In the regular season the Philadelphia Flyers met the New Jersey Devils six times and split the series winning three games a piece. The two Atlantic Division rivals will drop the puck for Game 1 of their Eastern Conference Semifinals matchup today at 3, here’s how I see the two teams matching up.
Flyers – The strength of the Flyers’ forwards carried them in their first round victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins. They feature
four lines that can hurt you at the offensive end, even their shutdown line of Sean Couturier, Max Talbot, and Eric Wellwood combined for six goals in the first round. The play of Claude Giroux was unbelievable last round and if he can carry some of that over into the second round he will be tough to stop for the Devils. Giroux will also have some extra motivation as he was not named a finalist for the Hart Trophy on Friday. Also look for Wayne Simmonds to contribute more this round, he looks to be moved onto a line with Brayden Schenn and Matt Read.
Devils – The Devils have about six guys who can hurt you. There’s the top line of Ilya Kovalchuk, Zach Parise, and Travis Zajac. After him there’s the always dangerous veteran Patrik Elias, rookie of the year candidate Adam Henrique, and David Clarkson. Expect to see a lot of Couturier matching up with Kovalchuk, Couturier was extremely effective in shutting down Evgeni Malkin in the first round. That means that Elias, Henrique, and Clarkson are probably going to have to shoulder the offensive load for this team to move onto the second round.
Flyers – The Flyers are likely going to get back two of their injured blue-liners this series in Nicklas Grossmann and Andrej Meszaros. Grossmann figures to play in Game 1 while Meszaros is likely to return later in the series. This combined with the recent play of guys like Braydon Coburn, Kimmo Timonen, Matt Carle, Erik Gustafsson and even Andreas Lilja is a huge positive for the Flyers. The defense was very shaky in the first four games last series but played a crucial role in shutting down the Penguins in Game 6 combining to block 40 shots in that game alone. Keep in mind that was without Grossmann who has arguably been the Flyers’ top defenseman since he was acquired from the Dallas Stars. Timonen seemed to be playing injured in the last few games but this week off should really have helped him heal up in time for Game 1.
Devils - The Devils blue-line remained healthy in the first round as the same six defenseman skated in all seven games. Arguably
their top defenseman, Marek Zidlicky also came over in a trade this year with the Minnesota Wild. They also feature Anton Volchenkov, a guy who always seems to have a more nasty edge to his game when playing against Philadelphia. They block a lot of shots and consistently clear the space in front of Martin Brodeur.
Flyers – Ilya Bryzgalov really is a wild card at this point, you don’t know what you’re going to get out of him. Will he perform the way he did in Games 5 and 6 against the Penguins when he allowed four goals total, three of which came in Game 5. Or will we see the guy who was pulled during the second period of Game 4 after giving up five goals on 18 shots? The Flyers were 3-0 against the Devils this year in games started by Bryzgalov, it was almost impossible for the Devils to score on him as he gave up only one goal in those three games combined.
Devils – When the puck drops for Game 4 of the series, future hall of famer Martin Brodeur will be celebrating his 40th birthday. Brodeur was very good in overtime victories over the Florida Panthers in Games 6 and 7 last series, but in the four games he played against the Flyers this year he went 1-3 and gave up nine goals. His numbers from the season were nearly identical with Bryzgalov’s which probably does not bode well for either team.
Flyers – The Flyers powerplay was nearly unstoppable as they connected on 52.2 percent of their opportunities on the man advantage in the first round. The penalty kill was also very good in shutting down one of the top powerplay units from the regular season and contributing three shorthanded goals in the first three games, two from Max Talbot and one from Claude Giroux.
Devils – In the regular season, the Devils penalty kill gave up a mere 27 goals, a league record. But for whatever reason they had very little success against the Panthers powerplay unit giving up 9 goals on 27 attempts. Their powerplay unit was average as they scored on 20 percent of their opportunities.
This figures to be a much lower scoring series for the Flyers than their first round encounter with the Penguins. That being said, I don’t think the Devils have enough to stop this team the way they have played so far in the playoffs. Flyers in 5.