While these two teams were battling down the stretch of the regular season for their playoff lives, prognosticators were already pencilling in both Martin Brodeur and Ryan Miller for the Eastern Conference Finals, but in an unexpected turn of events it will now be either Brian Boucher or Tuukka Rask who will have the opportunity to play for this season’s Eastern Conference title. The goaltending for both of these teams so far in these playoffs has been spectacular, and also a big reason why they have both managed to exceed expectations thus far.
As far as which goalie is more likely to maintain such a high level of play though, the edge might just go to Rask, who led all goalies during the regular season in both GAA and save percentage. On the other hand, Brian Boucher is actually playing way above his regular season numbers right now, and therefore, seems more likely to be the one to eventually come back down to earth.
Aside from goaltending though, special teams have also been a big reason why both Philadelphia and Boston managed to pull off their respective first round playoff upsets, and this is where the Bruins may have their biggest advantage over the Flyers. The loss of both Jeff Carter and Simon Gagne to injuries will take its toll on the efficiency of the Philadelphia powerplay, as they try to crack a Boston penalty-kill which has yet to concede a goal in these playoffs. Meanwhile, the Boston powerplay went a very proficient 6 for 22 against the Sabres in the first round, and the return of Marc Savard to the lineup should help Boston continue to excel in this area.
The Bruins bowed out in the second round of the playoffs last season to Carolina, despite winning the President’s Trophy, but it appears that this will be the season where they redeem themselves by reaching the Eastern Conference Finals. As Boston’s roster gets healthier, Philadelphia’s gets battered by injuries, and the 4 extra days of rest that the Flyers received by being the first team to advance to the second round of the playoffs this year might actually end up hurting them more than helping them. An entire week away from real-game intensity can completely kill both rhythm and momentum.
The prediction here is that the Bruins win the series in 6, despite probably splitting the first two in Boston, and then, the next two after that in Philadelphia.
_ _ _