Is the NHL's Eastern Conference a two team race?

The Getty Images caption here is great. "Chris Pronger #20 of the Philadelphia Flyers clears his nasal passage during a game against the Pittsburgh Penguins at the Wells Fargo Center on October 16 2010 in Philadelphia Pennsylvania."

There's a pretty good article in today's Vancouver Province about the Flyers, the challenges they face as an Eastern Conference contender, and Mike Richards' thoughts on the team. "This is the best team I've played on," is just a taste. 

One little piece of the article caught me off guard and made me think a little bit, though. 

For one, the Flyers play in the east, where you really have to scratch to come up with serious opponents they'll face - other than the Pittsburgh Penguins - as they try to make their second straight final. There's Boston, perhaps, and maybe Washington, although the latter is increasingly being seen as too weak defensively to overcome the top two. And Boston would have to be at its absolute best to beat this Flyers team.

After that, it would have to be a Philly collapse if they were to lose to anyone else.

Essentially, what writer Tony Gallagher is saying here is that the Eastern Conference is a two-team race between the Flyers and the Penguins. I've been thinking about this all day, and I can't decide whether or not I agree with it. 

It's hard to disagree with the points he makes. The Flyers are, without a doubt, the deepest team in the conference. They might be the deepest team in all of hockey. They clearly have the experience to win in the postseason, and we all know they're built to win in the playoffs. 

Can we just shrug off the Capitals, though? Is that even fair? Do they have to prove to us that they're a postseason threat before we give them the time of day? Gallagher apparently doesn't think so. And Boston's a team built in the same mold as the Flyers, but it's clear that on the whole, the orange and black certainly have a better cast of players.

After that, are the Canadiens a concern? What about the surging Atlanta Thrashers? Hard to make an argument that either of those teams are in the same class as these Flyers or these Penguins. 

When you really think about it, it appears that the East is, at most, a four-team race. Do you agree with Gallagher's assessment? Is the East just a two-team race?

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