Don’t believe in momentum? Sure looked like the Flyers did in the last 2 games against the Sabres to close out their series in 7 games. The Flyers, who were riding off the emotional high of putting 49 shots on goal and winning Game 6 on Ville Leino’s OT goal, dominated Buffalo in Game 7 to win the series. Now the question becomes: Will the momentum carry over into the Boston Bruins series which begins at 3 pm today at the Wells Fargo Center? It might.
During last season you’ll remember the Flyers were playing sort of mediocre hockey all year long with the exception of a pretty solid stretch to make the playoffs. It still wasn’t great hockey. However, once they played New Jersey in the first round and focused on what they were doing right the Flyers gained a great deal of momentum. Also, the way they came back from 0-3 in the Boston series and gained momentum pretty much propelled them past Montreal and right into the Stanley Cup Finals against Chicago. The Flyers were playing at the top of their game heading into the Cup Finals last year. If the goaltending can just make the routine saves they need to make, the Flyers are the better team and will win this series. If you’re spotting the Bruins a soft goal or two every game, there will be trouble.
Here’s my break down for the series on who has the advantage in various categories:
The Flyers offense was struggling a bit heading into the postseason. It was well documented. That wasn’t the only part of their game that was struggling either. The defense and goaltending had issues. However, other than the two 1-0 games that Ryan Miller stole in round 1, the Flyers offense was great. The guys who are depended on to make things happen did. Claude Giroux had 9 points in the 7 game series. Danny Briere had 7 points including 6 goals. Briere got his line mates involved as usual as Scott Hartnell and Ville Leino chipped in 4 points each. And well, as you know, JVR was just terrific netting 4 goals in the opening round. The Flyers were pretty much rolling out 3 lines that could score at any time. And towards the end of the series, that was happening.
On the Bruins side, you have Patrice Bergeron and Chris Kelly who had strong first rounds. Nathan Horton chipped in some clutch goals. Bergeron’s a nice playmaker. Kelly really isn’t that intimidating although Horton really does seem to always play well against the Flyers. However, when going down the list searching for offensive talent the scale tips heavily toward the Flyers. If they play the way they can, there’s no doubt the Flyers have the edge here.
The defense is the toughest area to call. The Flyers and Bruins are pretty evenly matched here. The Bruins have built their team on defense and they are a team that is built to win in the postseason. Obviously, the Bruins are a completely different team with big Zdeno Chara as we saw in the Montreal series and he’s the heart and soul of the Bruins defense. The trade for battle tested defenseman Tomas Kaberle is also a huge boost this time of year as he’s one of the best at what he does. This has to be a little bit of a weird feeling for him. His first year back in the playoffs since 2004, a completely different Flyer team led by Jeremy Roenick and Keith Primeau eliminated his Leafs in 2004. He was part of the battles against the Flyers in 2003 and 2004. Aside from the questionable hit that got him tons of unwanted attention, Andrew Ference played a very solid series against Montreal posting a +6. But let’s reverse things to the Flyers.
Chris Pronger played over 17 minutes in Game 7 against Buffalo. Braydon Coburn, Kimmo Timonen, Matt Carle, and Andrej Meszaros played heavy minutes in Pronger’s absence. Meszaros has been everything the Flyers have asked for and more this season and the playoffs so far. Coburn and Timonen is such a trustworthy pair. Folks may disagree with me, but I’m going to call this one even. The Flyers third pairing is much improved over last year and when these defense units play to potential, they can be scary good.
The Flyers were the first team to win a playoff series when using 3 different goaltenders since 1988. With that being said, if Boucher plays solid like he did in Game 7, it won’t come down to goaltending. If the Flyers want to beat Tim Thomas they’ll have to play with his emotions a bit. He’s a competitor and a classic hockey player and wears his heart on his sleeve. He won’t ever give up on a play and when he’s on, he’s on. The Flyers will need a lot of traffic and dirty goals to beat him. Let’s not try to smooth things over here. Tim Thomas is a very good goaltender. The Bruins have the edge here.
Claude Julien is a great coach if you’re looking to rebuild a team and get into the postseason. Once you’re in the postseason, he’s not the hottest commodity. Peter Laviolette has a Stanley Cup, respect from all of his players, and a comeback from down 0-3 against Julien. He is also the master of the timeout and a great motivator. He works the Flyers into the ground sometimes and his players still have a ton of respect for him. As far as big wins in his career and just from a strategical point of view, Laviolette has to get the edge here.
I originally picked the Bruins to defeat the Flyers in my bracket. I went 8 for 8 in the first round. I don’t think I’ll go 4 for 4 in this one. For the record, my 2nd round picks were originally: BOS over PHI, WAS over TB, DET over SJ, VAN over NSH. The way the Flyers played to close out Buffalo leads me to believe they really are back. The team I saw in Game 7 is the team that dominated the conference until February. I think they’ll get the win in this series, and they won’t go down 0-3 this year.
The Pick: Flyers in 6
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