Last year’s Eastern Conference semifinal matchup between the Philadelphia Flyers and the Boston Bruins resulted in history. In just the fourth time in professional sports history, the Flyers erased a 3-0 series deficit to overcome the Bruins en route to hoisting the Prince of Wales trophy.
What was history last year, is history again now.
The two clubs will meet in the semifinals again this season, with Boston hoping to eliminate the Flyers as sweet payback for last year’s embarrassing collapse.
And if history is any indication, Philadelphia won’t be bashful in their attempt to prove that the comeback was no fluke.
In respects to the 2011 version of the series, the two teams have far more in common than the fact that they played each other last year. Both teams have more than their fair share of size and aren’t afraid to throw every inch and pound at the opposition.
For the Bruins, the play of Milan Lucic will be crucial as the bruising forward is looking to burst out of his first series slump. Although Lucic tallied 30 goals in the regular season, the 6-foot-4 winger failed to find the back of the net against Montreal and ended the series with just two points.
If Lucic can’t get going offensively, it may even the balance with Philadelphia, as they’re top goal scorer in the regular season, Jeff Carter missed the final three games of the Buffalo series with a lower-body injury. Although Carter’s patented wrist-shot will be missed until he can re-enter the lineup, the Flyers are more than capable of scoring goals without him. One need not look further than Daniel Briere for the source of some of the firepower. Briere is a lifetime point per game player in the playoffs and his six goals in the first round tied him for first in the league.
On the defensive end, both teams boast a large and snarly leader that won’t be afraid to ratchet up the series’ physicality. Both being former Norris Trophy winners, the 6-foot-6 Chris Pronger and 6-foot-9 Zdeno Chara are no strangers to using their height to help terrorize their opponents.
Pronger’s late entry into the Philadelphia lineup in games six and seven clearly helped them escape the Sabres. His ability to perform on the power play may be the most important intangible he brings. Before his return, the Flyers went 2-for-26 with the man advantage compared to going 3-for-9 with Pronger in the lineup.
While Chara has the most powerful slap shot in the NHL, the Bruins time with the man advantage hasn’t been able to use it effectively. Boston finished its first round series going a putrid 0-for-21 in the series on the power play. Against a Flyers penalty killing unit that finished the first round just 12th of 16 teams, the Bruins will have to find a way to get contributions on the power play.
In net, the Flyers will face one of the best goaltenders in the league in Tim Thomas. Philadelphia found a way to get by last year’s Vezina trophy winner in Ryan Miller, and now they’ll have to face the winner from 2009 and one of this year’s finalists in Thomas. Boston’s backstop posted a .926 save percentage in their first round series, and has the experience of shutting out the Flyers once already this season. The hype about last year’s historic series will most likely leave Thomas unfazed, as it was Tuukka Rask that held the starting job.
Although Boston’s goalie position has changed since last year, Philadelphia’s continues to maintain the reputation of a ‘carousel’ as veteran Brian Boucher will start in net. Rookie netminder Sergei Bobrovsky started the first two games of the first round before Boucher took the reins for games three and four. After being chased by some weak goals in Game 5, Michael Leighton started in net for Game 6. In a repetitive circumstance, Leighton was miserable before getting the hook of head coach Peter Laviolette after a three-goal first period for Buffalo. With the circus-like nature of the position in the city of Brotherly Love, the importance of Pronger and the Flyers defense looms even larger.
For Boston, Thomas’ presence is quite a luxury to have.
After last year’s historic series, there will be no love lost between the ‘Big Bad Bruins’ and the ‘Broad Street Bullies’. It will be to no one’s surprise if this classic showdown is full of physical play, sound bytes and frequent scrums after the whistle.
Although Thomas is more than capable of swinging the series in the Bruins favor, the Flyers hold an advantage on offense and defensively with Pronger back in the lineup.
Prediction: Flyers in 7.