Second-round preview: Flyers-Bruins
Everyone knows what happened last season. The Bruins built a 3-0 series lead before allowing the Flyers to tie the series at 3. In Game 7, Boston went up 3-0 in the first period, but Philly battled back to win. The B's became just the third NHL team to blow a 3-0 series lead and lose a best-of-seven series. The Flyers, of course, went on to lose in the Stanley Cup finals to Chicago, and they believe they have the goods to get back there this spring.
That said, the Bruins and Flyers enter this series having struggled at various points in the first round, where each was taken to seven games by a lower seed, Montreal and Buffalo, respectively. The Flyers lead all Eastern Conference teams with 16 five-on-five goals, an illustration of their offensive depth. The Bruins will be looking to do a little exorcism of their own in this series, hoping to end a Cup drought that dates back to 1972.
1. Goalie carousel: The goaltending issue in Philadelphia is so significant, it's not just the elephant in the room, it's the whole herd. But maybe that's not such a bad thing. The Flyers have been answering questions about goaltending for so long, it is part of the team's DNA. And guess what? The Flyers don't seem to mind. Rookie Sergei Bobrovsky played poorly down the stretch but got the Game 1 start against the Sabres. He was promptly yanked in Game 2. Brian Boucher righted the ship temporarily before struggling in Game 5. Then, Michael Leighton followed with a stinker of his own in Game 6 that Boucher helped salvage in relief.
With Boucher reinstalled as the starter -- presto! -- the Flyers are in the second round. The Flyers will always, on paper, give way in the goaltending category, and they will again in this series against Vezina Trophy nominee Tim Thomas. Yet, for some reason, the often uneven play of the team's goaltenders doesn't seem to matter at all to the Flyers. That, for us, is a mark of maturity, if not stability.
2. Power plays: The Flyers somehow managed to score just twice on 26 power-play opportunities through the first five games of their series against Buffalo. But they turned things around by going 3-for-9 on the man advantage to pace themselves to victories in Games 6 and 7. The Flyers' ability to continue their strong special teams play will serve them well against a Boston team that must be saving up its power-play goals for this series.
The Bruins somehow managed to oust the Canadiens without once scoring on the power play. That's not good. If the trend continues, the Flyers will make quick work of the Bruins. Not that the Flyers' penalty kill has been all that inspiring -- the unit gave up seven power-play goals in the first round.
3. The big men: Chris Pronger returned to the Flyers' lineup in Game 6 and played just 4:33 minutes but went on to play 17:27 and collect his first point of the playoffs in Game 7. His injured hand is clearly not 100 percent, but it is clear Pronger's presence changes the Flyers' mentality on the ice. He is every bit as important to the Flyers as Boston captain Zdeno Chara is to the Bruins. Chara had only one assist in the first round, but he is second to only P.K. Subban in average ice time per game (28:57) and added another 28:05 Wednesday night.
When both are on their games, they can dictate the flow and personality of a game. And their performances will go a long way in determining the series winner.
4. Who will carry the mail?
It's easy to identify which players get the job done offensively for the Flyers. Danny Briere had six goals in the first round. Claude Giroux, who leads all Flyers with nine points, is the most talented offensive player on either team in this series. With Jeff Carter out for the foreseeable future (an apparent knee injury), Ville Leino picked up the slack versus Buffalo.
The Bruins? Milan Lucic had zero goals (although he nearly cost the Bruins the series with a brainless hit from behind on Jaroslav Spacek), and David Krejci was a shadow with one goal. Kudos to Mark Recchi, Chris Kelly (three goals) and Nathan Horton (three goals, including two game winners) for getting the job done, but the Bruins have to get more from their best players or they will lose the five-on-five battle.
"For me, the Bruins present a balanced lineup," Philadelphia coach Peter Laviolette said Wednesday before the Bruins closed out Montreal. "They have good forwards up front, depth up front. Mostly, when I look at the Bruins, I see balance. They can play a game with skill. They can play physical, and that's probably what I see most in them."
5. The cheapsters: Both teams like to play on the edge. Mike Richards, Briere and Lucic delivered borderline-suspendable hits in their respective series. Andrew Ference clipped an unsuspecting Jeff Halpern in Game 7, although he wasn't penalized. Playing close to that edge, but not going over it, will be key to a series that promises to be physically demanding.
• The Flyers' leaky penalty kill against the Bruins' nonexistent power play: The Flyers bring far more depth than the Canadiens, and if the Bruins cannot at least scare Philly a little on the power play, they are cooked.
• Philadelphia: The question is whether Brian Boucher can produce enough quality starts over a seven-game series to move the Flyers forward. The bottom line is, he hasn't shown he can. Would Laviolette go back to Bobrovsky? He might have to. But we don't like the Flyers' chances of using three goalies two series in a row and advancing. That means Boucher has to be good early on and hope the Flyers can close out the B's in a hurry.
Boston: Milan Lucic, Boston's Cam Neely clone, had two lonely assists and took what could have been a crippling penalty in Game 6 after a regular season that saw him score 30 goals. Trust the Flyers to try to goad Lucic into more mayhem. If he can keep his cool and get involved offensively, the Bruins have a shot. If not, ...
• We don't care who is in goal for the Flyers; they will best the Bruins. This time, the Flyers won't spot the Bruins three games, either. Philadelphia in six.
Scott Burnside covers the NHL for ESPN.com.
MORE NHL HEADLINES
- Canucks' Hansen expected to be OK after hit
- Pouliot scores in debut as Pens top Panthers
- Isles rally late, tally 3 in 3rd to stun Lightning
- Rangers edge Canes on Zuccarello's SO goal