Pittsburgh Penguins – Philadelphia Flyers Playoff Preview
The Penguins will face off against their state-rivals, the Philadelphia Flyers starting Wednesday night in Pittsburgh. In a rematch of last year’s conference finals, expect a high-flying, high intensity game between these two clubs as they always seem to step it up when they play against each other. Although the Penguins easily handled the Flyers in 5 games en route to the Stanley Cup Finals last year, the Flyers are a much more confident and experienced team heading into this series.
The Flyers seem to ice a very talented squad every year, but when it comes to goaltending, many critics believe the Flyers have not had a legitimate #1 since Ron Hextall. Martin Biron has had his troubles, but he was stellar in last season’s playoff drive. After finishing this season with 29 wins in 55 games and a 2.76 GAA, Biron will have to duplicate last year’s performance if the Flyers hope to advance.
For the Penguins, Marc-Andre Fleury put together a solid campaign posting 35 wins and a 2.67 GAA. He was a major reason why the Penguins advanced to the Cup Finals last year and will certainly provide the Pens with solid play between the pipes.
While the Flyers are deep at the forward position, their defensive corps will have to step it up if they hope to keep the Penguins’ forwards off the score sheet. With the likes of Timonen and Coburn, the Flyers D can certainly move the puck well and provide their speedy forward with some great outlet passes, but when it comes to playing in their own end, there are certainly some holes in their game.
Similar to the Flyers, the Penguins defensive squad will have its struggles in their own end. Orpik and Gill are slow and will have trouble containing Philadelphia’s speedy forwards. The Penguins do, however, have one of the top power-play quarterbacks in the league in Sergei Gonchar.
The Flyers have one of the most talented groups of forwards in the NHL. The Philadelphia Flyers had 4 players that scored over 30 goals this season and 6 players that scored over 25. Jeff Carter, who finished 2nd in the league in goals, exploded this season as he fired home 46 goals surpassing his career-high 29 goals that he set just last season. Mike Richards has arguably become one of the most dominant two-way players in the game and his defensive play will certainly give Crosby and Malkin some problems. Richards also led the league in shorthanded goals with 7.
Simon Gagne was not a part of last year’s playoff run as he was forced to sit out most of the season with post-concussion syndrome. One year later, Gagne has regained his form as one of the most feared snipers in the league as he finished with 34 goals and 70 points. Scott Hartnell also netted 30 goals and with the Penguins’ weak defence, his strong physical play in the offensive zone will certainly create chances for his teammates.
Let’s also not forget that the Flyers were forced to play most of this season without the services of Daniel Briere because of a groin injury. When healthy, Briere is one of the most prolific playmakers in the NHL. Returning from injury, he has rounded into form just in time for the playoffs as he totaled 9 points in his team’s final 6 games.
All of this talk about the Flyers forwards and we haven’t even mentioned Joffrey Lupul and Mike Knuble, who chipped in with 25 and 27 goals, respectively.
Moving on to the Penguins; when a team features the 2009 Art Ross Trophy winner and his name is not Sidney Crosby, you know the opposing team’s defence will have their hands full. Evgeni Malkin led the league in scoring with 113 points and Crosby finished with 103. Newly acquired Chris Kunitz and Bill Guerin have both won the Stanley Cup and will certainly add some veteran leadership during the playoffs. Sykora has enjoyed success playing alongside Malkin, while Jordan Staal has become a very good 2-way forward.
Prediction – Flyers in 7: The Penguins have been one of the hottest teams in the NHL since Dan Bylsma took over as coach on February 10th. Sitting 10th in the conference when Michel Therrien was fired, the Penguins went 18-3-4 in their final 25 games to finish 4th in the East. However, despite their momentum heading into the playoffs, I believe that the Flyers will be out to avenge last year’s Conference Finals loss. The Flyers forwards are just too good and will be too much for the Penguins to handle.