PLAYOFF SERIES: Eastern Conference semifinal; Game 1.
With a thrilling seven-game victory in the opening round, the Philadelphia Flyers earned the chance to avenge one of the most frustrating playoff defeats in team history.
The Flyers get set to take on the Ottawa Senators in the East semifinals, the clubs’ second postseason meeting in as many years.
Seeded second in last year’s playoffs, Philadelphia faced Ottawa in the opening round and jumped out to a 1-0 series lead with a 1-0 overtime victory. But the Flyers proceeded to lose the next three games by 3-0 scores, and fell 2-1 in overtime in Game 5. Philadelphia’s two goals in the series were an NHL record low.
The Flyers, however, can at least can carry some offensive confidence into this year’s matchup after routing the Toronto Maple Leafs 6-1 in Game 7 of their quarterfinal series Tuesday.
“It doesn’t get any easier,” Flyers center Keith Primeau said of facing the Senators. “They’re a better team than they were last year, so it’s a huge challenge. We have to regroup quickly.”
That may not be possible after the Flyers survived the grueling seven-game set against the Leafs, which featured three overtime games with seven total extra periods. Philadelphia may need at least one game to get its legs back against Ottawa.
The top-seeded Senators, by contrast, haven’t played since eliminating the New York Islanders on April 17.
“We’re not used to a break like this,” Senators forward Mike Fisher said. “Hopefully we can bounce back with a good effort and play well Friday.
“We shouldn’t be too rusty. We’ve been trying to stay in game-mode all week with some good practices … realizing we’re not just killing time, but we’re trying to work toward building on things and getting better.”
The Senators should again present an extremely tough challenge for the Flyers. Ottawa earned the Presidents’ Trophy with 113 points and won its first-round series using the disciplined style that gave Philadelphia so much trouble in the 2002 postseason.
After losing the opener 3-0 to the Islanders, the Senators allowed only four goals in winning four in a row.
That was due in large part to the outstanding play of Patrick Lalime, who tied an NHL record with the three straight shutouts of the Flyers in last year’s playoffs.
Ottawa also features a deep and balanced attack that easily led the Eastern Conference with 263 goals during the regular season.
“It’ll be a real tough challenge,” said Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson, who had 27 goals and 79 points this season. ”(The Flyers) played a great series against Toronto. (Ed) Belfour kept (the Leafs) in the series. We’ll try to get ourselves ready for Friday and overcome the week off.
“We expect to win the series … I think everyone will be really disappointed if we didn’t.”
While the Senators appear to have risen to the ranks of the NHL’s elite this season, the Flyers have a significantly different look from last year. Tony Amonte, Sami Kapanen, Michal Handzus and Claude Lapointe, all key contributors for Philadelphia, weren’t on the roster in 2003.
Most encouraging for the Flyers, though, was the play of their core stars in the quarterfinals. Mark Recchi scored six goals, Jeremy Roenick and Primeau had strong series, and goalie Roman Cechmanek appears much more confident heading into this matchup with Ottawa than he did last year.
Philadelphia will likely try to dictate the tone of the series with its physical style, although that strategy wasn’t effective last postseason and the Senators are more comfortable with that approach now. Players like defenseman Zdeno Chara and forwards Chris Neil and Vaclav Varada give the skilled Senators more of an edge, which was apparent against the Islanders.
While Philadelphia may be battling weariness, Ottawa will need to come out with its intensity level high in Game 1 against a Flyers team that has spent much more time in game situations over the last week.
“It could go one way or another. Sometimes sitting longer hurts more,” Recchi said. “Hopefully, we can get one day of rest, get a good practice in, go up to Ottawa and carry our momentum.”
Game 2 will be Sunday night at the Corel Centre.
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Flyers - 4th seed; beat Toronto Maple Leafs 4-3, quarterfinals. Senators - 2nd seed; beat New York Islanders 4-1, quarterfinals.
PLAYOFF TEAM LEADERS: Flyers - Recchi, 6 goals and 9 points; four with 4 assists; Donald Brashear, 11 PIM. Senators - Marian Hossa, 3 goals; five with 3 assists; Hossa, Radek Bonk and Martin Havlat, 4 points; Neil, 13 PIM.
PLAYOFF SPECIAL TEAMS: Flyers - Power play: 15.2 percent (5 for 33). Penalty killing: 88.0 percent (22 for 25). Senators - Power play: 13.8 percent (4 for 29). Penalty killing: 90.3 percent (28 for 31).
REGULAR SEASON SERIES: 1-1-2. The clubs played a low-scoring and tight series, with Ottawa outscoring Philadelphia 6-5. The teams split the first two contests and played to 2-2 ties in the final two meetings. Cechmanek and Lalime each posted a 1-1-1 mark, with Cechmanek recording a 1.63 GAA to Lalime’s 1.62.