Flyers-Bruins rematch is a different series

Posted: April 29, 2011

There's no sense in the Flyers and Bruins even playing this second-round playoff series, right? After all, the Flyers so badly damaged Boston's confidence by coming back from a three-games-to-none deficit last year, there's no way the Bruins can overcome it.

If things look tough for the Flyers, Simon Gagne can always score a - oh, wait. That's right. The hero of last year's comeback is gone.

But that's OK. Young Finnish goaltender Tuukka Rask has to be just waiting for the Flyers to beat - what's that? Tim Thomas is playing goal for the Bruins this year? Darn.

Well, there's always good old Marc Savard. He scored the Game 1 winner in overtime, then was accused of biting Flyers forward Dan Carcillo. That episode got the competitive juices flowing and - you're kidding. Savard isn't playing after another serious concussion?

You get the point. While there will surely be some carryover from such a dramatic playoff series, neither of these teams can afford to dwell too much on the past as either a predictor or a motivator this year.

"It's a new year," Flyers captain Mike Richards said. "They've got new players."

Winger Nathan Horton is in for Boston, acquired from Florida in a trade for defenseman Dennis Wideman. The hole created by the loss of Wideman was filled by Tomas Kaberle, the veteran D-man from Toronto. Center Brad Marchand, who showed promise in the playoffs last year, is a frontline player now.

Still, there are plenty of guys who were in the handshake line after the Flyers completed their rare comeback to win that series. The question is whether that matters.

"Are they going to play harder than they did last year?" Flyers coach Peter Laviolette said. "I don't think that's possible. You're playing for the Stanley Cup. I would think everything will be determined by these two teams, this year, and how they play on the ice."

One of the overlooked aspects of last year's series was that the Flyers and Bruins had thoroughly uninspiring regular seasons. The Bruins, with 91 points, finished third in their division. They had home-ice advantage in the second round because the Flyers (88 points, third in their division) had an even less impressive regular season - and because the eighth-seeded Montreal Canadiens had upset the No. 1-seeded Washington Capitals.

A playoff matchup between the No. 6 seed Bruins and No. 7 seed Flyers didn't exactly promise glamour and excitement. But the two teams were evenly matched, and their series turned out to be a classic.

Guess what? They are very similar, very evenly matched teams again, only better. The Bruins finished with 103 points, first in the Northeast Division. The Flyers won their division with 106 points.

"They have a good team over there," Richards said. "Big, strong, physical. Great goaltending. Good defense. Forwards that can put the puck in the net."

"They're a big strong team," Laviolette said. "They had a good year. They've got good goaltending, depth in all positions. There's a reason they had success this year."

With the possible exception of the goaltending part, they could just as easily be talking about the Flyers. Both of these teams play physical hockey. Both have oversized, intimidating defensemen. After reaching the Finals last year, Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren added quality depth - Andrej Meszaros and Sean O'Donnell on defense, Nikolai Zherdev and Kris Versteeg up front - rather than a superstar type or a goalie.

The latter aspect of the game was nearly the Flyers' undoing in the first round. But with the return of Chris Pronger and the raising of the urgency level, the Flyers played their best hockey in months to win the final two games of their series with Buffalo.

If they can begin this series at that level, they will be just fine with Brian Boucher in goal. Boucher, who grew up a Canadiens fan in Bruins country, has been solid except for those two odd-angle goals that got him benched in Game 5 against Buffalo. He may not be Thomas, but then, he wasn't Ryan Miller or Martin Brodeur - two other goalies he has outlasted in the playoffs.

But the Flyers have to find that same high gear from the start. Relying on what happened last year would be as foolish for the Flyers as brooding about it would be for the Bruins.

"We're going to try not to get in that position, a big hole," Richards said.

"We know we're in their heads," Danny Briere said. "That's going to be with them the whole series. We're using that to our advantage as well. We'd like to get off to a better start this time and not spot them a three-game lead."

That would be like counting on Gagne to fire another game-winner past Rask.


Follow columnist Phil Sheridan on Twitter at twitter.com/SheridanScribe. Read his blog at http:// go.philly.com/philabuster

or his recent columns

at http://go.philly.com/philsheridan

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