#4 Pittsburgh vs. #5 Philadelphia
Advantages Pittsburgh: Experience, Crosby, Malkin, Staal, Letang, Depth, Want it
This will be one intense series. The teams do not like each other and definitely are ready to get at it in Game 1. The Pens have the look of a team that can go a long ways in the playoffs. They are confident with getting Crosby back and Malkin having his best season that this is their time to win the Cup. The experience of previous playoff runs will help the Pens manage a very difficult first round match up against the Flyers and remain confident and attacking in pressure situations.
Pittsburgh has stars that can dominate games and a whole series. Crosby, Malking, Staal, and Letang are supported by players having career years like Dupuis and Neal. The Pens will play with great intensity in front of their home crowd, so as long as they can manage it well having home ice is important for the Pens.
Barriers Pittsburgh: Expectations, Fleury's play recently, Recent history in playoffs, and Flyers getting in their heads?
The Penguins are the vogue pick to win the Cup, but they do have mental barriers to navigate in their first round match up. First, Marc-Andre Fleury needs to play like the goalie that won the Cup in 2010. Recently he has given up too many poor goals. The Flyers know this and have every intention of making his life difficult. If Fleury gives up leaky goals it will impact the confidence of a Pens team that lost the season series to Philly.
The Pens also have the sting of being upset in the playoffs the last two years. Last year it was without Crosby and Malkin and that is an easy excuse, but they are desperate to get back to their winning ways in the playoffs. The Pens are resilient and winning at home is not an absolute because the Flyers have been better on the road than at home. They, will however, want to get in the driver's seat in these games. They have shown a tendency to allow the Flyers to frustrate them and take penalties. The Pens must keep their emotions in check in a very intense series.
Advantages Philly: Scoring, expectations, Giroux, feel they can come back on Pens
The Flyers are a resilient bunch that can score as much or more than the Pens. Even though the Flyers are young, they have shown a great ability to bounce back in games and win. Coming from behind to beat the Pens twice in the last month of the season certainly gives the Flyers confidence going in to this series that no matter the situation they have a chance. Adding to their confidence is an excellent 5-1 record in Pittsburgh since the opening of their new arena.
The Flyers believe that they have the offense to outscore anyone. Claude Giroux had a great season and will be a series changer. While somewhat young besides Briere, Jagr Hartnell, and Talbot upfront the Flyers have great experience on the backline and their young forwards have shown an ability to adapt to the pressures of the NHL. There is also a feel that while the Flyers can win a Cup now, the future is bright and this is not a must win season thus taking off some of the pressure on this young team.
Barriers Philly: Inexperience, Starts to games, Home play and crowd, inconsistent Bryz?, injuries
Maybe I am contradicting myself here on a few points, but the Flyers inexperience is also a barrier that they must overcome. How will their young team handle the spotlight of the most anticipated first round series against the Pens? Sean Couturier will be very important along with his linemates as they match up against the Pens' stars. Stopping them in the regular season is a big task, in the playoffs it is mammoth. It is a lot to ask from young players, and it will be interesting to see if they step up and play with composure. Oh, yes. Composure may be the biggest concept in this first round series for the Flyers. They must not take cheap penalties and keep their emotions in check. They will try to get under the skin of Malkin and Crosby but must not take penalties doing it.
Flyers also need Briere, Grossmann and Van Riemsdyk to come back from injury playing well. There can be no easing back into performing with the intensity of this first round series. Getting in front in first periods has not been a strength of Philly, and that needs to change in the playoffs. The Flyers' faithful may give the Flyers a little more leash this playoff run, but not much. If the Flyers struggle at home, which they did during the regular season, the fans will get on them. How will the young team handle it? The most important factor in all of this will be Ilya Bryzgalov. If Bryz is consistent and making saves that he should make the Flyers will have the confidence and momentum needed to beat the Pens. If he gets leaky it will be a rollercoaster ride for sure.
Take Homes: This will be an intense, physical series that will go back and forth. Both teams believe they can win on the road, and win this series. The team that better holds their composure, stays out of the box, and executes under pressure will win. This composure will be greatly influenced by the consistent, or inconsistent, play of the goalies.