A Rivalry Renewed: Flyers take on Penguins in First Round

Metropolitan Division Semifinal Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Philadelphia Flyers

Game 1: Wednesday in Pittsburgh at 7pm EDT (NBCSN, NBCSP)
Game 2: Friday in Pittsburgh at 7pm EDT (NBCSN, NBCSP)
Game 3: Sunday in Philadelphia at 3pm (NBC)
Game 4: Wednesday, April 18th in Philadelphia at 7pm (NBCSN, NBCSP)
Game 5: Friday, April 20th in Pittsburgh (Time/TV TBD)
Game 6: Sunday, April 22nd in Philadelphia (Time/TV TBD)
Game 7: Tuesday, April 24th in Pittsburgh (Time/TV TBD)
The preview I promised you the other day is here

For the seventh time, the Philadelphia Flyers will face the cross-state rival Pittsburgh Penguins in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Battle of Pennsylvania. The Turnpike Rivalry. Whatever you want to call it. When the Flyers and Penguins meet, it is Must Watch Television.

Overall, the Flyers have won four of the previous six playoff series. In the Sidney Crosby era, however, the Penguins lead with two series wins (2008 & 2009) to one. The Flyers’ lone series win over Crosby & crew came in 2012, the Flyers last playoff series win in general. Since then, the Flyers have made the playoffs just twice, failing to advance out of the first round–they lost to the Rangers in seven in 2014 and in six to the Capitals in 2016.

The Flyers season has been up and down, to say the least. On December 1st, the Flyers lost their tenth straight game and were left for dead by the rest of the Metropolitan division, only to rattle off six straight wins in December. Still, when the Penguins made their first trip to the Wells Fargo Center on January 3rd, the Pens were ranked 7th in the division and the Flyers were still in 8th–both not far out of the playoff chase. The Pens won in dominant fashion and immediately brought themselves back into the playoff conversation. The Flyers floundered throughout January at times showing serious steps toward improvement for how young they are.

At other times, the team’s youth showed. Throughout the season, Claude Giroux and Jake Voracek found themselves up towards the top of the NHL in points and assists, respectively–Voracek led the league in assists at one point. Shayne Gostisbehere returned to the form we saw from his rookie year and Ivan Provorov quietly became the #2 defenseman we’d been waiting to see. Wayne Simmons showed signs but never recaptured what we saw last season, mostly due to injury. Since returning, however, Simmer looks better and better. The biggest surprise was Sean Couturier’s breakout year as he set career highs, including scoring over 30 goals. Despite this, as the Flyers entered the All-Star break, it looked like the team had just over a line of players who’d make a serious impact.

Then the Eagles won the Super Bowl.

The month of February was electric across the city of Philadelphia as both the Flyers and Sixers put together incredible winning streaks after Super Bowl LII. Flyers Head Coach Dave Hakstol had been mixing up the lines and found a top line that worked: Couturier, Giroux, and Travis Konecny. TK instantly became one of the Flyers’ biggest impact players. 2017 #2 overall pick Nolan Patrick started coming into his own. All of a sudden, the young supporting cast became more and more of an impact. The big names were still productive but the team didn’t have to live and die by the first line scoring.

March and April saw the Flyers show inconsistency once again. Injuries in goal to both Brian Elliot and Michael Neuvirth forced the Flyers to acquire goalie Petr Mrazek from the Red Wings and the call-up of Alex Lyon. No matter who was in net for the Flyers, each showed their signs of weakness. The Flyers went from outright leading the Metro Division to nearly missing the playoffs. But here we are.

Objectively, it’s tough to pick against the Pens. Pittsburgh’s second and third lines could be top lines on a number of other teams. Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Phil Kessel each finished in the top 10 in the NHL for points. Kris Letang is back in the lineup after missing last year’s Cup run. Matt Murray is an absolute STUD between the pipes. The only matchup the Flyers have the edge on is a better defensive core.

However, this isn’t an objective blog post. The Flyers have looked better and better as the season has gone on. Couturier scored over 30 goals. (Insert a Jason Kelce meme saying “COUTS IS ONLY A DEFENSIVE FORWARD”) Giroux is the first Flyer to score over 100 points since Lindros in 1995. (Kelce: “GIROUX CAN’T LEAD” or “GIROUX HAS TO BE TRADED TO BE A CONTENDER”) Ghost has become of his most dynamic defensemen in the NHL. (Kelce: “GIVE ME GHOST BEAR BEER”) Their most glaring weaknesses have been flat periods and letting their opponents take control and the inconsistencies in net. Whether Elliot or Mrazk, the goalie play will need to step up big time. The Flyers won’t let those flat periods of play affect their shot at the king with everything on the line. They didn’t in 2012 and we saw how that series went.

Set the tone. Finish checks. Don’t be cute with the puck. It’ll take all seven games for the Flyers to pull this one out, but it is doable. It is the Flyers and the Penguins, regular season records don’t matter. Rivalries and the playoffs both bring out high levels of intensity. Mix them together, especially in the Battle of PA, and that intensity goes beyond the maximum.

(cover photo via)

PS: IF the Flyers return home for Game Six up 3-2 next Sunday, the atmosphere at the Wells Fargo Center will be absolutely ELECTRIC and the building may not survive.

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