The Boston Bruins narrowly eliminated their archrivals from Montreal in overtime of Game 7. They now move on to another rival in the Philadelphia Flyers. The ghosts of playoff past are not as strong in Philadelphia as they are in Montreal, but many of Boston's players still carry the painful memories of blowing a 3-0 series lead against these same Flyers just one year ago.
When it comes to playoff time, everyone starts talking about goaltending. On paper, this series looks like a huge mismatch, with Tim Thomas matching up against Brian Boucher (or perhaps Michael Leighton or Sergei Bobrovsky, depending on how Peter Laviolette continues to manage his goaltending carousel). Yet as we have seen so far in the playoffs, any goaltender is capable of getting hot or cold over the course of a series. Will the Bruins' advantage in goal hold up to give them the series victory, or will they face playoff heartbreak at the hands of the Flyers for a second year running?
Philadelphia Offense vs. Boston Defense
Philadelphia Flyers Offense: +32.0 GVT (3rd in the NHL)
Boston Bruins Defense: -2.7 GVT (17th in the NHL)
Boston Bruins Goaltending: +36.3 GVT (1st in the NHL)
Total: Philadelphia Flyers, -1.6 GVT
Forward depth is an area of strength for the league's third-ranked offensive team, especially when Jeff Carter is in the lineup. Eight different Flyer forwards scored 15 or more goals during the regular season.
The Flyers were carried offensively in round one by Claude Giroux (9 points) and Danny Briere (7 points, including 6 goals). James Van Riemsdyk also chipped in with 4 goals, and is currently leading the playoffs with 43 shots on goal.
Norris Trophy nominee Zdeno Chara leads the Bruins' defensive effort, but the biggest impact on goal prevention is made by goaltender Tim Thomas. The likely Vezina Trophy winner set a new official save percentage record during the regular season, and after a shaky start in the playoffs settled in to lead the Bruins to victory. The Bruins ranked 29th in the league in shot prevention during the regular season and 10th out of 16 playoff teams in the first round, yet the goals against have remained low in large part because of Thomas.
Boston Offense vs. Philadelphia Defense
Boston Bruins Offense: +20.0 GVT (5th in the NHL)
Philadelphia Flyers Defense: +1.8 GVT (13th in the NHL)
Philadelphia Flyers Goaltending: +4.8 GVT (13th in the NHL)
Total: Boston Bruins, +13.4 GVT
With a deep group of forwards and three balanced lines, the Boston Bruins score by committee. They are very strong offensively at even strength, leading the league with 177 goals scored during 5-on-5 play. The team's top two regular season point producers Milan Lucic and David Krejci both struggled in round one, combining for just one goal. Picking up the slack was Nathan Horton, who scored perhaps the two biggest Boston goals by potting overtime game-winners in both Games 5 and Game 7.
Philadelphia's top four defensemen all logged a lot of minutes in the Buffalo series in the absence of Chris Pronger. They played well despite the extra workload, but having the veteran playoff performer back will have a beneficial ripple effect on the Flyers.
For all the talk about goaltending being a huge weakness for Philadelphia, the team's numbers really have not been that bad. During the regular season, Flyer goalies combined for a .915 save percentage, and despite all of the bad press, the team's netminding trio stopped pucks at the exact same .915 rate in round one against Buffalo. At times, the Flyers were let down by goaltendingmost notably by Michael Leighton in Game 6but at other times, Brian Boucher was very solid. It is unreasonable to expect any of Philadelphia's goaltenders to steal a series, but it should not be assumed that they will just give it away either.
Advantage: Boston Bruins
Philadelphia Power Play vs. Boston Penalty Kill
Philadelphia Flyers Power Play: -2.2 GVT (14th in the NHL)
Boston Bruins Penalty Kill: +6.5 GVT (9th in the NHL)
Total: Philadelphia Flyers, -8.7 GVT
Philadelphia went 5 for 35 with the man advantage in the first round against Buffalo. Despite the talented forward group, the Flyers have not ranked as highly in terms of power play offense as they do at even strength, with average results during the regular season.
Just as at even strength, the Bruins' defensive effort on the penalty kill is keyed by Zdeno Chara and Tim Thomas. The Flyers will be looking to create traffic in front of the crease, something that is easier said than done against the 6'9" Chara.
Advantage: Boston Bruins
Boston Power Play vs. Philadelphia Penalty Kill
Boston Bruins Power Play: -3.7 GVT (20th in the NHL)
Philadelphia Flyers Penalty Kill: +8.0 GVT (6th in the NHL)
Total: Boston Bruins, -10.7 GVT
It was widely reported in the wake of the Bruins' victory over Montreal that Boston was the first team to ever win a seven game series without scoring a single power play goal. Perhaps the Bruins will gain some confidence shooting on Brian Boucher instead of Carey Price, but the power play unit is not one of the team's strengths.
The Bruins have a pair of quality power play quarterbacks In Tomas Kaberle and Zdeno Chara, but the team lacks an elite power play scorer up front. During the regular season, the team leader in power play points was the 42-year-old Mark Recchi, while none of the forwards scored more goals than Chara's eight.
The Philadelphia Flyers' penalty killing unit is among the best in the league, and they will be relishing the chance to extend the Bruins' ice cold streak on the power play. If not for better goaltending (.863 penalty-killing save percentage during the regular season), the Flyers would likely have ranked near the very top of the league, boasting one of the best shot prevention rates per minute of play while a man short.
Advantage: Philadelphia Flyers
Season Series Results
The Bruins very nearly swept the regular season series against the Flyers, winning three games in regulation and losing the fourth in overtime on Mike Richards' game-winner with just three seconds left in the extra frame.
Three of the games were low-scoring, the lone exception being the wild 7-5 tilt on January 13 in Boston with seven goals scored in the third period.
Advantage: Boston Bruins
Injuries and Intangibles
The big injury story for Philadelphia has been the health of Chris Pronger. Pronger made his return to the lineup late in the Buffalo series, albeit in a limited role. Pronger was able to play over 17 minutes in Game 7, and the team will be hoping he will quickly be able to take on the usual workload that was so instrumental to the team's playoff run last season. The Flyers are also hoping for the imminent return of Jeff Carter, who missed the last three games after crashing into Buffalo's Tyler Myers.
Both teams are coming off of hard-fought seven game series that included multiple overtime games. The extra off-day before Game 1 should help heal some of the battle scars, but fatigue could be a factor, especially if this series again goes the distance.
Coach Peter Laviolette has created a bit of a circus around his team's goaltending situation with some perhaps ill-advised shuffling. Continued instability in the crease will only ramp up the pressure on the team's netminders. It looks like it is Brian Boucher's crease for now, but if he falters, the Flyers could end up in some major trouble.
Finally, will last year's series between these two teams have any impact on the psyche of the Boston Bruins? The Flyers will certainly view the matchup with a good deal of confidence, and the pressure is on Boston to make amends for last year's collapse. Then again, the weight of history didn't stop Boston from eliminating Montreal.
Philadelphia Flyers: +36.0 GVT (4th in the NHL)
Boston Bruins: +51.0 GVT (2nd in the NHL)
Total: Boston Bruins, +15.0 GVT
The old cliché is that playoff series often come down to special teams and goaltending, and this series looks like a case where that actually might be true. Boston needs to jumpstart its ailing power play to be able to match the Flyers' offense, while Philadelphia will need somebody to play over their head if Tim Thomas maintains his Vezina form in net. In the end, expect another close series between these two teams, with Boston getting payback for one year ago.
Bruins in seven games
Philip Myrland is an author of Hockey Prospectus.
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