Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Eastern Conference Breakdown

One thing is for sure in this Eastern Conference Final, the winner will come from Pennsylvania. That's right, it's every Capitals' fan worst nightmare, the Penguins against the Flyers for the right to play in the Stanley Cup finals. So, let's break it down bit by bit, shall we??

OFFENSE: Let's be honest, the Penguins have a bevy of firepower in their line-up and are a threat to be reckoned with. With Evgeni Malkin, Marian Hossa, and Sidney Crosby, the Penguins could have the best offense in the NHL Playoffs right now. With role players like Georges Laraque, Ryan Malone, and Gary Roberts, they Penguins do have some depth should the top trio get shut down. Though, I'm sure Petr Sykora and Jordan Staal still have much to prove in these playoffs.

Philadelphia has been led by Daniel Briere, which should be no surprise, but RJ Umberger has been a pleasant surprise for the Flyers these playoffs. Umberger's nine goals helped the Flyers get past the Habs in the second round. Vaclav Prospal quietly has racked up 12 points, while Mike Richards has contributed silently on the scoresheet, but loudly along the board. The Flyers depth could help them get an upset victory in the Conference finals.

DEFENSE: The Flyers should have the advantage in this section, but it's something of an enigma for both squads. The Flyers have the shutdown player in Kimmo Timonen doing his job perfectly, while Jason Smith and Braydon Coburn have been an excellent compliment on the blue line. Derian Hatcher could be the Achilles heel should he get overly aggressive and give too many power-plays to the Pens.

I personally though the Penguins defense would be their downfall, but they have played very respectable in the post-season. Hal Gill of all people has been playing very well, while Sergei Gonchar and Ryan Whitney have been playing well, with Rob Scuderi being the best rated defenseman at +7.

GOALTENDING: Marc-Andre Fleury has played huge for the Penguins, but has faced the least amount of shots of any goalies who have played at least eight games. He is second in GAA and first in save percentage while proving that he has what it takes to be a #1 goalie in the NHL. We'll just have to see how much this streak for Fleury can go.

Martin Biron, in his first playoff appearance in his career, has played solidly for the Flyers and has kept them in many games not only in the post-season, but also during the season. Biron is battle tested too, mostly due to him facing the most shots this playoffs.

This is a case of two surprising, hot goaltenders on a collision course for the right to play for the biggest prize in all sports. It should come down to a goaltender's duel this series.

Now, if the regular season is any indication (which...let's face it-- it isn't), the Flyers beat the Penguins five times out of the eight and were very physical against the Pens. When the Rangers instilled physicality into their game, you could see the Penguins get a little flustered. We'll see if the Flyers will be able to get better results from the same game plan.

It should be an interesting series and may be one of the better ones, but with depth, shutdown ability, and physicality-- I'll take the Philadelphia Flyers in six games for this series.

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