NHL

Stanley Cup Playoffs Preview: Pittsburgh Penguins vs Philadelphia Flyers

Welcome to the Stanley Cup Playoffs Preview: Pittsburgh Penguins vs Philadelphia Flyers

The long and grueling journey to raise Lord Stanley’s Cup begins yet again, as the Pittsburgh Penguins, the defending back-to-back and five time Champions, take on the Philadelphia Flyers in the First Round of 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs!


The Penguins Face Their Bitter In-State Rivals To Begin Their Quest For Three Straight Stanley Cup Championships

The Pittsburgh Penguins begin a challenge that hasn’t been done in over three decades, going for a third consecutive championship in a row. The Edmonton Oilers, Penguins and the Detroit Red are the only teams to win back-to-back Stanley Cups since the early 80’s. Both Pittsburgh and Edmonton did it twice. But three straight? Not since the New York Islanders won four in a row from 1980 through 1983.

No one can win three straight championships in the Salary Cap Era, right?

Well, if the Penguins needed any extra motivation, what other team could they face to get the juices flowing than their most hated rivals that are the Philadelphia Flyers?

“What’s better than playing Philly to start off the Stanley Cup playoffs?” said speedy Penguins winger Carl Hagelin.

The Flyers had to win their season finale to guarantee themselves a spot in the playoffs. The are fortunate they did, for had they lost in Regulation vs the Rangers, the Florida Panthers would’ve gotten in over the Flyers via tiebreakers. But, the Flyers buried the Rangers 5-0, and then watched both the New Jersey Devils and Columbus Blue Jackets tank their games to avoid any type of match-up against the Penguins.

The last time these two teams met in the postseason was in 2012, when the Penguins had several meltdowns and couldn’t stop a beach ball from entering their net.

Only Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Kris Letang remain from that team.

“For whatever reason it was just a wild series and you won’t see anything like that for a really long time,” Crosby said. “With the fights and the amount of goals that were scored, the margin of the games, it was just crazy. It’s hard to compare but certainly you can take lessons from it.

“Both teams were pretty heavily involved physically and emotionally, but when you’re on the wrong side and you don’t convert on the power play and they end up making you pay it’s a tough lesson. But I think you have to learn those sometimes. You have to find that balance and our experience since then will help us.”

Letang noted that they are all much older and experienced since 2012.

“We’re all over 30 years old now, we’re all supposed to be mature,” he said. “Whatever it was, it was in the moment, emotional. We have a different team, different experience, different coaching staff, so I don’t think we look at it anymore.”

Head Coach Mike Sullivan has established a system that preaches speed, tenacity, and discipline to his team. There’s a reason why this team has won two straight Cups since he took over the team two years ago.

“I’m a strong believer that if a team is going to maximize its potential and contend for a championship, the first rule of thumb Is to become a team that doesn’t beat itself,” he said. “This is something we speak about with our group often. And it’s easy in an emotional game to lose focus. It’s easy to lose control of your emotions and that’s where a certain level of discipline and diligence has to come into play. I think our team has shown it over time here that when we play with a certain level of focus, a certain level of discipline and that diligence shift in and shift out, then that’s when our team is at its very best.”

These aren’t your average thug mentality Flyers from yesteryear either.

“They’re skilled and they’re fast,” Letang said. “They have good defensemen that can join the rush, they’re a really good team. They finished what, two points behind us? They had a great year and they have good players, it’s going to be a big challenge.”

The Flyers had just 19 fighting majors during the 2017-18 season. That was the fewest in team history. Remember Rick Tocchet? He had 23 himself during the 1985-86 season as a member of the Flyers.

The Flyers play hard and fast, without the knuckle-dragging tactics used by the franchise since it’s inception.

“Philly plays a really aggressive style,” Sullivan said. “They pinch the walls pretty hard. They commit their defensemen in the offensive zone. If you can defend it, you can potentially take advantage of their aggressiveness, if you defend it and play hard. Having said that, they’re good at it. They’re a good team.”

Hard nosed winger Patric Hornqvist is looking forward to the drop of the puck on Wednesday night at PPG Paints Arena.

“This is great,” he beamed with a huge smile on his face. “This is the best part of the season. Finally we’re here and we have a great match-up in front of us. This is a really good Philly team and we know all about them, they know all about us and the rivalry here and all that. It’s going to be a hell of a series.”

The Penguins received some good news on Monday when Derick Brassard, who missed the final five games of the season, was a full participant in practice.

“It feels pretty good. It’s been a long week and a half. I feel pretty good out there,” Brassard said. “I’ve been working really hard to be ready for the playoffs. We’ll see what’s going to happen.”

With Brassard healthy, the Penguins would have three strong lines constantly having to be dealt with. Brassard is noted for raising his level of play when the playoffs begin, as he had 22 goals and 33 assists in 78 games over the past five playoff seasons for the New York Rangers and Ottawa Senators.

Penguins Keys To Victory

  • Make The Flyers Pay For Every Penalty! The Penguins were ranked #1 in the Regular Season, converting on 26.2% of their Power Play chances. The Flyers were 29th (75%) on the Penalty Kill. That’s a juicy match-up for the Penguins to exploit.
  • Tighten Up The Defense! The nights of allowing 2 on 1’s and hanging Murray out to dry have to end. Sullivan is a smart coach, but it will be up to the players to elevate their defensive play.
  • Skate Away! No, this isn’t your typical neanderthal Flyers team, but if they were smart, they would try to get the Penguins off their game similar to what they did in 2012. If the Penguins want to retaliate from cheap shots, do it via the scoreboard or late in game when up multiple goals.

Team Comparison

Forwards

The Penguins boast three players in the Top 10 in league scoring, that being Malkin, Kessel, and Crosby. Only the Lightning accomplished that feat since 2003-04, and they went on to win the Cup. Add in Patric Hornqvist, whose presence in front of the net drives opposing teams crazy, and Derick Brassard who has been one of the best playoff performers the past five years, and you have a team that has three lethal lines that keeps coming after you in waves. Jake Guentzel, Bryan Rust, and Conor Sheary have proven their worth in lighting the lamp come playoff time as well.

Philadelphia’s top three scorers aren’t anything to sniff at either. Claude Giroux finished 2nd in league scoring with 34 goals and 102 points. Jakub Voravek, and Sean Couturier are also top tier players. Wayne Simmonds, like Hornqvist, is a pest that brings it every night.

Advantage: Penguins… Philly can match one of the Penguins lines, but not all three. Riley Sheahan is on the 4th line and has 11 goals and 32 points.

Defenseman

Kris Letang struggled early this season, but has picked up his play in the last quarter of the season. Letang, along with Brian Dumoulin, Olli Maatta  and Justin Schultz form a very good Top Four at defense for Pittsburgh. Jamie Oleksiak has been a great addition since GM Jim Rutherford acquired him earlier this season. Matt Hunwick is the 6th d-man on the chart, and has been the subject of scrutiny, but he has played better of late. Sometimes this group gets caught concentrating on offense too much instead of doing their jobs defensively. Honestly, one could make a case that this group didn’t go all out every night, instead opting to wait till the games really count to give maximum effort.

Philadelphia has a solid unit defensively. Ivan Provorov led all blue liners with 17 goals. Shayne Gostisbehere had the 4th most points among defensemen.

Though the two teams were only separated by two points in the standings, the Penguins are the better team top to bottom. Travis Sanheim, Andrew MacDonald, Brandon Manning, and Radko Gudas round out a pretty solid unit for the Flyers. They are young and prone to mental errors. The Flyers have given up nine more goals than the Penguins since the beginning of 2018.

Advantage: Slight Edge to the Penguins… Letang’s elevated play along with the unit’s playoff experience gives the Penguins a tiny advantage.

 

Goaltending

Matt Murray’s biggest question is staying healthy. There are people still questioning Murray’s abilities despite Muzz having: 2 Stanley Cup Rings, a playoff record of 22-9, a playoff goals-against average of 1.95 and save percentage of .928, and four shutouts in the post-season, including each of the last two games of the 2017 Stanley Cup Final.

“The game tends to simplify this time of year,” Murray said. “Teams start to look for more point shots – screens and tips, going hard to the net. To be successful this time of year, you really need to compete through the traffic and work on your positioning.

“The puck may have to hit you sometimes if you can’t pick it up. That’s something I need to keep trending in the right direction.”

Brian Elliott will oppose Murray in net for the Flyers. Petr Mrazek is the back-up and is likely to see the ice as the Penguins are notorious for chasing opposing team’s starting goaltenders during a series. Elliot has played only two games since being out for two months recovering from an abdominal injury.

“Two games is not a lot, but you build off that, for sure,” Elliott said.

Advantage: Penguins… This isn’t even a close comparison. The Penguins have tortured Elliott several times in his career. Expect more of the same this series.

 

Special Teams

Power Play:

  • Penguins Rank #1 at 26.2%
  • Flyers Rank #15 at 20.7%

 

Penalty Kill:

  • Penguins Rank #17 at 80%
  • Flyers Rank #29 at 75.8%

 

Prediction

The Flyers have a solid team that is trending upwards, but they face a battle tested and deep Penguins team that knows how to adapt to any situation in a playoff series. The Penguins lethal Power Play combined with rolling three lines that could pass as #1 lines on the majority of any of the other 30 NHL teams is downright scary. Goaltending is also a major issue for the Flyers. The Flyers will put up a fight as best as they can, but in the end it will be…

Penguins in 5


Series Information

1st Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs

#2 Pittsburgh Penguins (47-29-6, 100 Points) vs #3 Philadelphia Flyers (42-26-14, 98 Points)

Game 1: Pittsburgh Penguins vs Philadelphia Flyers

Date: Wednesday, April 11th

Venue: PPG Paints Arena, Pittsburgh, PA.

Game Time: 7:10 pm

TV: NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports   Radio: 105.9 The X (Pittsburgh) / NBC Sports Radio and SiriusXM Radio

 

Game 2: Pittsburgh Penguins vs Philadelphia Flyers

Date: Friday, April 13th

Venue: PPG Paints Arena, Pittsburgh, PA.

Game Time: 7:10 p.m.

TV: NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports   Radio: 105.9 The X (Pittsburgh) / NBC Sports Radio and SiriusXM Radio

 

Game 3: Philadelphia Flyers vs Pittsburgh Penguins 

Date: Sunday, April 15th

Venue: Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia, PA.

Game Time: 3:10 p.m.

TV: NBC, CBC, TVA Sports   Radio: 105.9 The X (Pittsburgh) / NBC Sports Radio and SiriusXM Radio

 

Game 4: Philadelphia Flyers vs Pittsburgh Penguins

Date: Wednesday, April 18th

Venue: Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia, PA.

Game Time: 7:10 p.m.

TV: NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports   Radio: 105.9 The X (Pittsburgh) / NBC Sports Radio and SiriusXM Radio

 

Game 5: Pittsburgh Penguins vs Philadelphia Flyers*

Date: Friday, April 20th

Venue: PPG Paints Arena, Pittsburgh, PA.

Game Time: TBA

TV: NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports   Radio: 105.9 The X (Pittsburgh) / NBC Sports Radio and SiriusXM Radio

 

Game 6: Philadelphia Flyers vs Pittsburgh Penguins*

Date: Sunday, April 22nd

Venue: Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia, PA.

Game Time: TBA

TV: NBC / CBC, Sportsnet and TVA Sports   Radio: 105.9 The X (Pittsburgh) / NBC Sports Radio and SiriusXM Radio

 

Game 7: Pittsburgh Penguins vs Philadelphia Flyers*

Date: Tuesday, April 24th

Venue: PPG Paints Arena, Pittsburgh, PA.

Game Time: TBA

TV: NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports   Radio: 105.9 The X (Pittsburgh) / NBC Sports Radio and SiriusXM Radio

*If Necessary

 


A look at the Pittsburgh Penguins!

  • Head Coach: Mike Sullivan (3rd Season with Penguins)
  • Overall Regular Season Record: 47-29-6, 100 points / 2nd in Metropolitan Division.
  • Stanley Cup Champions: 1991, 1992, 2009, 2016, 2017
  • 2017-18 Pittsburgh Penguins Roster

 

Scouting the Penguins

Projected Line-Up

Forwards

  • 1st Line: Jake Guentzel – Sidney Crosby – Bryan Rust
  • 2nd Line: Carl Hagelin – Evgeni Malkin – Patric Hornqvist
  • 3rd Line: Conor Sheary – Derick Brassard  – Phil Kessel
  • 4th Line: Zach Aston-Reese – Riley Sheahan – Tom Kuhnhackl

Defense

  • 1st Pairing: Brian Dumoulin – Kris Letang
  • 2nd Pairing: Olli Maatta – Justin Schultz
  • 3rd Pairing: Matt Hunwick – Jamie Oleksiak

Goalies

  • Starter: Matt Murray
  • Back-up: Casey DeSmith

Stats

 

 

A look at the Philadelphia Flyers!

  • Head Coach: Dave Hakstol (4th Season with Flyers)
  • Overall Regular Season Record: 42-26-14, 98 Points / 3rd in Metropolitan Division.
  • Stanley Cup Champions: 1974, 1975
  • 2017-18 Philadelphia Flyers Roster

 

Scouting the Flyers

Projected Line-Up

Forwards

  • 1st Line: Claude Giroux – Sean Couturier – Michael Raffl
  • 2nd Line: Oskar Lindblom – Nolan Patrick – Jakub Voracek
  • 3rd Line: Travis Konecny – Valtteri Filppula – Wayne Simmonds
  • 4th Line: Scott Laughton – Jori Lehtera – Matt Read

Defense

  • 1st Pairing: Ivan Provorov – Shayne Gostisbehere
  • 2nd Pairing: Travis Sanheim – Andrew MacDonald
  • 3rd Pairing: Brandon Manning – Radko Gudas

Goalies

  • Starter: Brian Elliott
  • Back-up: Petr Mrazek

 

Stats

 


Penguins-Flyers Playoff History

  • Playoff Series History: Flyers lead 4-2. Flyers won in 1989, 1997, 2000, & 2012 / Penguins won in 2008 & 2009
  • The Penguins have won the Stanley Cup 5 times. (1991, 1992, 2009, 2016, 2017)
  • The Flyers have won the Stanley Cup 2 times. (1974, 1975)

 

Series Notes

  • The Penguins swept the season series against the Flyers 4-0. Two wins came via Overtime.
  • Penguins goalie Matt Murray had a 2.93 GAA and .923 save percentage against the Flyers this season.
  • The Penguins will continue a decade-long tradition, hosting the big screen outside PPG Paints Arena for home playoff games. Fans can watch games from the corner of Fifth Avenue and Washington Place.

NHL Playoff Bracket

Series Predictions

Western Conference

Nashville over Colorado in 5

Winnipeg over Minnesota in 6

Vegas over Los Angeles in 7

San Jose over Anaheim in 7

 

Eastern Conference

New Jersey over Tampa Bay in 7

Toronto over Boston in 7

Washington over Columbus in 6

Pittsburgh over Philadelphia in 5

Author Profile

Mike DrakulichYour source for Pittsburgh sports!
From Midland, "The Basketball Capital of Pennsylvania", located 35 miles NW of Pittsburgh along the Ohio River. This former steel town was home to storied athletes such as Dave Alston, Norm Van Lier, Simmie Hill, and the legendary 1965 Midland High School Basketball Team.

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