NHL playoffs: Philadelphia Flyers at Pittsburgh Penguins preview
Perhaps the most anticipated first-round matchup in the Stanley Cup playoffs begins Wednesday night in Pittsburgh when the No. 4 Penguins – they are No. 4 despite having the second-most points in the East – host their bitter state rivals, the Philadelphia Flyers.
An argument can be made that the two best teams in the Eastern Conference are the Penguins and Flyers. And one of them is going to be eliminated in the first round of the playoffs. These teams do not like each other. The pyrotechnics have been stunning across the six games these two teams have contested this season, including two in the final eight days of the season that featured wars between players on the ice and wars of words between the coaching staffs.
Expect the intensity to continue in this sixth edition of the Keystone Showdown, which features perhaps the most star power in the League — including Hart Trophy candidates on both sides — Evgeni Malkin for Pittsburgh and Claude Giroux for Philadelphia. Oh yeah, Sidney Crosby and Jaromir Jagr are also involved in this series.
This spring marks the return of Crosby to the Penguins’ fold after missing last year’s first-round loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning, recovering from concussion issues. Malkin also missed last year’s postseason and returned to win his second scoring title this season.
Craig Adams, Matt Cooke, Pascal Dupuis and Chris Kunitz were the Penguins’ only players to appear in all 82 games this season. Did a season under siege from injuries serve to keep Pittsburgh fresh for a Cup run, or is this team too fragile to survive a bruising seven-game battle with its most-heated rival?
The last time we saw Flyers goalie Ilya Bryzgalov in the national spotlight, he was on the bench with a thermos full of tea at the Winter Classic. Before that, he was in Phoenix, getting swept out of the first round of last year’s playoffs with an .879 save percentage. After an up-and-down season, can the 31-year-old goalie prove that his nine-year, $51 million contract was a wise investment? Bryzgalov saved his best for the latter part of the season, going through a stretch in March in which he went 8-0-1 and recorded three shutouts. Bryzgalov suffered a foot injury shortly before the end of the regular season, but he returned to action and appears ready to embrace the role for which he was brought to Philadelphia: winning in the playoffs.
Historically, this series has been pretty even in postseason. Philadelphia won the first three series, but Pittsburgh has taken the two most recent editions in 2008 and 2009. Pittsburgh went to the Stanley Cup each of those seasons, taking the title in 2009.
WagerWeb.com series line: Penguins -225, Flyers +175
WagerWeb.com Game 1 line: Penguins -175.