Hard to believe that after a series with the hated Habs, the Bruins enter a new round of playoff action with an even more hyped storyline. That's what happens when you have a historic collapse, then face the same opponent in the same round the following year.
The Bruins are trying to keep the inevitable mentions of last year's devastating loss to a minimum and focus on starting a new chapter this spring as they open their rematch with Philadelphia in the Eastern Conference semifinals on Saturday. But they will also try to get some motivation out of the painful memory of last year's squandering of a 3-0 lead on Philadelphia as they head into the rematch. The Flyers, meanwhile, will use the memory of how they overcame that deficit to their benefit in hopes of continuing Boston's playoff struggles.
The Bruins haven't made it past the second round since 1992. So how do the Bruins stack up against the Flyers in their quest to end that drought this year? Here's the Tale of the Tape.
The Bruins won't have an easy time stopping the Flyers, who boast a deep and talented corps of forwards with threats throughout the lineup. Philadelphia had seven players with 20-plus goals in the regular season, led by Jeff Carter's 36 and Danny Briere's 34. Carter suffered a lower-body injury against Buffalo and missed the final three games, but could return at some point in this series. Briere lived up to his reputation as a clutch playoff performer with an NHL-leading six goals in the first round, while Claude Giroux added a team-high nine points. With the likes of Mike Richards, James van Riemsdyk (4 goals vs. Buffalo), Kris Versteeg, Ville Leino, Scott Hartnell and Nikolay Zherdev, the Flyers will present a challenge to the Bruins' defense no matter which line is on the ice.
The Bruins also have a balanced attack and got solid production out of their second and third lines against Montreal, with Patrice Bergeron leading the team with seven points and Chris Kelly providing a surprise spark with 3-3-6 totals. Eight different forwards had a goal against Montreal, and that didn't include Milan Lucic, who led the team with 30 goals in the regular season. The Bruins need him and David Krejci, who had just one point vs. Montreal after leading the club with 62 in the regular season, to step up their production in this round to be able to compete with the Flyers' firepower. Nathan Horton did come through in his first playoff series, scoring three goals, including a pair of overtime winners, the second the series clincher in Game 7.
The Bruins have a stable top six led by Norris Trophy finalist Zdeno Chara, who appears to have recovered from the dehydration issues that sidelined him for Game 2 of the Montreal series. Upon his return, Claude Julien reshuffled the defense pairings and seemingly hit upon a solid combination with Dennis Seidenberg moving up alongside Chara. Seidenberg logged huge minutes, playing solid defense and even chipping in offensively. Andrew Ference and Johnny Boychuk also provided strong two-way play and Adam McQuaid even showed an ability to jump up into the play when needed, as he showed on the play that led to Horton's Game 7 OT winner. The weak link has been Tomas Kaberle, who hasn't provided the help on the power play the Bruins hoped for when they acquired him and has been an adventure at times in his own zone.
The Flyers have a deep and solid defense of their own, led by Chris Pronger. Pronger missed the final 16 games of the regular season and the first five of the Buffalo series, but his return in Game 6 helped Philadelphia rally to win the final two games. If he is anywhere close to full strength, that defense will pose a huge challenge to the Bruins. Beyond Pronger, the Flyers have a strong blue line with Andrej Meszaros, Braydon Coburn, Kimmo Timonen, Matt Carle and Sean O'Donnell.
Advantage: Chara is healthier than Pronger, giving the Bruins the slimmest of edges in this category.
Tim Thomas was named a Vezina finalist after posting 35-11-9 record with a league-leading 2.00 GAA, an NHL-record .938 save percentage and nine shutouts in the regular season. After some shaky moments early in the Montreal series, he quickly showed he could be just as effective in the postseason. Thomas had a 2.25 GAA and a .926 save percentage in the series, saving his best for a pair of overtime thrillers as he stopped 44 of 45 shots he faced in a 2-1 double-OT win in Game 5 and had another 34 saves in the Bruins 4-3 overtime win in Game 7.
Philadelphia needed three different goalies to get through their opening round series with Buffalo, the first team to win a series with three starting netminders since 1988. Brian Boucher (4-1, 2.10 GAA, .934 save percentage) came on strong after Sergei Bobrovsky and Michael Leighton faltered, but can Boucher keep that level of play up for another series?
After leading the league in 5-on-5 scoring with 177 goals in the regular season, the Bruins continued to dominate play at even strength against the Canadiens. But their already not-so-special special teams struggled even more. Boston failed to convert a single power play despite getting 21 opportunities. They are now just 7-of-87 (8.0 percent) in 31 games with Kaberle in the lineup. The penalty kill fared better, at least while they were just one man shot. Montreal had six goals on 27 chances, but two of them came on 5-on-3 advantages in Game 6.
The Flyers weren't a whole lot better with the man-advantage until Pronger returned. They were just 2-of-26 on the power play in the first five games against Buffalo, but went 3-of-9 in Games 6 and 7 after Pronger came back. Buffalo did strike for seven goals on 31 chances in the series, but Boston held Philadelphia without a power-play goal on seven chances in four regular-season meetings this year. The Bruins were also 4-of-12 on the power play themselves against the Flyers, so there is some hope for the club's beleaguered special teams units.
Claude Julien once again proved a tough out in the opening round, winning a first-round series for the third straight year. But he has never led a team past the second round, losing at that point in the last two years with Boston and in 2004 with Montreal — after beating the Bruins in the opening round.
Philadelphia counterpart Peter Laviolette had a similar struggle early in his NHL coaching career, losing in the first round in each of his first two appearances with the Islanders. He's done a bit better since, guiding Carolina to the Cup in 2006 and Philadelphia to the finals last year. He also won the Calder Cup in the AHL, coaching the Bruins' affiliate in Providence to a championship in 1999.
There are a number of additional factors that could sway this series. The biggest is how the clubs handle the lingering effects of last year's matchup. Will the Bruins use that collapse as motivation to exorcise those demons and finally get over the hump in the playoffs? Or will it get into their heads if they find themselves ahead in the series again? One thing's for certain, the Flyers certainly won't be daunted if they fall behind after having proved they can rally from the most desperate of situations. The Bruins showed similar character in the opening round, bouncing back after losing the first two games at home against Montreal.
The Bruins also come into this series healthy, while Philadelphia has Pronger banged up and Carter out at least to start the series. Both teams are coming off long seven-game series, so there won't be an edge either way with a team being more rested. The Flyers do have home ice, but the Bruins have excelled on the road, winning two games in Montreal in the first round, while the Flyers lost two of their four games in Philadelphia against the Sabres.
This is about as even a matchup as possible. The one thing that seems certain is that it's not likely to be over quick. Both teams survived seven-game marathons in the opening round, and they look destined to go the distance again. It won't be a shock to see either of these teams advance to the conference finals, but the Bruins got over one hurdle by winning a Game 7 against Montreal, now it's time to make an even bigger leap by getting out of the second round. If Pronger is close to his normal self and Carter returns in the series, Philly could easily upset those plans. But this one won't be a collapse by the Bruins. The Flyers will have to earn it, and the call here is that the Bruins won't let that happen again.
Prediction: Bruins in 7.
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