Flyers vs. Penguins, ECQF Game 1 preview: After 341 days, playoff trip begins again

BOSTON, MA - MAY 06:Jeff Carter #17, Brian Boucher #33, Danny Briere #48 and Kimmo Timonen #44 of the Philadelphia Flyers leave the ice following defeat at the hands of the Boston Bruins in Game Four of the Eastern Conference Semifinals during the 2011 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at TD Garden on May 6, 2011 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

7:30 p.m., CONSOL Energy Center
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Game 1, Eastern Quarterfinals
TV: CSN, NBCSN, CBC, Root
RADIO: 610 WIP
PENS BLOG: PensBurgh

It's been 341 days since the 2010-11 Philadelphia Flyers season ended unceremoniously in Boston. That's a really long time to chomp at the bit for some playoff hockey, but the wait finally comes to an end tonight.

And what an end. The Pittsburgh Penguins are the opponent for the third time in the last three playoff years, and despite the fact that seemingly every pundit in the world is picking the Penguins to beat the Flyers in this series, it's probably one of the closest first round matchups we've seen in a while.

It helps that, for the most part, everybody is healthy. Danny Briere and Nicklas Grossmann will be in the lineup for the Flyers tonight in Game 1, and the importance of that cannot be understated. Grossmann will likely be matched up against Evgeni Malkin's line for most of the night, while Briere was one of a handful of players pacing the Flyers' offense before his injury in the final week of the regular season.

More: NHL Playoff Predictions at SBNation.com | Playoff Odds | 6 Big Questions

Minus Chris Pronger (miss you), Andrej Meszaros and James van Riemsdyk, the Flyers are actually pretty darn healthy. Sure, that's a hefty list, but the team has played well without those guys this season. On defense tonight, it's looking like Pavel Kubina will sit in favor of Andreas Lilja, meaning Marc-Andre Bourdon also will find his way into his first playoff game this evening.

That means six Flyers rookies will be making their playoff debuts tonight in Pittsburgh: Bourdon, Sean Couturier, Matt Read, Zac Rinaldo (oh remember when he played in the playoffs last year outta nowhere?), Brayden Schenn and Eric Wellwood. In particular, it's going to be vital how Couturier and Schenn play, not only tonight but for the entire series. The Flyers have done well in shutting down Malkin this season, and a lot of that has to do with Couturier's fine play against him. It needs to continue for the Flyers to have a chance.

For the Penguins, here's what we're looking at when it comes to line combos:

Kunitz - Malkin - Neal
Cooke - Staal - Kennedy
Sullivan - Crosby - Dupuis
Asham - Vitale - Adams

Letang - Martin
Michalek - Orpik
Engelland - Strait

Matt Niskanen was not part of the morning skate for the Penguins, so it looks like he'll miss tonight's game. Ben Lovejoy said he "felt good" at the morning skate today and it remains a possibility that he could play. If he does find his way into the lineup, he'll probably replace Brian Strait, but it's worth noting that Lovejoy missed the last seven games of the season with a knee injury and was expected to miss three-to-four weeks.

Lines as we expect them for the Flyers:

Hartnell - Giroux - Jagr
Schenn - Briere - Simmonds
Voracek - Couturier - Talbot
Wellwood - Read - Rinaldo

Timonen - Carle
Grossmann - Coburn
Lilja - Bourdon

Love the speed on that fourth line, love the shutdown unit on that third line, and those top two lines should be able to generate plenty of scoring chances. On defense, expect that second pairing to see the Malkin line primarily and the top unit to be tasked with shutting down the Crosby line. We'll go out on a limb and say the third pairing doesn't see the ice all that much tonight.

Just a few more hours to game time. 16 Knock Knock's to go. Let's go Flyers.

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