With the Bruins and Flyers set to drop the puck at 3 p.m. on Saturday, Bruins fans know what to expect out of their team. When it comes to the Flyers, though, there may be some questions, and that’s where Mike Santa Barbara of Get Flyer’d Up comes in.
The Flyers blogger took some time to answer a few questions for NESN.com, giving a Flyers perspective on the upcoming series, which is sure to be a great one.
NESN.com: The Bruins’ biggest area of concerns are the power play and getting over the ghosts of last year. What are the Flyers’ biggest concerns heading into the series?
Mike Santa Barbara: The Flyers biggest concerns heading into their series with the Boston Bruins are their power play and goaltending.
Much like the Bruins, the Flyers’ power play fell flat early on in their opening round series against the Buffalo Sabres. The Flyers’ power play caught a little bit of fire late in the series, scoring three of their five power play goals in Games 6 and 7. The return of Chris Pronger in Game 6 from hand surgery certainly went a long way to getting the Flyers’ power play back on track. Continuing that success will be extremely important for the Flyers.
The Flyers lost two games to the Sabres by 1-0 scores and went a combined 0-9 on the power play in those games. Scoring just a few times on the power play, and perhaps the Flyers win that series in five games as opposed to seven.
Goaltending is an ever-present concern for the orange and black, this year’s playoffs have been no different. The Flyers used three different goaltenders in their opening round series against Buffalo. Rookie goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky was named the starter going into the playoffs, but faltered in Game 2, giving way to back-up Brian Boucher. Boucher struggled in Game 5, and was replaced by Michael Leighton, who helped lead the Flyers to the Stanley Cup Finals last season.
The goalie carousel continued after Leighton struggled in Game 6, allowing for a return between the pipes for Brian Boucher. Boucher started Game 7 and played well, not spectacular, though he made the saves he had to. Boucher will be the starter for Game 1 against the Bruins, if he struggles we’ll see which direction head coach Peter Laviolette goes in. Although, I believe Boucher has a much longer leash than he had in Round 1.
NESN.com: Last year, the Flyers seemed to figure out Tuukka Rask by the end of the series. Do you think they can do the same with Tim Thomas this year?
MSB: Tim Thomas has had a spectacular season, and was the difference maker in three overtime wins against the Montreal Canadiens in the first round. However, the Flyers did have to contend with last years Vezina Trophy Winner, Ryan Miller in their first round series against the Buffalo Sabres. Miller struggled for much of the regular season, but was one of the only factors that kept the Sabres in the series.
The Flyers really only got to Miller in Game 7, getting four pucks past him in the deciding game. The Flyers’ offense attacked Miller all series long, eventually wearing him down and they’ll hope for more of the same against Thomas. The Flyers never seemed to get frustrated against Miller, no matter how well he played and that kind of mindset will be important against Thomas.
The Flyers’ success will depend on getting lots of shots on Thomas, and crashing the net for rebound opportunities. If the Flyers are able to get the kind of offensive pressure they did against the Sabres, they will eventually get to Thomas, they just have too many weapons to contain.
NESN.com: Danny Briere was the most lethal weapon on the Flyers’ attack in the first round. Is he the most dangerous scorer in the NHL right now?
MSB: Danny Briere had a fantastic first-round series against the Buffalo Sabres, scoring six times to lead the Flyers. He very well may be the most dangerous scorer left in the East. Briere has a knack for scoring goals on the doorstep, despite his size, and has the ability to score from the top of the circle. Briere always seems to find himself in high-percentage scoring areas, and more than not, capitalizes on those opportunities.
Even though the Flyers are very deep at the forward position, they lean heavily on Briere to be their leading threat. Briere is tied for the league lead in playoff goals with Teemu Selanne of the now eliminated Anaheim Ducks. I’m not ready to say Briere is the most dangerous scorer in the NHL, but he’s certainly shown the ability to be a dynamic, game and series changing goal scorer.
NESN.com: Last year’s series is obviously a big topic in Boston. How much does it play a role in Philly, and do you think it gives the Flyers a sense of confidence heading into the series?
MSB: I believe the Flyers realized their identity after that unbelievable comeback in last year’s playoffs. It’s become the rallying point for them whenever they’ve struggled. They have the mentality that they can always comeback, from anything, no matter what.
Even though the Flyers dominated the Sabres in most of the first round, they found themselves facing elimination twice. There never seemed to be any panic on the Flyers end and I believe a lot of that has to do with what happened last season. After coming back from a 3-0 series deficit, then to comeback from a 3-0 score in the first period of Game 7, you believe you can comeback from anything. It’s not that the Flyers feel they have wiggle room, but knowing you have the horses to comeback from nearly anything allows you to relax and play your game, especially early on in games.
Many teams suffer from nerves at the beginning of playoff games, which lead to mistakes, which lead to early deficits. How a team responds to adversity goes a long way toward their success in the playoffs. This Flyer team has faced the ultimate adversity, and lived to tell about it. It most definitely gives them confidence going in, but I don’t think it’s going to be the ultimate factor. It’s nice to look back and know your team is capable of what they did in last year’s playoffs. However, I feel it’s more important to realize that this season is this season, and it’s not going to end up where you think it might, just because of what happened last year.
The confidence may come from knowing that the Bruins will undoubtedly be thinking about what happened last year at the first sign of struggles. Though, the Flyers main confidence should come from knowing if they play their game, they’ll win the series, and be another step closer to realizing the dream that fizzled out last year.
NESN.com: Who will win the series, and how many games will the series go?
MSB: The Flyers simply have too many weapons, and too much depth at both forward and defense. Now, with a fully healthy defensive core, Brian Boucher won’t be called upon to be spectacular, he’ll mainly have to make the routine saves. Boston certainly has weapons of their own, they’ll need the likes of Milan Lucic and David Krejci to step up and Tim Thomas to be his usual self if they’re to have a chance.
Flyers in six.