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Flyers-Bruins Playoff Preview

The Puck: it's everywhere you don't want it to be.
The Puck: it's everywhere you don't want it to be.

Much like the upcoming San Jose Sharks - Detroit Red Wings series, the Philadelphia Flyers and Boston Bruins' matchup is a close one. Boston has ridden one of the more impressive goaltending seasons in recent NHL history to the playoffs; Thomas was a big part of that second round berth, too, posting the best ESSV% of the first round (94.9%). In 2010-11 Philadelphia fulfilled a lot of the expectations that had followed them preceding the 2009-10 season, where they were a pre-season Cup favorite before the myriad results of the regular season made them appear like an underdog as they rolled through the playoffs. One of the teams the Flyers beat on their path to the Cup was the Bruins, who pushed them to seven games. Now, instead of being the 6 and 7 seeds, these teams meet against as 2 and 3 seeds, and once again all eyes are going to be on the guys between the pipes.

The Bruins and Tim Thomas seemed to be a safe target for regression coming into the playoffs; their 5-on-5 shot differential (32.4 shots-for/60; 32.1 shots-against/60) wasn't world-beating, and Thomas's ESSV% during the regular season would've been hard to sustain (94.7%). Well, the former helped push the series to 7 games, but the latter was sustained, incredibly, and it makes you wonder if Thomas is either a.) having a Bernie Parent 1973-74, Dominik Hasek 1998-99, etc., or b.) going to pull off his face at some point. Either way, I'm not one to buy into momentum, so I think there is still the distinct possibility that they have problems because of their 5-on-5 play, evident by their Score-Tied Fenwick in the playoffs so far (against a team comparable to the Flyers' opponent, the Buffalo Sabres). That said, Tim Thomas is a legitimate talent, and even if he doesn't duplicate a 94.9 ESSV%, 93.5% can still steal a low-scoring series.

The big story for the Flyers is the return of Chris Pronger, which seems to actually do more for their offense than their defense. Save percentage and shots-against per game were almost identical before and after the Pronger injury; on the other hand, the Flyers offense generated 2 fewer shots-for per game. And really, the Flyers offense had already been doing well against the Sabres, generating 35.3 shots-against/60 at even-strength, so Thomas is going to have his work cut out for him. The Million-Dollar Question, obviously, has been the goaltending, and you really cannot blame the Flyers' defense on this one. Allowing only 29.4 shots-against/60 at even-strength, they helped Brian Boucher post phenomenal numbers that would have been even more phenomenal had he not had a few brain farts.

Let me vent quick: there must have been some pretty drastic locker-room-type-stuff that went down, because they should not have bailed on Sergei Bobrovsky like that for any other reason. Boucher is a known commodity, a league-average goaltender who booms-and-busts with the best of them; Flyers fans know this, and those who claim not to are using selective memory. On the other hand, and as I've mentioned in the past, Bobrovsky is only a "great unknown" and "rookie" because we don't pay attention to the KHL; his ESSV% was right there with Corey Crawford, Ryan Miller, and Marc-Andre Fleury this year (92.3%), and he deserved a longer leash (you know, at least as long as the one Boucher's been given). Instead, he gives up 2 powerplay goals and a goal on a 3-on-1, and they excommunicate him. A good friend of mine, a Flyers fan himself, suggested that the team (and maybe the fans) had been waiting for the other shoe to drop on Bobrovsky for awhile, looking for the point where you can chalk a mistake up to his inexperience or being tired and put him on the pine pony for a bit. I think that definitely happened during the regular season, but come playoff time you might as well plug in your best goaltender, yank him in lopsided games, but plug him right back in the next game. No sense in making your goalies feel the need to constantly watch over their shoulder during the most important games of the year, no sense riding your hopes on what is very likely the lesser talent.

I'll give Laviolette and Co. the benefit of the doubt, though, that Bob said something terrible about how he felt, or took Fred Shero's name in vain.

So it comes down to Brian Boucher, how well the defense can hide him, and if the offense can offset the games where he struggles. That adds such a complexity to this matchup that from the beginning to the end of this article I wasn't quite sure who I was going to pick. I think the Flyers win this one, via their offense and despite a goalie circus. Flyers in 7 games.