It's time to get down to business. The Stanley Cup Playoffs are about to begin. And once the Penguins and Flyers face off on Wednesday night, once this long anticipated, seemingly inevitable battle commences, reason will surely take a backseat to an avalanche of raw, unfiltered, steaming emotion. That's why we need to do this now, while our mind is right. This has the potential to be one of the most memorable playoff series of our lives. These teams despise each other. They both have legitimate Cup aspirations. Who has the advantage? GTOG gives you the Tale of the Tape.
Playing the Flyers is a totally unique experience. Somewhat counter-intuitively, gutlessness becomes a huge factor. And being the savvy organization that it is, Philly has spent the better part a decade developing this under-appreciated characteristic. To wit:
- Derian Hatcher knocked out Sidney Crosby's teeth with dirty, gutless high stick, but no one could catch him on the game-winning breakaway goal in OT. Gutless.
- The Flyers couldn't close after building a 3-0 lead at home in that memorable Game 6 against the Pens, and watched Pittsburgh go on to take the Cup in '09. Gutless.
- The Flyers signed Mike Richards and Jeff Carter to gigantic contracts, only to abandon them on Dry Island before shipping their leaders out of town. Gutless.
- Scott Hartnell bit Kris Letang's finger. Gutless.
- Jaromir Jagr couldn't handle the pressure of coming back to Pittsburgh a returning hero, instead grabbing the extra cash and signing with the Flyers. Gutless.
- Danny Briere cried about a perfectly clean check, sat out with back contusions, now suddenly he's fine. Gutless.
- Claude Giroux took a pass on playing the regular season finale in Pittsburgh. Gutless.
- Nobody on the Flyers, not even activated-for-one-game-for-one-purpose Jody Shelley, wanted any part of Steve McIntyre in that final regular season game. Gutless.
We're sure there are plenty of things we missed. The Flyers are just so deep in gutlessness. Then again, the Penguins did put out the Craig Adams line that one time in the final minute of a 3-goal game.
The Flyers have a certain swagger to them, to be sure. They've got a very good team with a great balance of young talent, veteran moxie, and former Pittsburgh Penguins. But the Penguins have a guy who when Sidney Crosby said he wanted to be last to take the ice for pregame introductions, interrupted, pointed to himself, and said "Three years Super League." The Penguins have a GM whose heart rate actually slows at the trade deadline. This is the Penguins owner:
|There are so very many pictures we could have used to illustrate this point.|
The Tale of the Tape continues, after the jump...
This is always one of our favorite categories. If either one of these teams finds itself in a 2-0 or 3-1 hole or suffers an injury to a star player, which one is more likely to persevere in the face of adversity? Both teams have already overcome a lot. The Penguins shrugged off the lengthy absences of Sidney Crosby, Kris Letang, and Jordan Staal, recovered from a six-game losing streak that had all of us putting our head between our knees and bracing for impact by rattling off 8 and 11 game win streaks, and finished with 108 points, the second-best total in franchise history. The Flyers changed their identity by shedding their two highest paid stars, endured the season-long absence of captain Chris Pronger and a slew of injuries to other high profile players like Giroux and James Van Riemsdyk, and finished only 5 points behind Pittsburgh in the standings.
Both teams have guys who can draw on Stanley Cup winning experience to steady a shaky locker room, but the Penguins have many more (11 to 3, by our count). That's important, but here's what's critical: The Flyers could play as many as 8 rookies in this series. History shows that is not a good thing. You may recall that the Penguins had some fairly talented youngsters in the lineup back in the spring of 2007, but in their first taste of playoff hockey, Crosby, Malkin, Staal, Fleury and the rest got absolutely steamrolled in 5 games by a veteran Ottawa team. Just decimated.
The Flyers have some great young kids. Unfortunately, they're about to play a best-of-7 against some grown-ass men.
We know a lot of intelligent people from Philadelphia. Perhaps not coincidentally, none of them are Flyers fans.
Goaltender you want to have a beer with
Note that this category is not titled, "Goaltender you want to take a hallucinogenic with." Ilya Bryzgalov has that market cornered.
Marc-Andre Fleury is the guy with the steady, sunny disposition, who will mock you mercilessly as he beats you in a game of air hockey and gets you to buy him 3 beers. It will be an adventure, but you will have no doubt that you want MAF at your table at last call. That's what 41 wins in 5 playoff appearances does for a guy.
A night with Bryzgalov? It could either blow your mind, or you could find yourself naked and face down in an alley like 14 hours later. We wouldn't risk it.
We'll give this one to Kate Smith for "God Bless America." No sweat off Jimerson's coiffure.
Defensemen of Unusual Size (DOUS's)
Even absent the once-great Pronger, who prior to his devastating concussion we respected and feared as much as any defenseman (even as we recognized that it was beyond idiotic for the Flyers to sign him to a big-money, long term deal), the Flyers are loaded in this department. Nicklas Grossman, Braydon Coburn, and Pavel Kubina (258 pounds!) are huge, but they can't stay with Sid. Kimmo Timonen draws that assignment, leaving Grossman and Coburn to face the Malkin line. This is maybe the most difficult draw the Pens forwards could get in terms of opposing defenseman, especially if the officials have completely digested their whistles after swallowing them mid-way through the regular season. The Penguins have the disgusting and disrespectful Brooks Orpik, rugged Deryk Engelland, and human Tomahawk missile Kris Letang, but the Flyers forwards aren't up at night worrying about this matchup.
Art Ross Trophies
The Penguins have 14 of these beautiful babies in 24 seasons. The Flyers have none, ever. Not relevant you say? Fair point. But it is emblematic. In keeping with tradition, the Penguins led the league in goals per game this season at 3.33. The Flyers were tied for second at 3.17. But here's what's really eye-catching: In the 14 games since Sidney Crosby's most recent return, during the always rigorous, give no quarter stretch run of the regular season, the Penguins averaged 4.5 goals per game.
It's not like Dan Bylsma has been blessed with a full, lustrous mane. He's headed towards Scotty Bowman territory in more ways than one. But look how the man carries it off. That's what it's all about.
Peter Laviolette? Here are a few of the things we've had to say on the blog recently about what he has going on up top:
"He should save his outrage for his wife and yell at her for forgetting to water his hair plugs."
"Things could go south for Pete Laviolette in a hurry."
"This looks like what happens when older women go bald."
We wouldn't be terribly shocked to see the Flyers win the Stanley Cup. If they manage to beat the Penguins, why not them? A Flyer team that makes it to Round 2 means a Flyer team with a goalie playing out of his mind, a rugged defense, balanced scoring, and a group of talented rookies who won't really be rookies anymore. And they could beat the Penguins. Don't think so? Tell it to the '93 Penguins or the '94 Red Wings or any number of other odds-on Stanley Cup favorites. It happens. But we're here to tell you it won't.
It won't happen, because the dominant Penguins team that showed up in the first period but disappeared in the latter half of a couple of their more recent games against Philly will be in this thing for 60 minutes every night going forward. They will be coming in waves. They will lead with a line centered by the NHL's scoring champion and MVP, a 40-goal-scoring bighorn sheep on right wing, and a honey badger with hands of straight baby thighs on the left. They will follow this with an historically great center who leads the league in points-per-game scoring and who for the past few weeks has merely been tuning up for the playoffs. He'll be flanked by a 25-goal-scorer with a 17 game scoring streak, who is best known for his defensive play and unparalleled grit, and a wily little magician who's just starting to mesh with his linemates. We're not done. Next comes a center who was strongly considered for the role of Thor, Norse god of thunder, in the major motion picture, except the movie's producers thought the casting would be a little bit too on the nose. He's joined by a forechecking and penalty killing demon who also happens to be a clutch playoff scorer, and a whirling dervish who, for all his well documented limitations, will be all over the puck on offense, all over the puck carrier on defense, and every once in a while will rifle that sucker right under the crossbar. Almost there. When those three lines need a blow, here comes, wait for it, arguably the best 4th line in playoff hockey. Name a better one. And we haven't even gotten to the Norris Trophy caliber defenseman or the elite, Stanley Cup winning goaltender. Special team? We think so.
FINAL SCORE: Pens 7, Flyer 3
The Tale of the Tape never lies.
Coming up on Wednesday, GTOG assigns the coveted Playoff Onus. Then, follow GTOG Artistry and GTOG Finesse on Twitter for in-game commentary throughout the playoffs.