Boston vs. Philadelphia - Conference Semifinals Preview

After going 32 years without meeting in the playoffs, Boston and Philadelphia will meet in the Eastern Conference semifinals for the second straight season.  If you aren't aware of what happened in last season's playoff series, we'd like to say welcome, and we hope you're enjoying your first day as a hockey fan.  Suffice to say, Boston blew a 3-0 lead and the Flyers won in 7. However, both teams are significantly better than the versions that clashed last season.  Boston is healthier and more talented, and the Flyers' young skill players are a year older and better.

Both the Bruins and Flyers eked out game 7 wins on home ice in round 1, with the Flyers coming back from a 3-2 deficit to send Buffalo home, and the Bruins, coming back from down 2-0 to take 4 of 5, with 3 in overtime, including game 7. 

If style of play is any factor, both teams should be fairly comfortable with this matchup.  The Bruins were plainly uncomfortable with Montreal's approach of counterattacking, stretching the ice wide, sitting on 1-goal leads and diving whenever someone in a black and white striped shirt was looking their way.  They are far happier playing a physical, fast-paced game, and should find the Flyers a willing participant.  The Bruins won the regular season series 3-0-1.

Series schedule:

Game 1: Boston at Philadelphia - Saturday, April 30 - 3 p.m., NBC
Game 2: Boston at Philadelphia - Monday, May 2 - 7:30 p.m., VERSUS
Game 3: Philadelphia at Boston - Wednesday, May 4 - 7 p.m., VERSUS
Game 4: Philadelphia at Boston - Friday, May 6 - 8 p.m., VERSUS
Game 5*: Boston at Philadelphia - Sunday, May 8 -  3 p.m., NBC
Game 6*: Philadelphia at Boston - Tuesday, May 10 - TBD
Game 7*: Boston at Philadelphia - Thursday, May 12 - TBD

Statistically, these were the two best teams in the East in the regular season.  Boston had a +51 goal differential, and Philadelphia +36. 

Injury-wise, Boston is in better shape than Philadelphia.  Chris Pronger played in the final two games of the Buffalo series, after having surgery for a broken hand earlier this year, but he doesn't appear to be 100% yet.  36-goal scorer Jeff Carter is day to day with a knee injury, and they are optimistic that he will return at some point in the second round, though he has missed the last three games.  Andreas Nodl (eye) is also day to day.  Michael Leighton is day to day with what's described as a lower body injury, but I refuse to believe the Flyers count that as a loss. 

The Bruins are missing Marc Savard (concussion), obviously, and Steve Kampfer (leg).  No word on when Kampfer will be back as yet.  Everyone else is healthy, assuming you believe the party line that Milan Lucic is not hurt, and just had a poor series against Montreal.

Projected lineup for Philadelphia:

Scott Hartnell - Daniel Briere - Ville Leino
James Van Riemsdyk - Claude Giroux - Jeff Carter
Nikolay Zherdev - Mike Richards - Kris Versteeg
Daniel Carcillo - Blair Betts - Darroll Powe

Kimmo Timonen - Braydon Coburn
Matt Carle - Chris Pronger
Andrej Meszaros - Sean O'Donnell
Danny Syvret

Brian Boucher
Sergei Bobrovsky

This is based in large part on the lineups last posted by our friends at Broad Street Hockey.  Unfortunately, it's a bit hard to project exactly who will play where, given Carter's day to day status, and the fact that Pronger is not 100%, so don't take this as gospel. 

The Flyers have an embarrassment of riches up front, with quality scoring three lines deep.  Briere and Giroux were tremendous in the Buffalo series, and will be the key to the offense.  Giroux stepped forward as a top-flight playmaker this season, with a career high in points (76), and paced the Flyers with 9 points in the Buffalo series.  His 9 points are second most in the playoffs, behind Mike Cammalleri (who, thankfully, will not be adding to his total).  Briere set a career high with 34 goals this year, and is improved over last season, when personal problems affected his play.  James Van Riemsdyk had 4 goals against Buffalo, and is yet another Flyer who is a better player than when last these teams met.

Projected Lineup for Boston:

Milan Lucic-David Krejci-Nathan Horton
Brad Marchand-Patrice Bergeron-Mark Recchi
Chris Kelly-Rich Peverley-Michael Ryder
Daniel Paille-Gregory Campbell-Shawn Thornton

Zdeno Chara-Dennis Seidenberg
Andrew Ference-Johnny Boychuk
Tomas Kaberle-Adam McQuaid
Shane Hnidy

Tim Thomas
Tuukka Rask

The Bruins got through round 1 without a whole lot of help from their top line.  Nathan Horton didn't do a whole lot other than his two overtime winners, and yeah, I know that sounds like Buddy Ryan's infamous line about Cris Carter, but still.  Milan Lucic was invisible in the first four games, then had assists on both OT winners, but also a boneheaded penalty on Jaroslav Spacek that could have cost Boston the series.  David Krejci had a goal in game 3, and was otherwise non-existant.  When he was the first Bruin in Versus' camera shot after the game 7 OT winner, that served as proof of life for me.  Among Boston's big guns, only Patrice Bergeron delivered, with a magnificent 7 points and a +5.  In round 1, it was Boston's lesser lights that came up huge.  Andrew Ference, with 4 points, a +6 and a well-timed middle finger, was arguably Boston's best player in the series.  Chris Kelly and Rich Peverley weren't far behind him.

Keys to the Series:

Philadelphia -
1. Coaching - during the first round, Peter Laviolette made a brilliant decision.  He abandoned all pretense of supporting his goaltenders, acknowledged that it was a hole and said "screw it.  You five guys play offense.  Boucher/Bobrovsky/Leighton will just fend for himself."  It worked; the Sabres defense cracked and they buried Ryan Miller beneath an avalanche of shots.  I am not sure that would work as well this time around; Boston's more than comfortable with that sort of gameplan.  But I think Laviolette is an excellent coach, better than Claude Julien, and his decision about tempo and flow will be an interesting one to watch.

2. Health - Not to start writing revisionist history here, but if Boston doesn't have half their roster either out or playing hurt, they probably don't blow a 3-0 lead.  I don't expect anyone in Philly to shed a tear over the plight of the 2010 Bruins, rather, my point is that healthy teams win in the playoffs.  The Flyers need Pronger and Carter at full strength or at least a reasonable facsimile of it.  They got by a weaker Buffalo team that was, coincidentally, very banged up in game 7.  Boston's in better shape to withstand what will probably be the most physical series of the playoffs. 

3. Goaltending - Talking about the suckitude of Philadelphia goaltending isn't just beating a dead horse.  It's beating the dead horse, driving it to the slaughterhouse, grinding it up and serving it to Fido and Spot.  If the trio of Flyer goaltenders (or as I call them, "Russian Roulette"), can manage bare mediocrity, there's a good chance they win. 

Boston-
1. Special teams - Boston did well on the penalty kill for the first 5 games of the first round, but the roof caved in in games 6 and 7.  As for the power play, see my comment about Flyer goaltending.  Almost every power play goes the same way: Tomas Kaberle stickhandles around at the point, looks in front, fakes a shot, then passes to Zdeno Chara for the slapshot.  Either Kaberle is deferring to Chara's point shot of his own volition, or he's being directed by the coaching staff.  My guess is its the latter, but whichever it is, it's not working.  There's no puck movement whatsoever, which seems absurd since that's Kaberle's raison d'etre. 

2. Penalties - You know the best way to avoid opposing power play goals?  Stay out of the box!  Montreal's game 6 goals were easily preventable; Boston put themselves in an awful situation with stupid penalties, which led to a pair of 5 on 3 power plays.  Bergeron's high stick with 2 and a half to go in game 7 was equally crippling.  On the flip side, the Flyers are a very penalty-prone team.  They were 8th in the NHL in minor penalties and gave Buffalo 31 power plays in round 1.  Dumb penalties are part of the Flyers' DNA.  If the Bruins can remain disciplined, and be on the plus side of the penalty minute ledger, this is a very winnable series. 

3. The Big Guns - This is their kind of series: fast, straight-ahead, and physical.  The Bruins beat an inferior opponent without much help from Lucic and Krejci (we'll give Horton a pass), but they will not be so lucky against this team.  The trio combined for 6 points in round 1.  I'm going to go out on a limb and predict that if the top line manages less than a point per game between them again, this series is going to be over fast.  And not in a good way.  You can add Chara and Dennis Seidenberg here, too; the #1 defense pairing did not have a great series in round 1.

Predictions:

Evan (Stanley Cup of Chowder) -

This series has all the makings to be an entertaining, hard-fought series between two physical hockey teams and I think this one will go the distance, but in the end the Bruins' poor special teams play will catch up to them. The Bruins were fortunate to get past the Habs without scoring a power play goal. If the B's can't create offense, especially on the power play, they will have problems against one of the top offenses in the league. The Flyers lineup is much deeper than the Habs and they have the luxury of getting offensive production from throughout their lineup. The Bruins' blue liners will need to be better in this series to shutdown Philly's talented forwards. The biggest question mark in this series is the Flyers' goaltending situation. Peter Laviolette played 3 different goaltenders in Philadelphia's 7 game series against Buffalo. Brian Boucher stood out over Sergei Bobrovsky and Michael Leighton in the Buffalo series, but you have wonder how long before he comes back down to earth and Laviolette is forced to play goalie roulette again. The Bruins will be looking for revenge after last year's debacle against the Flyers, but I don't think they will find it. Another year and another second round exit..."It's called Bruins!". It will be at least another year before we see the Bruins hoist The Chiarelli Cup (which I assume is the big trophy that Jeremy Jacobs keeps talking about that goes to teams that reach their GM's goal of making it past the second round).  Flyers in 7.

Phil (Phunwin) -

I take a different point of view about the awful Boston power play.  I think they've hit rock bottom and will come out of it.  Maybe not firing at a 30% clip or anything, but I refuse to believe that they will be -1 for 27 again.  A couple days off should help, and good Lord willing, maybe even get Claude Julien to take a fresh look at his approach and realize that something's got to change.  I know there's plenty of gloom n' doom about how the Bruins scraped by Montreal, but remember that Philly didn't exactly blow through round 1, either.  They needed 7 games and an ER full of Buffalo Sabres to see round 2.  I'm pretty sure we didn't see either of these teams at their best in round 1.  The Thomas/Boucher (or whoever) matchup is worth at least one game for Boston and maybe two.  I don't think the Bruins will be sweating history in this one, either; hell, they just won 2 out of 3 at the Bell Centre, a house of horrors if there ever was one, and came back from an 0-2 deficit.  No, the mental toughness is there.  I think Chara and Lucic assert themselves in this series.  I think Philly's goaltending falls apart at the worst possible time.  And I think the Bruins take it in 7.

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