Saturday, May 15, 2010
Eastern Conference Finals
Montreal Canadiens vs Philadelphia Flyers
When thinking about the format on how to preview this series, I decided that I wouldn't even use a format like I did when writing about previous series. How could I? If anyone had these teams matching up in the Eastern Conference Finals (We had Philadelphia) then you deserve a job with Espn or Tsn.
In most seasons in sports, a Cinderella team and story unfolds before our eyes. In this Hockey season, we have two. It's almost a shame that one of these teams has to lose but that is how these things go.
Both the Flyers and Canadiens had to win their final game just to be part of the extra season. It was Montreal that took headlines when they ousted the President Trophy winning Washington Capitals in 7 games with a mix of heart, defense and superb goaltending. Mike Cammelleri and Hal Gill lead the way along with Jaroslav Halak. So if that wasn't enough, Montreal proved maybe that it wasn't such a fluke and took out the Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins in another 7 game series. This time Brian Gionta joined the party with Cammelleri and the Canadiens held Sidney Crosby to just 1 goal in the series.
The Flyers had a season fulled with turmoil. They fired coach John Stevens in November, lost starting goalie Ray Emery, then lost backup goalie Micheal Leighton and relied on journey Brian Boucher down the stretch. The Flyers beat the Rangers in a shootout the last game of the season just to make the playoffs. They faced a Devils team who they owned in the regular season and it carried over to the post-season as they won in 5 games. It was the first time we have seen the Devils look intimidated in 15 years. Then came the Boston Bruins. Many people were expecting a tight and even hard fought series. That happened, sorta. The Bruins won the first 3 games of the series. Although the games were close, the Bruins appeared like they were going to move on. Simon Gagne who had been hurt decided to lace them up for game 4, and the Flyers were glad he did. The Flyers had a 1 goal lead late, but Mark Recchi tied the score with 30 seconds to go to send it to OT. However, Simon Gagne deflected a pass through Tuukka Rask to avoid the sweep. In game 5 the Flyers dominated the Bruins and more of the same in game 6 back in Philly. The Flyers were on the brink of being the first team since the 1975 New York Islanders to come back from a 3-0 deficit and only the 5th team in pro sports to do so. Tied 3-3 in the later stages of the 3rd period, the Bruins took a too many men on the ice penalty and hero Simon Gagne scored on the powerplay to give the Flyers the lead to stay.
With both of these teams defying odds to be where they are, it's almost impossible to break down this series and come to a prediction that would make anyone feel 100% confident. We break down these teams head to head in the following categories.
Offense: edge Flyers, barely. The Flyers have players like Arron Asham and Claude Giroux that can score gritty goals which are usually huge in playoff series. While Gionta,Gomez,Cammelleri and Plekanic can go head to head with the Flyers best, the Montreal drop off is bigger.
Defense: edge Flyers. Hal Gill might be playing better than any defensemen left in the playoffs, but with players like Marc-Andre Bergeron being a big liability and PK Subban who hasn't seen a physical team like the Flyers, Philadelphia gets the edge here.
Goaltending: edge, Montreal. Jaroslav Halak has been going bananas out there while the Flyers are going with Micheal Leighton. Leighton played well in games 6 and 7 but hasn't played much at all in the last few months. Big edge to Montreal there.
Coaching: edge, Flyers. Peter Laviolette is probably the most underrated coach in sports. Wherever he has gone, he has won. He took the Islanders to the playoffs 2 straight years, won a cup in Carolina and brought the Flyers to the Eastern Conference Finals all in a span of 9 seasons. It's amazing the turnaround he has on teams.
Special Teams: edge Montreal. The Flyers have a great penalty kill to thwart off Montreal's very solid PP. The Flyers Power Play won't match up well with the Canadiens power play.
Home Ice Advantage: edge, even. Home Ice will be huge in this series. The Flyers fans make people watching on TV uncomfortable and the media coverage and circus that is Montreal will keep the Flyers from feeling secure on the road.
Predicition: Montreal in 7.
Montreal has the edge in one catergory that seems to be the difference maker this time of year in the playoffs. Goaltending. If Halak continues to play the way he has been playing, it will be very tough for the Flyers to win.