"I think last year is last year, and this year is this year."
Those are the words of Boston Bruins head coach Claude Julien. While forgetting about their historic collapse from a year ago, it will also provide motivation for the Bruins as they face the Philadelphia Flyers in the Eastern Conference semifinal for the second straight season.
Redemption will the rallying cry in the city of Boston over the next two weeks, but they'll be facing a very similar Philadelphia team from last year. Same big-game players up front. Similar strong defensive depth. Same goaltending issues. We'll see highlights from Game 7 of last year so many times it'll become nauseous and like the Chicago Blackhawks' demonizing of the Vancouver Canucks, there will be one overlying storyline until the Bruins erase the memories of the collapse.
Milan Lucic scored a team-high 30 goals in the regular season to lead the Bruins, but managed just a pair of assists in their seven-game series with the Montreal Canadiens. Taking charge on the offensive load was Chris Kelly and Nathan Horton (three), along with Michael Ryder (two). Horton played the hero twice for the Bruins with two overtime winners, including the series clincher in Game 7 against the Habs.
The Bruins need to get goals from Lucic and in general, really. Boston managed 17 goals in their extended series with Montreal, two more than the Washington Capitals who netted 15 in their short series with the New York Rangers. Getting that first goal will also be important as the Bruins were 3-0 doing so against Montreal showing they can tighten up defensively with a lead. Depending on goals coming from behind will need to be improved as Boston went 1-3 and 0-3 when trailing after the first and second periods, respectively.
Up and down the Flyers lineup are big-game players. Danny Briere was most certainly in the Conn Smythe conversation last year and after a six-goal first round, he's back in it again. James van Riemsdyk (four) and Ville Leino (three) round out the top goal scorers for the Flyers and that's without mentioning the contributions of Claude Giroux (nine points) who has a knack for shining in the postseason.
Like the Bruins, Philadelphia has received scoring from numerous players in the playoffs so far. Kris Versteeg and Mike Richards have yet to get on the board with goals, yet the Flyers still tied for the lead after the first round with 22. That will cause serious concern for the Bruins and their defense. Tim Thomas will be busy facing a Flyers team that averaged 36 shots a game in the first round.
The Tomas Kaberle deal has only produced one goal through 31 games since coming over from the Toronto Maple Leafs and only three points on the power play since being paired with Zdeno Chara (zero goals through the first round). We'll get to the power play later, but those two who are known for contributing offensively were quiet against Montreal.
Andrew Ference (four points, +6, 11 blocked shots) lead the Bruins from the back, with Dennis Seidenberg (21 hits, 27:50 TOI, 19 shots) also effective.
Chris Pronger only play power play minutes in Philadelphia's final two games against the Buffalo Sabres, but with four days off to heal up further after coming back from a broken hand, his presence in the the back will only strengthen the Flyers blueline even more.
The Flyers blocked a total of 107 shots against Buffalo, with half of those coming from their defense. Matt Carle (16), Andrej Meszaros (14), Kimmo Timonen (14), and Braydon Coburn (10) are not afraid to give up the body and also each played least 22 minutes or more against Buffalo.
In three games that ended in overtime, Tim Thomas made a total of 16 saves that ended in three wins for the Bruins. When Thomas is on his game, he's one of, if not the best in the world. But Thomas is not afraid to show his emotions and with some of the agitators on the Flyers, it wouldn't be shocking if that's a route Philadelphia attempts to go down to take him off his game. But in the end, Thomas has shown he's capable of making the big save when needed and if Boston's offense goes quiet, he's able to steal a game or two.
Goaltending issues is nothing new to the Flyers, so the fact that there were three different netminders in Round 1 against Buffalo really isn't surprising; nor is the idea that goaltending can prevent them from making their way to the Stanley Cup final (see: last year). But can they overcome their game of goalie musical chairs once again?
Brian Boucher will be the man for the Flyers after winning all four games in the opening round. He has better numbers than Thomas despite three less starts, but there's a little redemption for Boucher to play for this year himself. He lost the first three games to the Bruins last year before getting hurt in Game 5 and watching Michael Leighton help the Flyers through to the Final.
We imagine when the Game Operations staff at TD Garden wants to get the fans to make some noise, they'll use this:
Is Claude Julien playing for his job still after getting out of the first round? It's possible depending on how this series goes, but Julien has helped instil a winning attitude within the Bruins organization and has managed GM Peter Chiarelli's additions well.
Peter Laviolette knows how to get the most out of his players and when to push buttons to get even more out of them. Even with high expectations for the Flyers, Laviolette has been able to keep them grounded and settle things down in the playoffs after a very rough ending to the regular season.
There wasn't a worse power play in the first round than what the Boston Bruins put on the ice against Montreal. Failing to score on 21 opportunities with the extra man, Boston made NHL history by becoming the only team to win a series without a power play goal. The Kaberle-Chara combination hasn't quite paid off as the Bruins would have liked so far.
Philadelphia's power play got some life when Pronger returned in Game 6 as they scored three times in nine chances in the final two games, compared to the two in 26 opportunities in the previous five. He'll be a huge presence logging major minutes with the extra man and the Flyers don't have a shortage of guys who can cash in on those chances.
The Bruins allows six power play goals to the Canadiens in 27 chances continuing their trend of being a middle-of-the-road kill from the regular season. The Flyers weren't any better killing just 77.4% of power plays going 7-for-31 against the Sabres. A fully healthy Pronger should be able to improve things.
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If the Bruins are legitimate Cup contenders out of the East, they'll need to prove it against the Flyers. Forget about exercising the demons of last year's collapse, Boston didn't look contender-like against the Canadiens and with some big names yet to live up expectations so far, they can't afford to stutter against a Flyers team that can go to any number of sources for big goals.
Is Boucher up to the task of beating another world-class goaltender for a second consecutive series? Or will the Flyers need to rely on their scoring to bail them out against Thomas?
The pick here, however, is Bruins in six. The motivation is there from last season and there's not a chance the power play continues being putrid and that Chara and Lucic remain off the goal sheet. After falling behind 2-0 to the Habs, Boston picked up their socks and fought back to advance, taking three games in overtime. Thomas can play even better and I think he will in a series that will not be short of dramatic moments.