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Eastern Conference Finals Preview

Eastern Conference Finals Preview

Eastern Conference Finals Preview
By Judd Hall

No. 2 Pittsburgh Penguins vs. No. 6 Philadelphia Flyers

Series Price: Pittsburgh -190, Philadelphia +165

Series Format: Pittsburgh, 2-2-1-1-1

Skinny: You know there is a rumor out there that the Pens purposely sat Sidney Crosby out of their final game of the year against Philly so they could tank and face Ottawa in the first round instead of their Keystone State rivals.

In hindsight that might have been the best move for Pittsburgh to make when you look at the Flyers’ body of work in the playoffs. Philly took the best shots the red hot Capitals had to give and came away with a seven-game winner over them in the first round. Then the Flyers thoroughly manhandled the Canadiens in five games to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals.

The result of Philadelphia’s strong playoff resume is the No. 1 goal scoring offense, lighting the lamp 43 times in 12 games. Nine of those goals came courtesy of pivot R.J. Umberger…eight of which came against the Habs. Considering that Umberger is in a contract year where he logged 13 scores during the regular season, he’s this year’s version of Fernando Pisani.

It’s important to note that Daniel Briere is proving to be worth every penny of his big contract, leading Philly with 14 points…eight of which are from visiting the red light district.

Everyone has memories of the “Broad Street Bullies” and this edition of the Flyers has the mettle to be as mean as the sides of the 1970s. The problem still proves to be Philly’s blue line likes to take shifts off for no reason whatsoever. It killed them in Game 1 against Montreal and showed its ugly head all throughout the East Semis.

If Philadelphia’s defense can’t play a full 60 minutes (which we all know can and has happened at one time or another this season), then Martin Biron will struggle between the pipes. Biron has been accountable for all eight of the Flyers’ victories, but he’s got a 2.72 goals against average in the playoffs, the worst amongst the remaining netminders. And he’s saving just 91.4 percent of the shots fired at him…again, the worst average of the final four starting goaltenders.

Pittsburgh had a much easier road to traverse in reaching the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since 2001.

The Pens mercifully ended Ottawa’s downward spiral in four straight matches, trailing just one time in the series for a total of four minutes. It stands to reason that they’re third in the NHL playoffs by averaging 3.44 goals per game.

When you’re talking about Pittsburgh’s offense, you almost immediately mention Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. The duo is tied with 14 points for second place amongst scorers in the postseason, although Malkin has six goals to Crosby’s two at the moment. The Penguins are also seeing their acquisition of Marian Hossa. The ex-Thrasher has chimed in with five goals so far this postseason that includes the series-clincher against the Rangers.

Former No. 1 draft pick Marc-Andre Fleury was totally rattled in his first playoff run in 2007, losing four of his five starts that year with a 3.77 GAA. Shift to 2008 and he’s been the model of consistency with his 8-1 record to go along with his 1.76 GAA and 93.8 save percentage.

What makes the Flyers and Penguins’ domination impressive up until this point is they’re not afraid to take penalties. Philly has seen the sin bin the most this postseason with 152 penalty minutes, while Pittsburgh is in third with 149 PIMs.

Gambling Outlook: We know these two teams have a strong dislike for one another. We also know they play much different styles of hockey. Yet when it comes to the season series, it’s a 5-3 mark in favor of the Flyers with the home team going 7-1. The Flyers owned Pittsburgh at the start of the year, winning the first four meetings. Then the Pens retaliated by winning three of the final four scuffles.

Given the plethora of scoring by both sides, the ‘over’ remains the solid play here in the East Finals. During the regular season it went 6-2 in the head-to-head meetings.

Crosby missed four of those eight games due to injury or as a healthy scratch. The four he did play in actually favored the Flyers as evidenced by their 3-1 record when “Sid the Kid” is on the ice. The combined score soared ‘over’ the closing number three times.

Philadelphia has watched the ‘over’ go 8-3 in its past 11 matches.

Biron has been awful when playing in Pittsburgh for his career, posting a 3-8-3 record with a 3.60 GAA. Fleury isn’t much better with his 5-3 mark and GAA of 3.05 at the Wachovia Center for his career.

Outlook: This series appears to have the legs to go the full seven games, but looks can be deceiving. The Penguins’ defense has been one of its strong suits during the postseason thus far and should be able to take on Briere and Umberger, since the rest of the team seems fairly passive when in control of the puck.

Pittsburgh also has an offense that runs much deeper than anything the Flyers have faced in the playoffs. The Pens have also only needed nine games to make it to the Eastern Conference Finals, while the Flyers needed 12 contests to negotiate the landscape.

The games will be close, high scoring affairs, but the Penguins will make it to their third Stanley Cup Finals in five.

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