A tale of two cinderella’s. Two teams that qualified on the last days of the regualr season and that have overcome adversity and improbable situations, now find themselves in a battle to get to the Stanley Cup Finals. For Philadelphia it would be their first trip since 1997, and for Montreal their first trip since their Cup winning season of 1993.
Here’s the breakdown.
Goaltending: For Montreal they are riding the wave of Jaroslav Halak who is having a playoff run reminscent of former Canadien goalie Patrick Roy. Halak is facing shots on average of 35 plus per night, and those are just the one’s that are getting through to him. His save percentage is a ridiculous .933 as he’s stopped 420 of the 450 shots against him. His GAA is 2.43, and his record is 8-5. Without a doubt he is having a Conn Smythe playoff run. For the Flyers, goaltending has been an issue all season, and there’s been no shortage of drama in the playoffs either. After learning that Michael Leighton would be injured and not be able to finish the regular season, veteran Brian Boucher took over and has been brilliant in net. Boucher started the first 10 playoff games and had been doing the job quite nicely until spraining his MCL in game five against the Bruins on a freak play. He’s out indefintely. His record was 6-4 with a .915 save percentage and a 2.33 GAA. Then in stepped Michael Leighton who has stopped 66 of 70 shots and has been nothing short of excellent, except for the first period of game seven against the B’s. The advantage here must go to Montreal, since Halak is in the zone.
Offence: Not many players are having the post season like Michael Cammelleri is. 12 goals, many of them clutch, along with Brian Gionta who has seven, have been the offence for the Habs. Contributions from others have come, but if these two go on a cold spell, it could be doom and gloom for Montreal. As for the Flyers,imagine where they would be without Simon Gagne who returned after an injury that was thought to have kept him out of action. Gagne along with Mike Richards, Daniel Briere, and young forward Claude Giroux have provided the offence for a Flyers team that just won’t give up. The Flyers have an advantage here in my mind since they are getting contributions from everywhere.
Defence: Hall Gill, P.K. Subban, and a comeback by Jaroslav Spacek have sparked the Montreal defence. They have been the glue to have kept this team together after losing their best defenceman Andrei Markov to an ACL tear in game one against the Penguins. Shot blocking has become a science and Gill is doing better than anyone ever expected. For the Flyers the ever present Chris Pronger and his nasty self leads the Flyers, making it tough for any opponent to find a home in the crease. Pronger has 11 points as well, so chipping in offensively certainly helps. Kimo Timonen quarterbacks the power play for this group and he’s dangerous. Advantage here goes to the Habs. Gill, Subban and a healthy Spacek a playing like hero’s.
Coaching: An area I didn’t spend any time on with the Western Finals, finds Jacques Martin and Peter Laviollette going against each other. Laviollette has been through this dance before with the Hurricanes. His perfectly timed calling of a time out in the first period of game seven with the Flyers down 3-0 against Boston worked as planned. He’s done a wonderful job keeping this group focused. As for Martin, he’s never made the finals and has always had trouble in the end with a goalie. Or by playing prevent defence. However whatever plan he used to keep Sid off the board worked, and the Habs were able to keep Malkin’s production to a minimum. The problem is, the Flyers have more than just two weapons.
Players to watch: Simon Gagne for the Flyers. Michael Cammelleri for Montreal. Two players riding high and in a zone.
Prediction: Montreal in seven. While both teams are feeling good about themselves, defence wins, and the Habs, lead by Halak have that edge. Plus I’d love an original six finals matchup.
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