Second-round breakdown: Canadiens vs. Flyers
The Montreal Canadiens go from an emotional Original Six tilt to a series with a longtime playoff foe from yesteryear in the Philadelphia Flyers. The Boston Bruins certainly threw a scare into the Habs, taking them to a Game 7.
The series revealed that rookie Montreal netminder Carey Price is all he's cracked up to be, and that he's human. The series also revealed that while this Habs team is talented, it is extremely young and learning on the go. This time, the Habs once again will be heavy favorites facing another hardscrabble team that has bucked the odds.
Last season, the Flyers finished dead last in the NHL. They then retooled under GM Paul Holmgren, trading for the rights to Kimmo Timonen and Scott Hartnell and signing Daniel Briere as a free agent. A week before the playoffs began, the Flyers were life and death to even qualify for the postseason. But they jumped into the sixth seed and, after blowing a 3-1 series lead, managed to oust the Capitals after a Game 7 overtime winner from Joffrey Lupul, another newcomer to the Philly lineup this season.
2. Whither Alexei Kovalev? There was, among some hockey observers, a strong sentiment that Kovalev deserved some consideration for the Hart Trophy as the NHL's most valuable player. There's no question the talented Russian winger was instrumental in the Habs' surprising climb to the top of the Eastern Conference standings. He not only produced points (84 to lead the team), but he also helped tutor young Russian stars Andrei and Sergei Kostitsyn and Andrei Markov. But Kovalev seemed absent, in spirit if not physically, for stretches during the first round, including a minus-3 effort in Game 6. Coach Guy Carbonneau put Kovalev on a line with captain Saku Koivu and Chris Higgins in Game 7 and that paid dividends as Kovalev chipped in two assists, both at even strength. The Habs will need more of that if they hope to fulfill what fans believe is their destiny of returning to the Stanley Cup finals for the first time since 1993.
3. Are those pylons or defensemen? For much of the Washington/Philadelphia series, forwards seemed to be swirling around defensemen like water around a rock. The Flyers' defensive corps isn't going to get much of a break against Montreal. While the Habs don't have an Alexander Ovechkin or a Mike Green, they do have three dangerous, fast offensive lines that will do their best to take advantage of the Flyers' lack of mobility on the blue line. Expect Kimmo Timonen and Braydon Coburn, who both played most of the time against the Ovechkin line, to try and match up against the Kovalev line.
4. Welcome home, Danny Boy. Daniel Briere has incurred the wrath of Montreal fans ever since he signed with Philadelphia last summer instead of joining the Habs. He'll no doubt get a warm reception from the Bell Centre faithful throughout the series. Not that it'll bother the talented center. Still, with Mike Knuble out indefinitely (hamstring), there is more pressure on Briere not just to produce points, but also to be a leader in the dressing room. He leads all playoff performers with 11 points in the postseason.
5. The buzz factor. These are two cities starved for playoff success. The Flyers advanced to the 2004 Eastern Conference finals, but haven't been to a Stanley Cup final since 1997 and haven't won it all since 1975. Montreal is the last Canadian team to hoist the Cup, but that was back in 1993. They haven't been close to winning another since. Yet, in Montreal and the entire province of Quebec, there is a sense of destiny surrounding this team. Whether that puts too much pressure on the young Canadiens or serves as motivation, time will tell.
• Flyers: Vaclav Prospal, picked up at the trade deadline from Tampa to play with Briere, has nine points. Joffrey Lupul's overtime winner in Game 7 was his first of the postseason.
Scott Burnside is the NHL writer for ESPN.com.
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2008 NHL PLAYOFFS
We're down to the final eight teams as the battle for the Stanley Cup continues. Scott Burnside previews the second round:
• No. 1 Montreal vs. No. 6 Philadelphia
• No. 2 Pittsburgh vs. No. 5 N.Y. Rangers
• 2008 NHL playoffs index