Of all the matchups in the Eastern Conference, the best-of-seven between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Philadelphia Flyers is anticipated to be the most acrimonious. Based on the bad blood spilled in the regular season between these divisional and state rivals, this Battle of Pennsylvania won’t be taking any prisoners.
Accusations of dirty play were already being bandied about, along with some heavy hits and unkind words. Flyers forward Scott Hartnell figures this series could produce “a lot of blood, a lot of goals.”
It would be easy to say that the Penguins should have this in the bag, but they don’t. Yes, they have Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin up front and Kris Letang on the blueline and Marc-Andre Fleury in net. They’re all world-class players, and they have an outstanding supporting cast including budding superstar winger James Neal (40 goals and a team-leading 81 penalty minutes), center Jordan Staal and winger Pascal Dupuis. For his part, Malkin is just happy to be playing in the post-season after missing his chance last year.
This Penguins team led the league in total goals with 273 and shots on goal with 2,779. Philadelphia was tied for second (with Boston) in goals scored with 260, and fourth in shots on goal with 2,641. Both are about the middle of the pack when it comes to keeping the puck out of their own net: as a team, Pittsburgh has a slight edge here. Fleury ranks ninth in goals allowed, while his counterpart in Philly, Ilya Bryzgalov, ranks 14th. Fleury is 11th in GAA, while Breezy is 20th.
Both teams are even on the power play with a 19.7 percentage. The penalty kill is a different story: Pittsburgh had a decided advantage in this department, third in the league with an 87.8 percent kill rate and 11 short-handed goals, while the Flyers rank far lower on the scale (81.8 and 6 shorties).
The Flyers have a well-stocked, versatile lineup whose rookies saw plenty of ice time. Claude Giroux has become the team’s go-to goal scorer, while onetime Penguin Jaromir Jagr has found a new home wearing orange and black. If Danny Briere is in any condition to play, that just adds one more threat to their potent attack.
Where this series will likely hinge, as mosrt series do, is on the performance of the goaltenders. Bryzgalov has been streaky but finished strongly in March. Fleury set a new personal mark with 42 victories.
Pittsburgh is the top team in the NHL futures betting to not only win the East, but to get their fourth Stanley Cup and their second in four years; the same holds true in the prop bets as well as in the betting line. It’s tough to disagree, but at the same time a strong case can be made for the Flyers pushing this series to six or even seven games.