Unfortunately, Bryzgalov suffered a chip fracture in his left foot during warm ups on March 26th against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Sergei Bobrovsky was able to get some tune up starts towards the end of the season in which he looked sharp. One of Bobrovsky’s win was the 6-4 Flyers victory over the Penguins at the CONSOL Energy Center on April 1. Lifetime, Bobrovsky is 5-1 at the CONSOL Energy Center with his (and the team’s) only loss coming on Saturday in a game that did not hold any meaning. If the Flyers goaltending, in particular Ilya Bryzgalov, can continue its dominating play, they will be a tough out.
As for the Penguins, former number one overall pick Marc-Andre Fleury has held down the fort this season. Fleury had a great season this year. He posted a 2.36 GAA along with a .913 save percentage to go along with 42 wins, which was one shy of Tom Barrasso’s franchise record. In addition to Fleury’s solid play, he also has a boatload of playoff experience. Fleury has played in 69 career playoff games going 41-28 with a 2.52 GAA and a .910 save percentage. He will not be a pushover.
Fortunately for the Flyers, they have had success against Fleury this year. He started all six games for the Penguins against the Flyers and got the decision in five of them. Fleury was 1-3-1 with a 3.41 GAA (19 goals against) and an .872 save percentage. The 19 goals against was the most Fleury allowed to any team this year; the next closest team was the Islanders with 14 goals against. Needless to say that the Flyers have had some success in the past and it is not unheard of if they continue to have success against Fleury.
The Penguins come in with a decent blue line but some health questions of their own. Anchored by Kris Letang and Brooks Orpik, the Penguins finished the year 15th (the definition of middle of the road) in goals allowed averaging just about 2.7 goals per game (not far off of the Flyers with 221 goals overall). Orpik is more of a physical presence on the blue line whereas Letang is an offensive weapon. Despite missing 31 games with a concussion and a lower body injury, he managed to score 10 goals and dish out 32 assists for Pittsburgh. Surrounding Letang and Orpik, the Penguins are expected to have Matt Niskanen back in time for Game 1 who has been sidelined with a shoulder injury. Deryk Engelland is the enforcer of the group and expect him to be in the middle of a lot of post-whistle scrums. The health of Niskanen and Letang can be called into question. Niskanen is just coming back and Letang gets hit a lot on the ice which could mean trouble for Pittsburgh. The Penguins are not the same team without Letang as they are with him.
The only issue is that they tend to fall behind within the first 10 minutes and are forced to try and cut into deficits. They have not played with a lead very much at the start of games and that could become taxing if they continue that trend into the playoffs. How far the Flyers go in the playoffs depends on how good Giroux’s line plays and how well the rookies handle the pressure of the playoffs.
On the other side, the Penguins sport two of the best forwards on the planet in Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Malkin scored 50 goals this season while Crosby missed a large majority of the season dealing with post concussion syndrome. Sidney Crosby’s line (Pascal Dupuis, Crosby, and Steve Sullivan) will be facing off against Giroux’s line while Couturier has the pleasure of trying to stop Malkin, Chris Kunitz, and James Neal. The Penguins proved to be an offensive power as they averaged 3.3 goals a game which was tops in the NHL. The Penguins have six forwards who finished with 18 or more goals and are lead by Malkin (50) and Neal who scored 40 goals this season. Neal is a player similar to Jeff Carter in that he was a great wrist shot and throws a TON of pucks at the net. Neal was second in the NHL in shots on goal with 329. He trailed only one player, yeah, you guessed it, Malkin. Malkin lead the NHl is shots on goal with 339.
Similarly to the Flyers, the Penguins get a lot of secondary scoring from their supporting cast. Kunitz, Dupuis, and Jordan Staal all had 25 or more goals. A player who does not typically light up the score sheet but always seems to give the Flyers trouble is Tyler Kennedy. Kennedy only had 11 goals and 22 assists in 60 games but he has a goal and an assist against the Flyer this year. The Flyers are going to have to stop more than just Crosby, Malkin, and Neal if they are going win the series.
The play of the goaltenders is the ultimate key. If Ilya Bryzgalov is the same goalie he was in March or even the above average goaltender he was before Christmas, the Flyers are going to be in a good position in the series. It rests on the shoulders of Bryzgalov and his confidence. For the Penguins, if Fleury can continue to somehow find ways to keep them in the game, they will be a tough out.
This is going to be a tough series and it is a shame that one of these teams has to be eliminated in the first round.
Prediction: Flyers in 6
Follow Steve on Twitter @SDolan3
Follow Whiz Wit on Twitter @WhizWitSports