Friday, May 14, 2010

Flyers-Canadiens Eastern Conference Finals Digression



I think it's important to take a step back each season after the Avs are officially done. It allows you, as a fan, to enjoy the playoffs without worrying about upcoming free agents or projected draft picks.

The semi-finals are over and the NHL is set for two Conference Finals which promise to make for a David versus Goliath Stanley Cup no matter who the winners are.

In the West, the #1 San Jose Sharks will do battle with the #2 Chicago Blackhawks.
Based on the success the West has had against the East this year, it is very likely that Chicago and San Jose are playing a seven game series for the Cup.

Of course, games aren't played on paper as evidenced by the Eastern Conference Finals:

Defying the Odds

The Philadelphia Flyers just completed a historic comeback against the Boston Bruins. They have become the third team in NHL history to rally from a 3-0 series deficit to advance. Not only did they come back from what appeared to be an insurmountable series lead, they also came back in Game 7 after the Bruins jumped out to a 3-0 lead.

Slowly and surely, the Flyers crept back into the game and their apparent destiny was fulfilled when Simon Gagne scored on the power play with a little over six minutes left in the third.

The #7 Flyers will (unbelievably) have home ice advantage when they take on the eighth seeded Montreal Canadiens. The Habs have knocked off the two top contenders in the East by taking care of the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins. On the back of goaltender Jaroslav Halak, the Canadiens silenced the NHL's two best players, Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby, and have become Canada's last hope at bringing the Cup back to America's Hat.

Previewing...Philadelphia

Key Players: Michael Leighton (G), Chris Pronger (D), Mike Richards (F), Daniel Briere (F), Claude Giroux (F), Simon Gagne (F)

Playoff Record: 4-1 over Devils, 4-3 over Bruins

Blog to Follow: Broad Street Hockey

If there were ever a team that seemed destined to win, it's the Flyers. They've already dealt with injuries to Gagne, Jeff Carter, and Ian Laperriere. They were able to get by mostly because of the stellar goaltending of the biggest "never-will-be" player ever, Brian Boucher. After Boucher went down in Game 5, Michael Leighton was called on in his first game back from a high ankle sprain to step up and take care of business. He allowed one measly goal in Game 6 and was brilliant after the first period in Game 7. Leighton had never started a playoff game prior to this series - can he get the job done?

The Flyers' arena, the Wachovia Center, is home to some of the most ridiculous fans in sports. I have first hand knowledge of how loud it can be during the playoffs and how intense the fans in Philadelphia really are. Of course, I would be amiss if I didn't point out that MANY Flyer "fans" who are suddenly sprouting from the ground are, at this point, bandwagon fans. Don't get me wrong, the majority of the 20,000+ fans at the Center are die-heard, somewhat knowledgable and partially blind hockey fans. But a lot of support coming from Philadelphia will be from Eagle Fans who became Phillie fans who are becoming Flyer fans. Still, a loud and hostile arena will help the Flyers in a Game 7. Ask the 2001 Avs about the necessity of playing at home when it matters most.

Energy wise, the Flyers may be wearing thin. Fighting back from three games down is going to take its toll and Game 1 is set for Sunday with Game 2 following quickly on Tuesday night. A split in Philly gives home ice right back to the Canadiens, so the Flyers will have to muster whatever they have left and come out strong in both games.

Offensively, the Flyers are being lead by Mike Richards (12 assists, 17 points) and Daniel Briere (7 goals, 15 points). They HAVE to be better on faceoffs. Of their top five faceoff men, Blair Betts sits at 55% followed by Briere at 52%. Richards, who has taken almost 100 more faceoffs than any other players, sits below 50%. This statistic almost cost the Flyers tonight and against a potent Montreal power play, it will be key that the Flyers work on their draws.

The special teams have not been a problem for the Flyers. Their power play has been successful 21.7% of the time, best of all the playoff teams remaining. The penalty kill has worked 83.6% of the time, but this ranks behind San Jose, Chicago, and Montreal. Shockingly, the Flyers have not yet taken a major penalty.

Despite their unbelievable comeback, the Flyers are not the NHL's major underdog this year. That distinction belongs to...

Previewing...Montreal

Key Players: Jaroslav Halak (G), PK Subban (D), Michael Cammalleri (F), Brian Gionta (F), Tomas Plekanek (F)

Playoff Record: 4-3 over Washington, 4-3 over Pittsburgh

Blog to Follow: Habs Eyes On The Prize

With a .727 points percentage after the Olympic break, the Canadiens still BARELY made the playoffs. They managed to squeak in, but they were supposed to be nothing else than first round meat for the Capitals to warm up with. Woops. Ovechkin vanquished.

Whatever - with all the top teams out except the Penguins, Pittsburgh would certainly take care of business, especially after going up 3-2 in the series. Wait, the Canadiens held a little comeback of their own and officially closed Mellon Arena to Penguin fans?

Damn right. The thing that pisses me off about Montreal's run, however, is that this is what could have happened if the Avalanche had won Game 4 against San Jose.

But I digress.
The Habs will be on the road Sunday and Tuesday, and it only takes one win to swing home ice advantage back to the Bell Centre. For Flyer fans, this will be the loudest arena they have seen all playoffs. The Canadien fans will undoubtedly match the Flyer fans in terms of loudness, intensity, absurdity, and sheer annoyance.
Montreal success this postseason boils down to two names: Jaroslav Halak and Michael Cammalleri. Halak has faced more shots than any other goaltender in the first two rounds (450) and still boasts an incredible .933 sv%. That's almost unfathomable. (By comparison, Rask had faced the next most at 409 - and Halak still made 47 more saves - but after that, the third most shots faced was a paltry 389 by Jimmy Howard.) Halak's sv% is tops by a longshot and his GAA is only rivaled by Brian Boucher.

Ken Campbell just had an article in The Hockey News about how overrated the "hot goalie" in the playoffs is. Campbell makes some good points, but there is no denying that the Habs wouldn't have even come close to beating the Caps without the stellar play of their goaltender.
Cammalleri has taken care of things in the offensive zone. He played just 56 games in the regular season (25 goals, 48 points) but has more than made up for his missed time. In fourteen playoffs games, he has 12 goals and 18 points, good for third overall among all playoff scorers. Even more impressive are his three game-winning goals. Did I mention a shooting percentage of 25%?
The Habs are an extremely small team and could be dwarfed by the Flyers' rough style. Gionta, Cammalleri, and Scott Gomez will need to find room in the offensive zone.

Special teams are key to Montreal's game. Almost a quarter of their offense has come on the powerplay. They are pretty much dead-even with the Flyers in terms of PP% (21.7%) and their penalty kill is only slightly better (85.5%).

The Habs allow an average of 37 shots a game, but amazingly, Montreal's winning percentage when being outshot is .727.

Also, PK Subban is the man.

Prediction

It's not a stretch to say that absolutely NO ONE predicted this matchup. Both teams are backed by huge, passionate fan bases that would love nothing more than to burn a few cars after a victory. Like most playoff series, this one will come down to goaltending and special teams.

In a battle of Halak and Leighton, I have to give the edge to Halak. The experience factor is moot, but Halak is having one of those postseasons reminiscent of a 2006 Cam Ward, a 2003 JS Giguere, and a 1993 Patrick Roy.

Special teams have been a push thus far, but the Canadiens have already gone against the league's two premier offensive dynamos.

With everything taken into account, I am predicting the Stanley Cup runner-ups to be the...


Montreal Canadiens
in 6.

Series Schedule

Game 1: Sunday, 5/16 @Philadelphia - 7 ET
Game 2: Tuesday, 5/18 @Philadelphia - 7 ET
Game 3: Thursday, 5/20 @Montreal - 7 ET
Game 4: Saturday, 5/22 @ Montreal - 3 ET
Game 5*: Monday, 5/24 @ Philadelphia - 7 ET
Game 6*: Wednesday, 5/26 @Montreal - 7 ET
Game 7*: Friday, 5/28 @Philadelphia - 7 ET
* - If necessary

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1 comment:

LDUTheCoach said...

The Canadiens have look absolutely phenomenal thus far in the playoffs and there is no reason why they can’t win the Eastern Conference Final after they way they’ve played against Washington and Pittsburgh. Here’s proof with a prediction if you don’t believe!! http://www.lionsdenu.com/nhl-playoffs-eastern-conference-final-montreal-canadiens-vs-boston-bruinsphiladelphia-flyers/
The way the Flyers have came back and have momentum, it’s possible they could win, but they just had a long drawn out seven game series again Bruins which could hurt them at the same time

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