Eastern Conference Semifinals Preview: Boston vs. Philadelphia

It’s been such a great postseason already, and two clubs that were within just a win or a loss away from missing the playoffs heading into the final weekend of the regular season are now battling for a chance to play for the Eastern Conference championship. Both teams rode great performances from their goaltenders to victory in their first round matchups, and this series should be highly entertaining.

Offense: The losses of Simon Gagne and Jeff Carter will certainly be an issue for the Flyers, but as good as those two players are, I don’t think it’s going to be as big a deal as it might seem on paper. The key for Philly will be the type of effort they get from Mike Richards and Claude Giroux, who will definitely see plenty of ice with the Flyers’ no. 2 pivot down. Danny Briere will also have to step up his game. The Bruins were led in scoring by veterans Mark Recchi and Miroslav Satan, but David Krejci and Patrice Bergeron also played big roles in the series against Buffalo. The return of Marc Savard will be a boost, but I’m not convinced he’ll have that big of an impact after missing so much playing time.
Advantage: Even

Defense: One of the biggest holes on the Flyers’ last year was the lack of a big, physical shutdown defender. Chris Pronger has filled that gap, and his presence is a huge lift to the Philly blueline. Pronger was great against New Jersey, and scored a couple of key goals, as well. On the other bench, Zdeno Chara is the key for Boston. The B’s captain was a big factor against Buffalo, playing physical and pitching in offensively. The play of these two towering defenders will have a big effect on the outcome.
Advantage: Even

Goaltending: Both Tuuka Rask and Brian Boucher were a bit underestimated in the first round, but after outdueling Ryan Miller and Martin Brodeur, these two have some of the best numbers in the postseason right now. Boucher leads all goalies in save percentage and GAA, while Rask gave up just 14 goals on nearly 200 shots against Buffalo. Both goalies will still be a bit of question mark heading into this one, although they’re at the opposite ends of their career. For Rask, this is a chance to put a great finish on what was a fantastic rookie season. For Boucher, this might be his last chance to make a serious run for a Cup after a long, up-and-down career.
Advantage: Even

Special Teams: When two teams are so evenly matched, often the edge will come on special teams. But both of these teams had some of the best special teams numbers in the first round. Philly scored 2 more powerplay goals than the Bruins, but they had 7 more chances. The Bruins were the only team not to allow a single powerplay goal against, completely shutting down the Sabres’ powerplay unit. Both teams are dangerous on the powerplay, but they’re also very capable of killing them off.
Advantage: Even

Great goaltending, shutdown defense and balanced offense on both sides. Both teams played very physical in their first round matchups, and that trend will definitely continue in this series. The key will be the goaltending – both teams need the same effort they got from their keepers in the first round. In the end, I think Philadelphia’s depth in playoff experience will be a slight edge, and in late games in a series, that can make all the difference.
My pick: Philadelphia in 7

Topics: Boston Bruins, Brian Boucher, Chris Pronger, Mark Recchi, Mike Richards, Philadelphia Flyers, Tuuka Rask, Zdeno Chara

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