Pittsburgh Penguins (4) vs. Philadelphia Flyers (5)
In what will probably be the marquee match-up of the first round, the Battle of Pennsylvania will be a hotly contested and punishing series. The war of words between coaches and players started on April 1st and it carried over into last week. We don't expect it to die down in the post-season.
The Pittsburgh Penguins are viewed as heavy Stanley Cup favorites due to the scoring prowess of Art Ross Trophy winner Evgeni Malkin
, who led the league with 109 points, and 40-goal scorer James Neal
. They also just happen to have the best player in the game, Sidney Crosby
, back healthy and an outstanding offensive defender in Kris Letang
. The Penguins boast depth at the forward position that teams would kill to have and Philadelphia is no slouch in that department either. The Flyers will count on contributions from offensive catalyst Claude Giroux
, scrappy scorers Scott Hartnell
and Wayne Simmonds
and former Penguin Jaromir Jagr
However, the biggest question mark for the Flyers going into round one is Ilya Bryzgalov
, who has submitted a roller coaster year during his first season with the organization in 2011-12. Which version of the goalie will show up when four losses sends the team into the off-season? The Penguins have the luxury of sending out Stanley Cup winner Marc-Andre Fleury
and that is why they get the edge over Philadelphia in a clash of the two most prolific offenses in the NHL. The Flyers will probably take the series to the distance, but the Penguins win in seven.
PITTSBURGH PENGUINS Chris Kunitz
- Evgeni Malkin
- James Neal Steve Sullivan
- Sidney Crosby
- Pascal Dupuis Matt Cooke
- Jordan Staal
- Tyler Kennedy Craig Adams
- Joe Vitale
- Arron Asham Eric Tangradi
- Dustin Jeffrey
- Richard Park Kris Letang
- Paul Martin Zbynek Michalek
- Brooks Orpik Matt Niskanen
- Deryk Engelland Brian Strait Marc-Andre Fleury Brent Johnson
WHO's HOT Pascal Dupuis
speaks to the depth of the Penguins because his impressive 17-game scoring spree, that saw him amass 10 goals and 12 assists to end the regular season didn't get much recognition. Sidney Crosby
was a point-producing machine after he got back in the lineup for the second time this campaign. He racked up six markers and 19 helpers over 14 contests. Evgeni Malkin
also scored with regularity down the stretch with 28 points (12 goals, 16 assists) in his past 15 games.
WHO'S NOT Tyler Kennedy
has tallied three markers and five points in his last 10 matches and he scored a mere 11 goals on the season after netting 21 a year ago.
The Penguins didn't have James Neal
(lower body), Steve Sullivan
(lower body) nor defenseman Matt Niskanen
(upper body) in the lineup for the final two games of the season, but all of them are day-to-day and should be ready for game one on Wednesday night. Ben Lovejoy
hasn't played since March 25th due to knee surgery and the initial timetable for his return was set for three to four weeks, so he likely won't be available in the opening round.
Should Pittsburgh get their healthy contingent of forwards back, as expected, then Eric Tangradi
, Dustin Jeffrey
and Richard Park
will probably sit as healthy scratches when the series begins.
The Penguins were the third best team in the NHL, killing off penalties in 2011-12 and they were fifth in the NHL in power-play efficiency.
PHILADELPHIA FLYERS Scott Hartnell
- Claude Giroux
- Jaromir Jagr Brayden Schenn
- Matt Read
- Wayne Simmonds Maxime Talbot
- Sean Couturier
- Jakub Voracek Jody Shelley
- Eric Wellwood
- Zac Rinaldo Harry Zolnierczyk Nicklas Grossmann
- Braydon Coburn Matt Carle
- Kimmo Timonen Pavel Kubina
- Marc-Andre Bourdon Andreas Lilja Ilya Bryzgalov Sergei Bobrovsky
WHO'S HOT Wayne Simmonds
registered six goals and one assist during a five-game span before going pointless in the final two contests of the regular season. In 82 games, Simmonds established career-highs in goals (28) and points (49) in his first year with the Flyers. Jakub Voracek
also concluded the year on a roll with four goals and six helpers over seven games. Claude Giroux
posted seven points in his last three appearances prior to sitting out the final match of the 2011-12 campaign because of a cold.
WHO'S NOT Scott Hartnell
enjoyed an outstanding year, but he slowed down during March and concluded the season with nine points in 20 contests. Rookie forward Matt Read
also witnessed a dip in his production down the stretch. He recorded six goals and three helpers in his past 19 games.
NOTES Daniel Briere
has proven to be a great playoff performer over his career, with 96 points in 97 games, but it's unclear when he'll be able to return from an upper-back contusion. James van Riemsdyk
isn't expected to participate in the opening round due to a broken foot that required surgery to repair in early March. Defenseman Andrej Meszaros
isn't projected to return from a procedure on his back until at least round two of the post-season. Tom Sestito
hasn't played since Feb. 16 and isn't expected to return anytime soon from a groin injury, while Chris Pronger
won't suit up again this year because of post-concussion syndrome. Nicklas Grossmann
(lower body) is slated to be ready for game one on Wednesday, so Andreas Lilja
will probably come out of the lineup.
The Flyers were 17th on the penalty kill this season, so it would benefit them to stay disciplined against the Penguins’ highly skilled power play, but with the intensity this series is expected to generate that may be easier said than done. The good news for the Flyers is that the same can be said of the Penguins because Philadelphia's power play finished 2011-12 in sixth place.