PHILADELPHIA, PA - FEBRUARY 18: James Neal #18 of the Pittsburgh Penguins celebrates his 30th goal of the season against the Philadelphia Flyers at the Wells Fargo Center on February 18, 2012 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Penguins defeated the Flyers 6-4. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
It's the series that needs no introduction.
The two division rivals have engaged in a lot already this year, exchanging big hits and engaging in line brawls, trading highlight-reel goals and heartbreaking defeats all in advance of their surefire seven-game series
If they do go the full seven, it'll be 13 games that Pittsburgh and Philadelphia have played in this season, each more memorable than the last. Here's just some of the numbers from the six regular season matchups between the two teams:
Series: Philadelphia, 4-2
Goals For: Pittsburgh 20 (3.3/game); Philadelphia 21 (3.5/game)
Shots on Goal: Pittsburgh 193 (32.3/game); Philadelphia 157 (26.2/game)
More after the jump...
Pittsburgh's a much better team than the one that lost four of their first five to Philadelphia this season. A lot of that owes to the return of Sidney Crosby from multiple head injuries, but the Penguins are still suspect in this series. They've played six games against the Flyers at the CEC, and won just one of them - the most recent one, a 4-2 victory on Saturday afternoon to close out the regular season.
But both teams have battled injuries throughout the season. Flyers leading scorer Claude Giroux has battled head injuries, as has Danny Briere, Jakub Voracek, Sean Couturier and Wayne Simmonds. The Flyers lost captain Chris Pronger early in the season, but kept fighting. They'll likely play the entire postseason without James van Riemsdyk who's spend the season fighting head and lower body injuries.
But rather than talk about who won't be here, this series will focus on who is. Which is to say that it'll be a contrast in styles: Philadelphia's blue collar, grinding game versus the finesse of Pittsburgh, which has already heard the detractors talk about their lack of commitment to defense.
Speaking of team defense, it's almost that time of year when Philadelphia's goaltending betrays them. Save for a stellar three-week stretch in late February and early March, Ilya Bryzgalov has been anything but consistent during his time between the pipes for the Flyers. He enters the playoffs coming off a lower-body injury that held him out of the lineup for the past couple of weeks.
At the end of the day, this isn't one of those series where the better special teams unit wins or the top-six which scores more advances. These two teams genuinely dislike each other, and in series like these, it's the unit that works harder and plays more together that wins. Both teams have played without key cogs in their system for long stretches of the season, so it's hard to pick who might perform better together.
But it's not so hard to pick who will work harder. Flyers in 7.