for at the end of the season. The Bruins pulled off two third period comebacks, when the Sabres had gone an ungodly 30-0-0 when leading after two this season. Former Sabre Mirsoslav Satan was a double OT hero in game 4, giving the B’s a commanding series 3-1 series lead. The Bruins offense was able to solve Ryan Miller, although he did have some spectacular saves during the series. B’s rookie goalie phenom Tuukka Rask was better than the likely Vezina winner, posting a 2.18 GAA (somehow worse than his regular GAA) and a .927% save percentage. Even more amazing, the B’s did this without two of their top 4 defenseman in Dennis Seidenberg and Mark Stuart and their top pivot, Marc Savard.
The Flyers offense is very explosive, with big time scorers all throughout the lineup. Youngster Claude Giroux has been a beast this playoffs so far, and Daniel Carcillo is always a pest to deal with. The regulars are still in the lineup like Mike Richards, Scott Hartnell, and Danny Briere. Unfortunately, two of the Flyers top forward are likely out for the entire series. Jeff Carter and Simon Gagne underwent surgery. Carter is out indefinitely, and Gagne could return in three weeks, but the series will be done by then. Pest Ian Laperriere is also out with a head injuries. If the Flyers want to beat Tuukka Rask, they will need guys like James van Riemsdyk, Aaron Asham (who is a Bruin killer it seems), and Scott Hartnell to step their game up. The Flyers defense will also need to score some timely goals.
The Bruins offense had been awful all season, but put it together to beat one of the league’s best goalies in Ryan Miller. While the Flyers are injured, the B’s are getting healthy. Marc Savard, out with a concussion, will return for the series, giving the B’s offense a huge boost. Guys like Vladimir Sobotka, Miroslav Satan and Mark Recchi have all stepped up their play for the post-season, but the B’s will need more production from guys like Marco Sturm and Blake Wheeler. Both guys went without goals in the first round. The Bruins offense has struggled at times to score more than 2 goals a game. Like the Flyers, the B’s will need their defense to score some timely goals.
Edge: While the Flyers do have more firepower, due to the injuries of Jeff Carter and Simon Gagne and the return of Marc Savard, it seems the B’s will be able to roll out a deeper team that can score. Boston gets the edge.
The Flyers boast a strong blueline, led by future HOFer Chris Pronger and veteran Kimmo Timonen. Youngsters Matt Carle, Ryan Parent and Braydon Coburn will also patrol the back end along with Lukas Krajicek. While young, the Flyers defense is full of strong guys who can move the puck. Will inexperience hurt them? It didn’t in the New Jersey series, but if they rely in Brian Boucher to be as good as he was in the first round, they could be in trouble. Chris Pronger will likely play around 30 minutes a night, so he needs to stay out of trouble for the Flyers to succeed.
The Bruins have one of the best defensive hockey systems in the entire league, allowing the 2nd fewest goals in the league behind New Jersey, who Philly beat in the first round coincidentally. The Bruins blueline is led by towering Zdeno Chara. Like the Flyers offense, the B’s defense is injured. Mark Stuart and Dennis Seidenberg will both likely miss the entire series. There is an outside chance Mark Stuart could return, but that would probably take a miracle. Youngsters Adam McQuaid, Matt Hunwick and Johnny Boychuk have stepped up in their absence, and they will need to continue their strong play. The B’s D needs to be able to avoid turnovers (you Dennis Wideman), and make a good pass out of their own zone to set the offense flowing. If the Flyers forecheck causes a backup in the B’s end, there could be trouble.
Edge: While the Flyers arguably have more talent on their D, the Bruins overall system is much better and it is hard to argue going against a team who has finished 1 and 2 in the past two years in goals allowed. Edge Bruins.
A lot of series depend on goaltending, and a goalie can steal you a series as everyone knows. The Flyers will roll old vet Brian Boucher in net. While he played fantastic in the New Jersey series, he was not very good during the regular season. If for some reason Boucher does not play well, their backup isn’t going to get the job done. Boucher will need to be near perfect throughout the series.
Tuukka Rask has been spectacular all season and during the playoffs, and if he keeps up his play, the B’s should be set in net. He will need to continue his third period dominance, and try and eliminate letting up some soft, 1st period goals. If Rask goes Carey Price on the B’s, reigning Vezina winner Tim Thomas is waiting on the bench, and even he is a better goalie than Boucher.
Edge: Rask and Thomas are both better goalies than Boucher, and even though Boucher had a good series against the Devils, after beating Miller, I have hard time believing the B’s will fight to score against Boucher. The Flyers will need solid goaltending to win this series, but I’m not confident Boucher can deliver that. Edge Boston.
Aside from goaltending, the Flyers X factor will be Scott Hartnell and James van Riemsdyk. These two guys will need to find a way to score if the Flyers want to win this series. They cannot rely only on Claude Giroux and Mike Richards to support all of the offense.
The Bruins X factor is Marco Sturm and Blake Wheeler. Will these guys be able to find the net with the return of Marc Savard? The B’s need all of the scoring they can get, and will need production from their top two scoring wingers. Mark Recchi can’t do it all at 42.
This series will be physical and warlike. The Flyers are not a team to take lightly, and the B’s should know they are not good enough to take anyone lightly. They need to play every game hard and not get too confident and slack off. With the return of Marc Savard, I see the B’s team coming out strong. Injuries and shaky goaltending will catch up with the Flyers, and the Bruins will win in 6.