7:30 p.m., CONSOL Energy Center, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
We have all been waiting for this. For some time we knew the Penguins were going to be in the playoffs and for the most part we knew this was going to happen against the Flyers. It is no secret that neither team likes each other and neither do the fans. Twitter is going to be a mess and if you know someone that is a Flyers fan you probably won't be talking to them for the duration of this series.
Most fans know that we have no bearing on the outcome of a game, especially if you are watching TV, but that is the great part about sports, we can know that and still feel like what we eat, what we wear or the spot we sit in will directly have a hand in the successes and failure of our respective teams. Hockey is one of those sports. Most of you males will be growing playoff beards if your job allows you and even some ladies will go as far as not shaving for the playoff run. I have done the same things and even though my job no longer allows me to look like a homeless person I will still shave before the game and let it go as long as possible for I take the razor to it again. That is what being a fan is all about, getting invested in your team to the point that nothing else matters. It's both a great and terrible feeling, depending on the outcome.
I am sure you have read and heard a ton of coverage since this series was made official so I am not going to bore you will all the details but to say that I am not extremely excited for this series would be the understatement of the year so far. I have been here all season as almost all of you have and the drag of an 82 game season really can take a toll emotionally. From a six game losing streak and wondering if the team was going to make the playoffs to a pair of eight plus game winning streaks to make you feel like the Penguins are the best team to every play hockey. You have all of that and everything in between and thus is the playoffs.
This is the first time in some time where the Penguins are going to be in a playoff series where they will be almost fully healthy. Outside of Matt Niskanen probably not being in the lineup this is pretty much a full squad for the Penguins. The Flyers have been really banged up over the past couple of weeks but it looks as if they will be in better shape as they will welcome back Danny Briere and Nicklas Grossman to the lineup which will be a huge boost to the talent pool that the team already has.
The Penguins are probably the most skilled team in the league and that is evident by the 50 wins that they were able to rack up during the regular season but make no mistake that the Flyers are right there with them if not pushing to be side-by-side in that category. Along with Briere the offense is stacked with talents that includes Claude Giroux, Scott Hartnell, Wayne Simmonds and Jaromir Jagr among others. They boast six players with 19 or more goals which includes ex-Penguin Max Talbot and their power play is converting at a 20%+ clip against the Penguins this season so if there is one thing the Penguins don't want to do it's go to the box.
The two big things in this series are pretty easy and pretty well known but it has to be said. Goaltending has to be huge for the team that wants to win this. I know this sounds like a statement that you will roll your eyes at and say "oh sure, oh sure, goaltending, blah blah blah" but the last two times that the Penguins have been knocked out of the playoffs they were beat by hot goaltenders. The teams they lost to weren't great but the goaltenders they ran into were. If Bryz gets hot the Penguins are going to have a really hard time winning this series. If MAF is on his game then I don't see the Flyers winning the series. It may seem simple but if your goaltender can even steal one more game than the other goaltender then you are probably going to be in the next round. The other biggie is for the Penguins to stay away from all the bullshit that the Flyers present. The Pens went only 2-4 against Flyers and a lot of that record was a result of the Penguins getting a little too caught up in the emotions of the game. The Flyers have done a very nice job of getting into the Penguins heads and throwing them off their game and if they can have any success at that tonight and going forward then they will win the series. The Penguins have to try and curb the emotion, as hard as that might be, and focus on the task at hand which is getting to the second round.
So much more to say but who cares, just drop the puck.
The regular season series (Philadelphia won 4-2):
December 8, 2011 - Philadelphia 3, Pittsburgh 2
December 29, 2011 - Philadelphia 4, Pittsburgh 2
February 18, 2012 - Pittsburgh 6, Philadelphia 4
March 18, 2012 - Philadelphia 3, Pittsburgh 2
April 4, 2012 - Philadelphia 6, Pittsburgh 4
April 7, 2012 - Pittsburgh 4, Philadelphia 2
The Penguins probables (via Penguins.com):
Chris Kunitz - Evgeni Malkin - James Neal
Steve Sullivan - Sidney Crosby - Pascal Dupuis
Matt Cooke - Jordan Staal - Tyler Kennedy
Arron Asham - Joe Vitale - Craig Adams
Kris Letang - Paul Martin
Zbynek Michalek - Brooks Orpik
Ben Lovejoy - Deryk Engelland
Marc Andre Fleury
The Flyers probables (via Empty Netters):
Scott Hartnell - Claude Giroux - Jaromir Jagr
Brayden Schenn - Daniel Briere - Wayne Simmonds
Zac Rinaldo - Sean Couturier - Maxime Talbot
Jakub Voracek - Eric Wellwood - Matt Read
Kimmo Timonen - Matt Carle
Braydon Coburn - Nicklas Grossman
Marc-Andre Bourdon - Andreas Lilja
Goals: Evgeni Malkin (50)
Assists: Evgeni Malkin (59)
Points: Evgeni Malkin (109)
Shots: Evgeni Malkin (339)
Penalty Minutes: James Neal (87)
GAA: Marc Andre Fleury (2.36)
Save %: Marc Andre Fleury (.913)
Goals: Scott Hartnell (37)
Assists: Claude Giroux (65)
Points: Claude Giroux (93)
Shots: Claude Giroux (242)
Penalty Minutes: Zac Rinaldo (232)
GAA: Ilya Bryzgalov (2.48)
Save %: Ilya Bryzgalov (.909)