The Boston Bruins had to wait a mere 12 months to attempt to purge one of the game’s most historic collapses from their system. Boston led the Philadelphia Flyers 3-0 --- both in the series and then in Game 7 in the second round --- a season ago. The Bruins squandered both advantages as the Flyers became the third team in NHL history to advance despite losing the first three games of the series. Each team is coming off a seven-game series as Boston dispatched Montreal and the Flyers outlasted Buffalo.
“A lot of people are going to want to bring up the past,” Bruins coach Claude Julien said this week. “If anything, it’s like (playing) Montreal, all the stats were against us and how the Bruins fared against them in the past. Those odds were against us and we overcame. It’s a new situation. It’s a new opportunity . . . to get past these guys and hopefully win a series.”
Here’s the breakdown:
Forwards: Milan Lucic, the Bruins’ top goal scorer in the regular season, got closer to a suspension for boarding Montreal’s Jaroslav Spacek than scoring a goal in the series. He finished the series with two points (both assists). Fortunately for Boston, there were players like Andrew Ference, Chris Kelly and Nathan Horton to pick up the slack. (Even at 43 years old, Mark Recchi has been a frequent contributor as well.) Another plus for the Bruins is that they are healthier overall than this time a year ago. Claude Giroux made a name for himself in last year’s playoff run with the Flyers and he continued the charge, leading Philly in scoring (one goal, eight assists) in the first round. Danny Briere, who had five goals and five assists, in that playoff series against the Bruins a season ago. Briere has six goals and an assist so far in these playoffs. Jeff Carter, the Flyers’ top goal scorer in the regular season, missed the last two games of the first round with a knee injury, but should be available at some point in the series.
Defense: This series again features two the game’s best (and tallest) defenseman. Boston’s Zdeno Chara, 6-foot-9, and 6-6 Chris Pronger will each see significant ice time as they not only attempt to shut down the opposition's top line but also quarterback the power player. Chara, who missed a game in the first round due to dehydration, saw an average of 28 minutes, 48seconds of ice time in the first round. Pronger missed the first five games of the first round due to a hand injury, which also kept him out of action the final month of the season. He’s still not 100 percent and his injured hand has limited the effectiveness of shots on net, but even a hobbled Pronger can make a difference. The Flyers are also arguably deeper on the blue line with the second defensive pairing of Braydon Coburn and Kimmo Timonen eating up a ton of minutes.
Goalies: Give it to the Bruins; at least they finished the first round with the same goalie they started with. Tim Thomas, a finalist for the Vezina Trophy after he paced the league in save percentage (.938) and goals-against average (2.00), didn’t get much support as the Bruins dropped the first two games of the first round. There was little consideration of replacing Thomas with Tuukka Rask, who got every start in the Bruins net a season ago. Thomas posted a .925 save percentage and a 2.25 goals-against average in the first round. It was quantity -- with a little bit of quality --- in the first round for the Flyers as they started three goalies: rookie Sergei Bobrovsky, Brian Boucher and Michael Leighton. Boucher, however, has emerged as the starter after he posted a 4-1 record (two of those wins coming in relief) along with a 2.10 GAA and .934 save percentage. Boucher also was the No. 1 goalie as the Flyers faced the Bruins a season ago before multiple knee injuries forced him out of the lineup. While Boucher is a fan favorite and one the most personable players in the game, Thomas is the more likely of the two to steal a game with his athleticism.
Special teams: This could be the facet of the game that could sink the Bruins’ shot at redemption. Boston didn’t score a single goal on their 21 trips to the power play in the first round. It was the first time in more than 50 years a team went scoreless on the power play in a seven-game series. The Bruins, however, didn’t see any 5-on-3 time. Their penalty kill was only slightly better. The Flyers were just about as lost on the man-advantage in the first round before they rebounded to score three goals on the power play over the final two games of the series. They went 3-for-29 (10.3 percent) on the power play in the first round.
Prediction: This has all the makings of a brutal, hard-hitting series. The teams have history and a lot of the same strengths. The Bruins have better goaltending. The Flyers have a few more hot forwards plus they have home-ice advantage, something they lacked a year ago. It’s a tough call, but I think Boston will win this one in seven games.
|No. 2 Philadelphia vs. No. 3 Boston - Series tied, 0-0|
|April 30||at PHI||3 p.m.|
|May 2||at PHI||7:30 p.m.|
|May 4||at BOS||7 p.m.|
|May 6||at BOS||8 p.m.|
|* May 8||at PHI||3 p.m.|
|* May 10||at BOS||TBA|
|* May 12||at PHI||TBA|
-- A.J. Perez
Photo: Getty Images