Sunday, May 16, 2010
Philadelphia needed a shoot-out victory over the New York Rangers on the last day of the season to secure their playoff berth, while the Canadiens received a single point in an over-time loss to the Maple Leafs to squeak in the night before.
If the Maple Leafs just took care of business in regulation we wouldn’t be in this predicament. Maybe things will change when I get my hands on a Delorean.
Until then, here’s the breakdown of the Eastern Conference finals.
The Flyer forwards are probably the deepest in the league next to the Chicago Blackhawks - even without Jeff Carter. Claude Giroux, who has scored 11 points in 12 games, is playing in a bottom six role and will force the Canadiens to give increased minutes to players they don’t want playing increased minutes.
The Flyers resurgence came when Mike Richards laid out David Krejci, breaking his wrist and ending his playoffs, and when Simon Gagne returned from his own injury. Gagne has scored big goals for the Flyers, including the overtime winner in game 4 and the game winner in game 7. Gagne has scored over 40 goals twice in his career and if he has regained that type of form then the Canadiens are in trouble.
The Flyer forwards are also mean and physical. They will attack the Montreal defence in a way that neither Washington nor Pittsburgh did. This isn't a defence that works well under those type of conditions.
While the Flyers attack is well-balanced the Canadiens offense has been anything but. Mike Cammalleri has scored 12 goals, while Brian Gionta has 7. No one else has more than 4. If the Canadiens are unable to get production from other sources they will not advance. The Flyers have the defenceman capable of shutting down one line.
The Montreal defence has played terrifically throughout the first two rounds of the playoffs and did a tremendous job shutting down Ovechkin, Crosby, and Malkin. However, the Flyers forward group poses an entirely different problem for the Habs. While they may not have the same top-tier talent as Washington or Pittsburgh they are certainly much deeper and have more than one or two players capable of burning the Canadiens. Montreal will need another pairing besides Gill and Gorges to play in a shutdown role. I'm not sure they have one. Although, P.K. Subban is an interesting wild card in all of this. If he can elevate his game and emulate Gill and Gorges then the Canadiens have a much better chance of winning.
The Montreal defence also takes a hit if Andrei Markov is unable to return from injury. He has skated lightly, but by all indications he is out for the remainder of the playoffs.
The Flyers have Chris Pronger who will play close to 30 minutes a game and has the ability to neutralize the Canadiens top players. Montreal has not received balanced scoring throughout the post-season and it might catch up to them this round if Pronger is able to stop Mike Cammalleri.
Jaroslav Halak has been absolutely insane this post-season. Halak leads the playoffs with a sizzling .933%. He has stopped 420 shots, which leads the next goalie (Tuukka Rask) by almost 50. He was the difference in the first round against the Capitals and played just as well in the second round against the Penguins.
The remaining goalie with the next best save percentage is Brian Boucher with a .915%. He is now injured for the remainder of the playoffs and the Flyers are hoping that Michael Leighton can continue his improbable play of the regular season where he posted a 2.48 GAA and a .918% with the Flyers.
In three playoff appearances, Leighton has a 1.54 GAA and a .943%. These are numbers that certainly won’t last, but Leighton is in a position where he doesn’t have to play out of his mind in the same way the Canadiens need Halak to. If the Flyers receive adequate goaltending from Leighton, something the Pens did not receive from Fleury, they should have enough skill and determination to beat the Canadiens.
Both teams have almost identical power-plays. The Canadiens are scoring at a rate of 21.6% (11 goals in 51 opportunities), while the Flyers have a slightly better rate of 21.7% (13 goals in 60 opportunities).
Penalty kill stats are the same story. The Canadiens have managed to kill off 85.5% of their penalties, while the Flyers have a slightly lower rate of 83.6%.
Peter Laviolette replaced John Stevens as coach of the Flyers in December. He has led his teams to the playoffs only three times in eight seasons as a head coach, but has won a Stanley Cup (that being in 2006 with the Carolina Hurricanes).
Laviolette must be given a ton of credit for keeping the Flyers focused during their series with Boston, despite facing a daunting 3-0 hole. He’s also had to deal with multiple injuries up front, the most glaring being Jeff Carter. The Flyers have managed to overcome a great deal of adversity to make it to the Conference Final and Laviolette is a big reason.
Jacques Martin is a former Jack Adams Award winner and most notably coached the power-house Ottawa teams of the late 90s and early 2000s. These are the same teams that notoriously underperformed each post-season – losing in the first round five out of eight seasons. This will only be the second time a Jacques Martin led team has advanced past the second round of the playoffs.
Martin holds the edge in experience over Laviolette, but does not have a Stanley Cup ring to go along with it.
How they got there
The Flyers were on the brink of being swept 4-0 and then it was discovered David Krejci was done for the playoffs and that Simon Gagne would be returning. From that point on the Flyers erased a 3-0 deficit and a 3-0 deficit in game 7 to become only the third team in NHL history to rebound from a 3-0 hole. The Flyers have a lot of momentum heading into this series against the Canadiens.
The Habs came back from being down 3-2 in their series with the defending champs to win decidedly in game 7. Breaking the President’s Trophy winners and then the defending Stanley Cup champions is enough to make any team think they’re the 1976-1977 Canadiens.
The Habs have also received more time off since the second round, but have also played in two game 7s already, meaning they have played two more games than the Flyers. At some point those extra miles will catch up to the Canadiens.
Slight Edge: Flyers
The Canadiens will get a boost of energy and confidence every time they play in front of the home crowd at the Bell Centre. The atmosphere has been absolutely electric and it almost single-handedly won the Canadiens game 6 against the Penguins. Not only will the crowd build energy for the Canadiens, but it will demoralize the Flyers after big saves by Halak.
Halak is the second psychological factor the Habs have working for them. Every time they score a goal they have the confidence in having a brick wall behind them. When the Canadiens jump out to an early lead they play like an entirely different team – one that is extremely difficult to defeat.
The Flyers are only the third team to overcome a 3-0 series deficit. The Flyers are ready to face anything at this point.
The only player on the Flyers with a Stanley Cup is Chris Pronger. He won it in 2007 with the Anaheim Ducks.
Both Pronger and Richards were a part of the 2010 Olympic Gold medal winning Canadian team and Simon Gagne also won a Gold medal for Canada at the 2002 Salt Lake Olympics.
The Canadiens have multiple Stanley Cup winners. Scott Gomez, Brian Gionta, Hal Gill, and Travis Moen have all won Stanley Cups in their careers. Gomez has won two Stanley Cups. Montreal did not have any players on a medal winning team at the Vancouver Olympics.
Prediction: Flyers in 7