The 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs are upon us, and by the end of it you'll feel like The Walking Dead. Hence, zombie motif!
The worst part about the Eastern Conference quarterfinal battle between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers, besides the fact that one entertaining and Cup-worthy team will be going home?
The handshake line.
Seriously, who wants to see two teams, that generally loath every fiber of the other's being, feign congratulations at the end of the series? It should end with a line brawl. Or have the winner smack the losers on the backside with a fraternity paddle. (What's Russian for "Thank you sir may I have another?")
Coming up, we break down the Penguins vs. the Flyers, complete with Zombified observations …
Pittsburgh Penguins (4) vs. Philadelphia Flyers (5)
April 11: Philadelphia vs. Pittsburgh, 7:30 p.m.
April 13: Philadelphia vs. Pittsburgh,, 7:30 p.m.
April 15: Pittsburgh at Philadelphia, 3 p.m.
April 18: Pittsburgh at Philadelphia, 7:30 p.m.
April 20: Philadelphia vs. Pittsburgh, 7:30 p.m.
April 22: Pittsburgh at Philadelphia, TBA*
April 24: Philadelphia vs. Pittsburgh,, TBA*
Hart-winner-in-waiting Evgeni Malkin has been in Beast Mode since the starting gun, tallying 109 points in 75 games, including a career best 50 goals. He helped James Neal to a breakout season of 40 goals and 41 helpers, and Chris Kunitz to 61 points.
Oh, hey, lookie here: Sidney Crosby's back and had 37 points in 22 games for a plus-15. There's not a hockey team in the world that can boast the 1-2 punch of Sid and Geno, nor is there a coach in the world other than Dan Bylsma with the luxury of deploying them both on the same line when necessary. Crosby's an outstanding playoff performer … and in case you haven't heard, he's not a goody two-shoes.
The Penguins' offense is deeper this season than to a breakout year from Pascal Dupuis (25 goals), solid contributions from Jordan Staal (25 goals), Steve Sullivan (17 goals), Tyler Kennedy (33 points) and a reformed Matt Cooke (38 points). Craig Adams, Arron Asham, Richard Park and Joe Vitale bring varying degrees of grit.
Were it not for Malkin, Claude Giroux might have collected the Hart this season with 93 points in 77 games. His line with Scott Hartnell (37 goals) and Jaromir Jagr (54 points) was among the NHL's best, with Hartnell in particular being a heart and soul player for the Flyers.
Danny Briere's health is crucial to the Flyers. He didn't have a stellar regular season, but he has 96 points in 97 career playoff games with 12 game-winning goals. Wayne Simmonds (28 goals) and Jakub Voracek (18 goals) bring some physicality and offensive; ditto James van Riemsdyk should he return at some point. Max Talbot, ex-Penguin, has been known to score a big goal in the playoffs. And shoosh a crowd.
But the story for the Flyers at forward has been the contributions of young players like Matt Read (24 goals), Sean Couturier (27 points), Brayden Schenn (18 points), Zac Rinaldo (232 PIMs) and Eric Wellwood (9 points in 24 games). If the Flyers are going to win this series, they'll need something significant from a group of players that have as much player experience as the Maple Leafs since the lockout.
Kris Letang is one of the League's top puck-moving defensemen, skating 24:50 per game and posting 42 points in 52 games. Paul Martin has been vilified at times this season, but has played some of his best hockey when paired with Letang.
Zbynek Michalek and Brooks Orpik are a formidable pair of defensive defensemen; in Orpik's case, one that can put a hurt on you. They're also the ice time leaders for a penalty kill that ranked third in the NHL. Matt Niskanen and physical Deryk Engelland round out the unit.
The Flyers will miss Chris Pronger, playoff warrior, and Andrej Meszaros as they enter the postseason. Matt Carle (23:01) was their ice time leader this season, skating most recently with Kimmo Timonen, who had 43 points on the year. Shot-blocking Braydon Coburn is a solid defensive defenseman, and the Flyers will have Nicklas Grossmann healthy for Game 1. Veteran Pavel Kubina will seek to erase some shaky regular-season play with a strong postseason.
When the Zombie Apocalypse happens, Brooks Orpik would survive for the Penguins, handing out Free (Zombie) Candy and generally freaking them out by having scarier eyes than they do.
When the Zombie Apocalypse happens, Ilya Bryzgalov would survive for the Flyers, as he would (a) have a small army of bears and tigers and tiger-bears to protect his lair and (b) keep the zombies at bay by regaling them with philosophical discussions about the size and function of the human brain. ("The cerebral cortex is huMANGous beeg.")
Marc-Andre Fleury is money in the playoffs: a .910 career save percentage and 41 wins. He won't be a liability for the Penguins …
… will Ilya Bryzgalov be one for the Flyers? His last two postseasons with Dave Tippett's Coyotes saw him finish with GAA of 3.44 and 4.36. This is his maiden voyage as a Flyers goalie in the playoffs. If he plays like he has the last few weeks, they have a shot at winning this series. If he flops, how short is the leash before Sergei Bobrovsky gets in; and are there any politics involved considering Bryz is the guy they signed to be the man in the playoffs?
The Penguins are exempt from this meme because we can't afford the apology and/or $20,000 fine that comes with making light of Sidney Crosby's brain.
The Flyers, meanwhile, are that zombie in your backyard that's somehow equal parts frightening, annoying, endearing and sorta fun to watch. And then he tries to eat your dog, so then you have to skull'em.
Dan Bylsma is one of the most cerebral coaches in the NHL, and a great manager of the Penguins' talent on the ice. He's also a guy that knows how to keep his team composed when the pressure's on …
… which is what makes this matchup so much fun, as Peter Laviolette is like Dan Bylsma's id.
His emotions are evident from the bench to the dressing room, but he's every bit the successful tactician as his Penguins counterpart. We'll call it even, but the Flyers have a slight advantage given Lavy's propensity for working the refs through the media.
The Penguins were fifth in the NHL on the power plays at 19.7 percent in 289 attempts. The Flyers were sixth at 19.7 in 335 attempts.
But on the kill, the Penguins were third in the NHL at 87.8 percent in 270 attempts. The Flyers, meanwhile, were 17th at 81.8 percent on 319 times shorthanded.
In order to defeat the Penguins, you have to win the physical battle (not easy) and distract them with extra-curricular activities after the whistle and behind the play (which the Flyers can do). Puck control is a must — but the Penguins can also be a quick strike team.
In order to defeat the Flyers, you need to plant seeds of chaos in their goaltending duo and keep them off the board early, as the Flyers have just two regulation losses in 30 games when leading after the first period. (Given some of the Penguins' defensive breakdowns during games, this could be dicey.) Plus, prey on that penalty kill.
Penguins in 6. The defensive deficiencies for Philly would lead to issues between the pipes which usually leads to the Flyers exiting the postseason. The Penguins are probably the best team in the East right now, but this isn't a given: If the Flyers can annoy and destroy them, and have either Bryz or Bob get hot, then they have a chance to advance. Bottom line: Embrace the hate, because this is going to be good.