The Philadelphia Flyers (5) and New Jersey Devils (6) will square off in the Eastern Conference Semi Finals. The Flyers cancelled the Pittsburgh Penguins’ plans to take a non-stop flight to the Stanley Cup Finals in just six games, while the Devils took the Florida Panthers the distance, by forcing a game seven and winning out on Adam Henrique’s goal in the second overtime session. These two teams matched up pretty well in the season series as they split the six game set, though the Flyers picked up all three of their wins in regulation, while the Devils won just two in regulation, and one by way of the shootout. Either way, these two teams play each other tough and it should be another intense playoff round featuring two Atlantic Division rivals.
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The Flyers were a banged up team coming out of the regular season and having to play their quarterfinal round against a tough Pittsburgh team did nothing for their health as they lost Nicklas Grossmann to a concussion for the last two games of the series, but he has been skating with the team and taking full practices the last couple of days, so he may return as soon as the first game depending on clearance from team doctors. The Flyers will of course be without defenseman and team captain Chris Pronger (concussion), though they may see the return of defenseman Andrej Meszaros (back) Tom Sestito (groin) this round. Forward James van Riemsdyk played the last two games of the first round against the Penguins. The Devils have been without defenseman Henrik Tallinder since January and he is still on the injured reserve list with a blood clot in his leg.
While much has been made of their rivalry with the Penguins, the Devils are right there for the Flyers and these two teams have racked up six fighting majors and seven misconducts in their six meetings this year. They’ve also combined for 32 goals during the regular season against each other, the Flyers scored 18 of their 260 goals on the year in games against the Devils, while the Devils scored 14 of their 216 regular season goals against the Flyers. During these playoffs, the Flyers have scored a league leading 30 goals in just six games with the Penguins while allowing 26. New Jersey managed to score 18 goals while allowing 17 in the first round match up with Florida.
In the regular season six game set, Claude Giroux set the pace for the Flyers with four goals and three assists for seven points. In the playoffs, Giroux is absolutely white hot as he leads all players in every offensive statistical category with six goals and eight assists for 14 points, and a +6 rating. Danny Briere has continued to build upon his legacy as a top playoff performer as he notched five goals and three helpers for eight points in the series with Pittsburgh. Jaromir Jagr scored just one goal, but notched six assists for seven points in the first round, while Jake Voracek scored two goals and added five helpers for seven points as well. Not enough can be said about the Flyers rookies, as Brayden Schenn potted two pucks and garnered four assists for six points, while Matt Read and Sean Couturier each had four points.
For the Devils, Ilya Kovalchuk scored just two goals, but added six assists to lead all forwards in the season series with Philadelphia, but has just three goals and two assists in his seven playoff games thus far. Travis Zajac leads all Devils players with six points, including three goals, one of which was the overtime game winner that forced a game seven. Devils Captain Zach Parise has just two goals and two assists for four points through seven games, while David Clarkson had five points, all assists, in the first round with Florida. Adam Henrique, the game seven overtime hero, tallied twice in game seven but had just one other point in the seven game set against the Panthers.
As far as goaltending is concerned, Martin Brodeur started all seven games last series for New Jersey, but was pulled once. He allowed 14 goals on 180 shots in 408 minutes played for a .922 save percentage and a 2.06 goals against average. Johan Hedberg was called upon in relief once and allowed one goal on 14 shots in 36 minutes for a .929 save percentage and a 1.67 goals against average. Brodeur started four games against the Flyers this year and allowed nine goals on 76 shots in those appearances, for a combined .903 save percentage and a 2.30 goals against average and posted a 1-3 record. For Philadelphia, Ilya Bryzgalov was Philadelphia’s starter in all six games against the Penguins and got the hook once. He ended up allowing 21 goals on 163 shots in 324 minutes for a .871 save percentage and a 3.89 goals against average. During the regular season against the Devils however, Bryzgalov’s stats are immaculate. He started four games and played 29:04 in one relief appearance. In those four games against the Devils, Bryzgalov played a total of 208:53 and allowed just one goal on 76 shots for a .992 save percentage and an unreal 0.29 goals against average.
This should be a tough match up for the Flyers as the Devils play a different style of hockey than do the Penguins. The Flyers will have to gut it out and play tough defense as they did in games five and six of the last series, as well as get timely goals if they hope to advance to the Eastern Conference finals. Whether Ilya Bryzgalov can build on his performances in games five and six of the previous series, and continue his regular season dominance over New Jersey, is yet to be seen, but should he manage to do so, the Flyers will be in good shape. Another thing the Flyers need to do is get off to better starts. Two of New Jersey’s wins in the season series came after the Devils scored first, while the Flyers scored first in the other four games. The Flyers may have proven that they can overcome almost any deficit, even in the playoffs, but they have yet to do so against the Devils this year. Since that is the case, it would behoove the Flyers to not fall behind and play with a lead against this team.