The No. 5 seed Philadelphia Flyers and the No. 6 seed New Jersey Devils will clash in the Eastern Conference semifinals beginning Sunday afternoon in Philly. Here are 10 items for your consideration about this matchup.
10. Claude Giroux is Pretty Good
He may not have gotten a Hart nomination, but Giroux is without question the leader for the Conn Smythe among non-goaltenders. The Philadelphia Flyers forward leads the NHL postseason with 14 points, including six goals. His booming hit on Sidney Crosby set the tone for their Game 6 elimination of the Penguins. He has two power-play goals, a shortie and is 51.4 percent on faceoffs.
9. The Rookies Shall Lead
One of the reasons many picked the Penguins over the Flyers in Round 1 was depth perception; as in, Pittsburgh appeared to have much greater depth at forward than did the Flyers, based on experience. That's before Brayden Schenn (2G, 4A), Sean Couturier (3G, 1A) and Matt Read (2G, 2A) all showed they were ready for the playoff pressure. Toss in some quality fourth-line work from Eric Wellwood and even a goal from defensive sub Erik Gustafsson, and their freshmen passed the test.
Just like in the regular season, the rookie everyone assumed would make an impact for the Devils was overshadowed by another frosh. Adam Larsson didn't play a game against the Panthers; Adam Henrique, meanwhile, had three points that included two Game 7 goals — his double-OT game-winner making him one of only two rookies in NHL history to score in a Game 7 overtime. The other one was Claude Lemieux. Remember him, Flyers fans?
8. Devils' Inexplicable PK Problems
In the regular season, the Devils set a modern-era NHL record by allowing 27 power-play goals on 259 times shorthanded, potting 15(!) shorthanded goals in the process. That PK unit evidently didn't qualify for the playoffs, because the Devils couldn't kill a mosquito in Round 1 vs. Florida: 66.7 percent on the PK, giving up 9 goals on 27 chances. Ask the Penguins about conceding the special teams battle to Philly — the Flyers hung 12 power-play goals on them in Round 1.
7. The Nicklas Grossmann Factor
The Flyers defense has taken some significant injury hits this season, most notably to captain and playoff warrior Chris Pronger. When they acquired Grossmann from Dallas on Feb. 17, they snagged a player they coveted: Big body, plays a lot of minutes and is a solid defensive defenseman. When he was in the lineup during the regular season, the Flyers were 14-6-2, to go along with 3-1 in the playoffs. A concussion last round sidelined him, but he's expected to be ready for the Devils.
6. Devils' Secondary Scoring Troubles
New Jersey forwards scored 18 goals against the Panthers in seven games. Eight of them were scored by the top line of Ilya Kovalchuk, Travis Zajac and Zach Parise. The line also generated three of the Devils' five power play goals at forward. Game 7 showed this team can win if the top line is shut down, but New Jersey still needs more out of David Clarkson (zero goals), Patrik Elias (scoreless in his last four playoff games) and Petr Sykora (one assist in seven games) if they're to have a prayer against the Flyers. Their defense also hasn't scored a goal yet; the Flyers' D has three.
5. On the Draw
Outside of Travis Zajac (58.9 percent on 129 draws, Top 10 in the playoffs), the Devils struggled in the circle against Florida — Patrik Elias was a dismal 41.8 percent while Henrique was at 34.1 percent. The Flyers, meanwhile, have three players over 50-percent on draws after Round 1: Couturier (57 percent), Giroux (51.4 percent) and Danny Briere (50 percent). If these numbers hold, it could be a significant advantage for the Flyers — especially in the attacking zone.
4. Ilya Bryzgalov, HuMANGously Inconsistent
Marc-Andre Fleury's implosion in the first round overshadowed the struggles of Flyers goal Ilya Bryzgalov; meanwhile, when Bryz put together some nice stretches in the series, the narrative of the double-goalie fail had already been written. From the Courier-Post, a reminder that Bryzgalov was quite good against the Devils:
Against the Devils this season, Bryzgalov is 3-0 with 0.29 GAA, .987 save percentage and two shutouts. Bryzgalov wasn't at his best in the first round of the playoffs, allowing 22 goals in five full games and almost half of a sixth, but the Flyers ousted the Pittsburgh Penguins in a six-game series in which neither team played much defense. A silver lining is that Bryzgalov was better in his last two games.
That he was … is this the big confidence building series for Bryzgalov on the way to a Cup?
3. The Final Frame
The Devils were 0-3 in the first round when trailing into the third period. They scored as many goals (5) as they surrendered in the final period. The Flyers, meanwhile, scored nine third-period goals and gave up just two. This trend could be one to watch as the Flyers are the more rested and younger team on average (yes, even with Jagr).
2. Has Martin Brodeur Rounded Into Form?
For much of the first round, Marty Brodeur was the same inconsistent goalie he's been in the postseason for the last few years — soft goals, every-other-game performances. But his last game for the Devils was a significant upgrade: Stopping 43 shots for a .956 save percentage, and making the difference until the Devils won in double-OT. It's the kind of effort the Devils have craved from Brodeur for years in the playoffs — can he repeat it in a series during which he'll turn 40 years old (on May 6, Game 4)?
Brodeur didn't play poorly against the Flyers this season despite his 1-3 record. And as any longtime Philly fan (or writer) will tell you, he's one of the haunting symbols of the Devils' previous playoff success against the Flyers — even if he was smoked the last time they faced off.
Flyers in five. Their depth at forward will expose a Devils defense that made Florida look like an offensive force, while the same defensive forces that slowed Malkin and Crosby will take out the Devils' top line.
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