The Pittsburgh Penguins will meet the Philadelphia Flyers in the Eastern Conference finals beginning Friday night at the Mellon Arena in Pittsburgh. The Penguins are fresh off a 4-1 series win over the New York Rangers while the Flyers defeated the Montreal Canadiens in five games. These teams have met three times in the playoffs already and the Flyers have won all three.
The Penguins have the three most talented offensive players in the series: Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby and Marian Hossa. Philadelphia, however has an edge in scoring depth. The Flyers had six 20-goal scorers while Pittsburgh had only four players with 20 or more tallies. The Pens also have gritty forwards who can be agitators like Jarkko Ruutu, Gary Roberts and Georges Larocque and they will need them to match the physical play of the Flyers.
The Penguins also have an advantage on defense. The Flyers have slower players on the blue line that will have problems keeping up with the quicker Pittsburgh forwards. The Flyers will also start the series without Kimmo Timonen, who may miss the entire series due to an ankle injury. Timonen is the Flyers best all-around defenseman and his loss is a big blow to Philadelphia’s hopes. Pittsburgh has allowed the fewest goals per game of any team in the playoffs this year and their team defense has been strong. Sergei Gonchar contributes as a power play quarterback while Hal Gill has been a positive contributer on defense. His size will be key for the Penguins if they hope to neutralize the Flyers’ large forwards.
Special teams are also a plus for the Pens. In the playoffs, the Pens and Flyers are nearly even on the power play with the Flyers converting on 24 percent and the Penguins at 23.4 percent. The Penguins have a big advantage on the penalty kill, however. They are second in the playoffs with an 89.5% efficiency rate while the Flyers rank 12th with just 77.2%, by far the lowest of the four remaining teams. This really could hurt Philadelphia since they were the most penalized team in the Eastern Conference during the regular season. If the Flyers cannot stop the Pittsburgh power play, this could be a short series.
In goal, both Marty Biron and Marc-Andre Fleury have played very well in the postseason. This is Fleury’s second trip to the playoffs and Biron’s first. Fleury has been red-hot since returning from a mid-season injury and has a 1.76 GAA and a .938 save percentage in the playoffs. Biron has a 2.72 GAA and a .914 save percentage. He has had some rough games but he’s been great when he’s had to be. Still, Fleury has the edge here. He is playing in front of a stronger defense and has been playing at a higher level more consistently than Biron.
The Penguins have the edge in most areas although the Flyers certainly won’t go down without a fight. This rivalry had some real hate in it during the regular season and that will come up a notch or two by the end of this series. The best players on the ice play for the Penguins. The Flyers tend to take too many penalties and the Pens’ potent power play will make them pay for it. Pittsburgh also has enough grit to answer the Flyers’ physical style. It won’t be an easy series, but look for Pittsburgh to prevail in six games.