The No. 7 seed Philadelphia Flyers and the No. 8 seed Montreal Canadiens begin their Eastern Conference final series on Sunday night in Philadelphia. Here are 10 facts you should know about this series.
He had just two games of NHL experience prior to the playoffs, when the Habs' tenuous injury situation forced him to be recalled from the AHL. After getting a toe in the water in his first two games (he played less than 21 minutes total), he was thrown into the deep end, never playing less than 22 after his third game, topping out at 29:11 in Game 6 against the Pens. And he's been a revelation, shutting down some kid named Sid Crosby as though he was a five-year veteran. He's been a minus just once in nine games and has been on the ice for 13 Montreal goals. Oh and he's 20 years old. That too.
9. History favors the Habs...
The NHL has been doing conference playoffs since 1994, and in all those years, there has never been a 7-vs.-8 conference final. We've come close, of course. There was a 6-vs.-8 with Anaheim and Edmonton in 2006, and there was a 6-vs.-7 between Minnesota and Anaheim in 2003. And if those series were any indication (there are, of course, not), then this is going to be over in a hurry. The lower seed has won all but one of the games in those series.
8. ...Or maybe it favors the Flyers.
As you're all aware, Philadelphia became the third team to come back from a 3-0 series deficit. In 1942, the Leafs came back in the Stanley Cup Finals, which bodes well for the Flyers. In 1975, the Islanders came back in the conference semifinals, but lost in the next round. To Philadelphia. And the Flyers went on to win the Stanley Cup.
7. Cammy comes alive.
Mike Cammalleri scored 26 goals in 65 games this season, which isn't bad or anything. He was on pace for 33, which isn't something to write home about. But in these playoffs, he's become a regular Vassili Zaitsev. He has 12 goals in 14 games, a 70-goal pace, and he's come up even bigger in high-pressure games. The Habs have faced elimination five times this postseason, and Cammy has six goals in those games, including a pair of two-goal nights.
6. Both teams have had their share of injuries.
Unlike those in the Western Conference Final, the trainer's room for these two teams has often resembled a triage unit. Philadelphia will go without Ian Laperriere(notes) and Jeff Carter(notes), as well as Brian Boucher(notes). The Flyers also went without Simon Gagne(notes) for three games. Meanwhile, Montreal is still missing defensemen Paul Mara(notes) and Andrei Markov(notes) and has suffered through a glut of other injuries on defense as well. The good news, I guess, is both teams have proved they can win despite all this, but they probably won't want to test that theory out too much.
5. You too can be an excellent goaltender for the Philadelphia Flyers.
When Brian Boucher went down with an injury, many probably thought the Flyers were cooked. They were down 3-1 and now depending on Michael Leighton(notes), who had precisely zero minutes of playoff experience. Leighton came up big, making 14 saves on the way to a 4-0 win, 30 saves two nights later, then shaking off an awful start and winning again. Three games, three wins, and only four goals against in 155:25. A 1.55 GAA and .943 save percentage? I guess you take that. Leighton, by the way, is one of five different goalies to get time for the Flyers this year. So they've got options.
4. Simon Gagne is healthy.
Go ahead and ask the Bruins about how much the series changed when Simon Gagne came back. He missed the first three games, all of which the Flyers lost, but scored the overtime game-winner in Game 4, scored twice in Game 5, set up the opening goal in Game 6, and scored the series-clinching goal in Game 7. Four goals and an assist when his team was at its most desperate. That's a big-time performance and one the Habs need to stop at all costs.
3. Montreal might have played too many games.
Since the NHL adopted its current playoff format in 1994, only three teams have played 14 games in the first two rounds: Colorado in 2002, Minnesota in 2003, and Carolina last year. None have advanced to the Stanley Cup Finals, and only Colorado, which lost to Detroit 4-3, was able to avoid being swept. So bad news for Montreal there.
2. The Habs want to win way more than everyone else.
You want to talk about desire? The Montreal Canadiens have it in spades. We all know they've been blocking shots like mad men, but to put actual numbers to it is mind-boggling. In 14 games, they have blocked 320 shots, almost 23 a game. And sure, that means they're spending a lot of time in their defensive zone, but to put it in perspective, the Habs have blocked one fewer shot on the road (195) than the second-best shot blocking team has blocked total (Boston, 196). Say what you want, but they're winning through sheer force of will.
1. The prediction: Philadelphia in 7.
Maybe I'm more of a believer in Simon Gagne than Mike Cammalleri, but how, after that performance in Game 7 against Boston, can anyone keep this team down? To say that Montreal's run has been impressive is like saying the sun is somewhat bright, but you can only play white-knuckle sacrifice-yourself-for-the-greater-good hockey for so long, right? There's little doubt that this series will come right down to the dying seconds of Game 7, and that Montreal is incredibly capable of winning the series, and that both teams think they are the stereotypical Team Of Destiny. But really, how many Game 7s can you win on the road in a row?
Sunday, May 16 7p.m.: Montreal at Philadelphia VERSUS, CBC, RDS
Tuesday, May 18 7p.m.: Montreal at Philadelphia VERSUS, CBC, RDS
Thursday, May 20 7p.m.: Philadelphia at Montreal VERSUS, CBC, RDS
Saturday, May 22 3p.m.: Philadelphia at Montreal NBC, CBC, RDS
Monday, May 24 * 7p.m.: Montreal at Philadelphia VERSUS, CBC, RDS
Wednesday, May 26 * 7p.m.: Philadelphia at Montreal VERSUS, CBC, RDS
Friday, May 28 * 7p.m.: Montreal at Philadelphia VERSUS, CBC, RDS