There’s no need for handshakes necessary, they’ve met plenty of times. The Stanley Cup semi-finals will begin Sunday at 3pm for these two divisional rivals and, let’s just say, no one will be playing nicely.
These teams have been pretty evenly matched the last few times they’ve met not only in the post season, but also in the regular season. The Devils and Flyers both split their six games in the 2011-2012 regular season and have met four times in the playoffs in the last 30 years since the Devils decided to settle in NJ. The Devils won their matchup in 1995 en route to winning the Cup and also beat the Flyers in 2000 en route to their 2nd Stanley Cup when the Flyers had a 3-1 series lead.
While Flyers fans will constantly badger Devils fans on everything from filling seats, to finishing better in the standings (by 1 point), sending the Devils home in 2010, to better sweaters (cough cough), I think Flyers fans should be expecting a lot more of a challenging and longer series than anticipated.
What’s hot/not for the Devils?
Until new pages of a book are finally written, we can only rely on material already circulated. So here’s what’s hot for the Devils. While you’ll see leads being blown almost daily against the Panthers, Marty Brodeur has been in playoff hockey mode since before the playoffs even began. He’s been playing at a highly competitive level to make sure the Devils have a chance to win. Mental composure is something you’ll never be able, to see but Marty has it. He’s bounced back when the team has needed him to, and the players and Pete Deboer all recognize that.
Along with solid goaltending, Devils are getting help from unlikely personnel. The 4th line of Ryan Carter, Steve Bernier, and Stephen Gionta has made quite an impression in the first round. Contributing to 5 of the Devils 18 total goals, if this line can continue to produce results, it should boost confidence for the club.
Now, let’s look at what’s not. The Devils have two key areas I noticed that need immediate resurrecting. One of those areas is the penalty kill. What was more than above average in the regular season has been breaking their backs this post season. The Panthers have put 8 goals in on 23 chances. If they continue giving other teams that opportunity going forward, you can bet it’ll be a very short series for them as Philly lacks no weakness on their power play. Another key area is to get their $100 million dollar locomotive moving again.
While the top two lines have been producing, it’s not as good as it should be. Veterans like Elias and Sykora have been treasures this season, but I’m just not seeing the consistency I would like to from them. Kovalchuk also needs to hop on his horse and make some noise to become a serious threat for teams if the Devils want to make it to the conference finals. The Devils were the only team in the league to have five 20+ goal scorers this season. If that top line can elevate their level of play more then they showed in Florida, our offense can match the firepower the Flyers have.
Hot/not for the Flyers?
Any Devils fan will tell you, admittedly or not, Philly was probably one team they really wanted to not match up against in the playoffs. Flyers pose a lot of threats, but also have some holes. When this team is on their game, they are extremely tough to beat and playing at the Wells Fargo Center isn’t easy for any visiting team. So what’s hot for this Flyers club? 12 players on the Flyers roster have four points or more, while the Devils only have four players with four or more points.
Giroux is on a tear right now and you know he’ll be a highlight more than once in the semi finals. Briere is also a playoff monster, putting up 104 points in 103 playoff games. Rookies as well have also become big role players throughout the season and playoffs. Sean Couturier has been able to shut down and compete with the big dogs, while Matt Read proves capable of additional fire power as one of the top rookies in the league. When you have a team that can mix scoring with grit, you’ve got a heck of a mule to move. I’d compare the Flyers to the Bruins. They have depth, goal tending, and a chance to compete again for a shot at Lord Stanley.
So what’s not so hot for the Flyers? Two of the biggest areas I’m looking at is defense and goaltending. While the Flyers were able cool off the red hot Penguins coming into the post season, you need defense to take you to the promise land. Flyers are hurting on the back end. Obviously, Chris Pronger will not be making an appearance anytime soon but no Meszaros, Grossman, or Bourdon also weakens the back end for them. Devils need to put pressure on their D down low and create chances and pressure that will cause the defense to crumble.
Ilya Bryzgalov is, no doubt, a quality goaltender; however, he needs to one up Marty Brodeur and stay consistent. No fans are harder on their team then Flyer fans. They demand a lot and wanted Bryz’s head not too long ago. He’s played confidently, but he’ll need to be better prepared and show consistent effort to keep him on Laviolette’s good side. For a goalie that can be pretty hard on himself, if the Devils can get some goals past him early in the game and during the series, it could be rough waters for him.
I know the quality of hockey both teams will and can play. Both have won in each other’s buildings multiple times this year, but I’m going with the Devils in six.