Eastern Conference Finals Preview
Previewing the NHL's 2008 Western Conference Finals series between Pittsburgh & Philadelphia
#2 Pittsburgh Penguins vs. #6 Philadelphia Flyers
The Battle of Pennsylvania!
My predicted Montreal versus Pittsburgh conference final will not happen, thanks to Martin Biron who led the way for the Flyers. Philadelphia did have a hard time beating the Capitals in Round #1 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but won a dramatic (Biron played beyond amazing) series against the Habs in Round #2. Pittsburgh steamrolled through Ottawa and dominated New York, showing great maturity by playing more experienced then they actually are.
Pittsburgh has only played 9 games in this year's playoffs, which means they have only lost once, which was against the Rangers. This has not stopped the Pens top three from scoring a lot of points. Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Marian Hossa all have 10 or more points, averaging over a point a game each.
The Penguins are a team that you cannot give too many man advantages to; there is far too much fire power on this team. Malkin alone has 4 power play goals and although Crosby has only 2 goals, his 12 assists are leading the playoffs. Remember, these numbers have been accumulated after only 9 games.
Martin Biron has decided to take the Flyers to the Eastern Conference Finals. He has made nearly 350 saves and recorded a shutout in the 12 games Philadelphia has played, allowing 34 goals to date. His goals against is fairly high at 2.72, but what do you expect when you face over 30 shots per game. Biron has made more amazing, spectacular game-saving plays than can be counted in fingers and toes. The good thing for Philly is tha they score more than they allow.
The Flyers have 4 players with 11 or more points but, unlike the 9 games Pittsburgh has played, Philadelphia has played 12. Nothing can be taken away from the power house that this team has. Danny Briere has popped in 5 of his 8 goals on the PP, making this series one to not spend in the box.
This defense did not look great against the speedy Habs, and now they face an even speedier Penguins. Jason Smith and Jaroslav Modry are a combined -7 plus/minus ratio and may be picked on a lot during this series. Biron will face more rubber than usual.
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The season series was won by the Flyers 5-3, outscoring the Pens 28-23. All the games were fast-paced; what I consider high scoring and close. This will be a great match-up to watch as both teams are getting production for all four lines. Also, these teams like to grind in corners to force turnovers and are not afraid to be the bully. Steve Downie of Philadelphia, and Jarkko Ruutu of Pittsburgh, will have many a verbal confrontation while trying to attract penalties. Ruutu also is a valuable shut-down man. He controlled Jaromir Jagr very well, and I can see Briere being bothered by him.
The Penguins are scoring an average of over 3 goals a game, while not allowing more than two goals per game. Philly also scores more than 3 times a game, but they also get peppered with close to 3 a game. Once again, the only hope the Flyers have is a colossal performance by Biron.
Pittsburgh does not have the depth at forward as Philadelphia, but their d-men are far better. I really think that Crosby, Malkin, and Hossa will eat up Biron, since the Flyers have ogres on the point. Georges Laraque will punish Derian Hatcher and Brayden Coburn with a few solid hits to them from hitting the Pens stars.
The one thing the Flyers defensemen do right is block shots. Kimmo Timonen and Jason Smith have sacrificed their lives to block 71 slap shots so far. This explains Smith’s stereotypical hockey smile. Bad news for the Flyers though, Timonen is out indefinitely with a blood clot.
When it comes to the Stanley Cup, both teams do lack in experience. The Pens only have 4 rings, 2 of which belong to Darryl Sydor and the Flyers are not much better with just 3. Lots of learning going on in these locker rooms since both are filled with young players with great futures in the NHL. The series will have a lot of energy since the traveling is just a short bus ride from arena to arena.
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Three key factors in the Eastern Conference Finals:
1) Evgeni Malkin vs. Danny Briere
Many people are going to argue this factor by saying it should be Briere vs. Crosby. The critical match-up here has two players that lead their teams in game winning goals, power play goals and get an abundance of shots on net.
Briere’s experience far passes Malkin’s, but their drive to win is equal. These two are the finishers on the PP for each team and they play with passion. Briere is only as good as line mate Prospal, while Crosby is fine with not scoring as long as Malkin keeps putting the puck in.
Tough call here. Malkin has much more skilled support and Pittsburgh will draw more penalties than Philadelphia. Edge goes to the MVP candidate Malkin.
2) Marc- Andre Fleury vs. Martin Biron
How can this not be a crucial match-up. Fleury has not been as important as Biron to the team, but his record states only one loss. His goals against average of 1.76 is much better and has made 240 saves in 9 games with 2 shutouts. Everyone on Philly likes to shoot the puck. There are 9 players on the Flyers that have attempted 20 or more shots on net, with Jeff Carter leading with 50. Fleury can expect shots from anyone and anywhere.
Biron has been much more valuable than Fleury especially since he has made over 100 more saves, with more games in hand. He does not have great stats but he does have great results. Pittsburgh does have 5 players with 20 or more shots in the playoffs, led by Malkin. Philadelphia will likely get out-shot badly in the series.
My sympathy vote goes to Biron. My money vote gives Fleury the edge.
3) Kimmo’s replacement
Kimmo Timonen will be missed for however long he is out. He is a great two-way defenseman who brought speed to the lacking Flyer core. I am not sure who will take his spot as a regular d-man. Jason Smith can, but his 2 points and -3 plus/minus will not suffice. Joroslav Modry - nope. The problem here is who will they call up from the minors to replace Timonen’s replacement? The guy played well over 20 minutes a game, which is a big gap to fill.
Pittsburgh gets a huge edge. Very important factor when you lose your #1 defenseman.
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I do not believe that Biron can keep playing at such a high level when facing the Pens. Pittsburgh is much more explosive than the Habs and will not miss their scoring chances. The Flyers are a much more well-rounded team in the series, but now we are talking about Crosby and Malkin. With Philadelphia being much slower in the back, the Pens will win easily.
Pittsburgh win series 4-1.
By Kevin Chaves
ProHockey-fans.com Staff Writer
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