What is the word Boston is looking for as the Bruins head to Philadelphia for the Eastern Conference semifinals? Is it “poetic,” or something along those lines? Perhaps it’s “fate.” Maybe it’s just that deep breath that can only say “here we go again.”
After all, the Bruins have played the Flyers in the Eastern Conference semifinals before. Recently, in fact. People around these parts don’t talk about it much, but it’s certainly a memory that every Bruins fan has stored somewhere.
Yet as great a story as this series will be, Bruins fans should be more caught up in the good news than the bad past. This is a Flyers team the Bruins can certainly beat.
The Bruins came out on top in the regular season series, and their 3-0-1 record against the Flyers could have been potentially been a perfect 4-0-0 if it weren’t for a bad turnover by Marc Savard in overtime. As the Montreal series showed, the regular season doesn’t mean anything when it comes to the playoffs. In the regular season, the B’s couldn’t win at the Bell Centre, yet they took two of three games in Montreal in the first round. The Habs also won the season series, but clearly didn’t win the series that counted.
So, with the Bruins trying to break through to the conference finals after years of knocking on the door the last two years, how do they measure up to the Flyers? Here’s a look.
To get the regular-season numbers out of the way, the Flyers averaged 3.1 goals per game (good for third in the NHL), while Boston’s 3.0 were fifth.
Philadelphia managed to get nine pucks past Ryan Miller in the final two games of their opening series, and they even chased Miller after four goals in Game 7. Flyers winger Claude Giroux’ nine first-round points were second only to Michael Cammalleri’s 10 points vs. the B’s. Danny Briere’s six goals tied only Teemu Selanne for tops in the first round.
Both teams had four players score multiple goals in the first round. For the Flyers, the list was comprised of Giroux, James van Riemsdyk (4), Ville Leino (3) and Daniel Carcillo (2). In Boston, Nathan Horton (3), Chris Kelly (3), Patrice Bergeron (2) and Michael Ryder (2) were the main sources for goals.
The issue that Boston faces is that it needs to get its first line going. Nathan Horton scored two very clutch goals in overtime against the Canadiens, including the tally that clinched the series in Game 7, but the line is not operating at its maximum potential. David Krejci (one point in seven games) had a very hard time finishing plays when given opportunities. His absence after his Game 3 injury last year showed how important he is to the B’s, and this time the Bruins will hope he can prove what he means to the team by staying healthy and putting up numbers.
Bergeron was the Bruins’ best player in the first round, and his line, as well as the Kelly line, was enormous for the B’s when they didn’t have their top performers performing. While it’s great to see players on the second and third line step up, Claude Julien is clearly waiting to have all three lines (and, when it calls for it, the fourth) contributing.
The biggest question mark in this area is whether (or when) Jeff Carter will return to the Flyers lineup. Carter, who scored 36 goals in the regular season, sprained his knee in Game 4 against the Sabres.
The Bruins have the best defenseman in the league, but Zdeno Chara didn’t turn in his best hockey after missing Game 2 vs. the Canadiens with a mystery ailment. He still led the Bruins with an average of 28:49 in ice time, but he finished the opening round with one point in six games. The dropoff from Chara to the rest of the Boston blueliners is pretty substantial. Tomas Kaberle had a series far worse vs. the Habs than his stats will dictate, and needs to step it up big-time to make a case for being re-resigned.
Philadelphia didn’t have the best goaltending in the league, but ended up with a respectable 2.11 team goals against average during the season. Chris Pronger was still being eased back into things in the last two games of the first round as he came back from a broken hand.
People didn’t want to admit it beforehand, but the first-round matchup of Tim Thomas vs. Carey Price was just about as even as it gets. Sure, Price had the lone shutout of the series and allowed 16 goals to Thomas’ 17, but both goaltenders were on the same very-good level for most of the time.
Just as Price was statistically the better goalie (to the naked eye, it was a wash) in the first round, Brian Boucher’s quarterfinals showing was also better than Thomas’ on paper. Still, this one isn’t even close. The fact of the matter is that the Bruins still have the best goaltender in the league (yes, based on that same regular season we’ve all been told to ignore), and he should be more capable of dominating a series than Boucher, or Sergei Bobrovsky if Peter Laviolette goes in that direction. Laviolette seems to dig the netminding carousel approach (he started three different goalie and found a way to win) but none of the guys the Flyers could put in the pipes – Boucher, Bobrovsky, or Michael Leighton – are on Thomas’ level.
Remember that Boucher and Leighton did combine for that Game 5 shutout last year, though, and that it was Leighton who had the last laugh in Game 7 after allowing three goals in the first 14:10. The Flyers have goalies who can be good, but will never be confused for great.
This one is hardly a toughie. The Bruins were a combined 0-for-21 on the power play against the Canadiens in the first round, marking the first time a team has advanced in a round in which they failed to score on the power play since 2003, when the No. 7 Mighty Ducks eliminated the second-seeded Red Wings. What’s worse is that the Anaheim got past Detroit with a four-game sweep in that series, making the 0-for a bit more understandable. Hard to understand a team that can go seven games without burying one on the man advantage.
The B’s allowed six power play goals to the Canadiens in the first round. The Flyers went 5-for-35 on the power play against the Sabres in the first round, while allowing power play goals in five of the seven games.
The cries are getting louder and louder for the B’s to stick Zdeno Chara in front of the net on the power play, and at this point, what harm is trying? For a team who’s power play allowed more goals than they scored, it isn’t like it could get much worse. The Kaberle deal looks worse and worse by the day.
The pressure might still be on Julien as he looks to take the Bruins to the next level. The series win over the Canadiens was a dramatic one, but the Bruins’ goal wasn’t just to beat Montreal in seven games.
If there’s one thing you can say about the Flyers, it’s that they have a hard time going away. They came back from a 3-2 deficit in the opening series vs. Buffalo this year and weren’t afraid of Boston’s 3-0 lead a year ago. You have to give Laviolette credit for that. History is also on Laviolette’s side, as he won a Cup in Carolina and brought the Flyers to the finals.
Before you go making an obvious joke, yes, maybe some would rather me pick the Bruins to lose again because it worked against the Canadiens. That’s not happening this time around. This is a series I believe the Bruins will win, and I’ll stick by the line of thinking I held when picking the Montreal series: This team can get to the Stanley Cup finals. My biggest question in the first place was whether or not the Habs, who drove them crazy in the regular season, would take them down.
This round, the B's take on a team whose style they are more comfortable playing. Though the Flyers hold the edge in most areas here, none of them are substantially bettwe, with the exception of the power play. It should be a pretty even series, but the B's could make quicker work of Philadelphia than they did in the first round.
Playoff ghosts certainly exist in this series, but the Bruins were able to fight past them with their Game 7 win Wednesday. They should be able to do it vs. the Flyers as well.
PREDICTION: Bruins in six.