Well, Flyers fans, it took a bit longer than it initially seemed, but you can take a deep breath...Philly's moving on to Round 2. After six of some of the hardest-hitting, most intense hockey games of the season, the Flyers have eliminated the Stanley Cup favorite Pittsburgh Penguins. So now that the favorite is out, who is the new favorite? It's the Flyers, and I'll tell you why.
1. Claude Giroux - Claude Giroux had an amazing 2011-2012 campaign, and that has continued into the playoffs. He's set a new Flyers franchise record for most points scored in a playoff series, and has been a contributor not only on the stat sheet, but also on the ice when it comes to his physical play, notably against Sidney Crosby.
2. Signs of Weakness by the NHL's Powers - A big worry that many Flyers fans had the last two weeks was the play of Ilya Bryzgalov. He wasn't playing particularly well, but Philadelphia's high-flying offense (no pun intended) covered it up for the most part. Many believed that, should the Flyers march on past the Penguins, they'd be toast in Round 2 if they had to play the New York Rangers or the defending champion Boston Bruins. The Rangers and Bruins have arguably the two best goaltenders in the game right now in Henrik Lundqvist and Tim Thomas. Well, the Bruins narrowly escaped the 7 seed Capitals today in an overtime 4-3 win and forced a Game 7 back in Boston and the Rangers are down to the 8 seed Senators 3-2 as the series heads to Ottawa. Even if the Bruins and/or Rangers advance, it's encouraging to see them "struggle" against these lower quality teams.
3. Momentum - Philadelphia just knocked off the Stanley Cup favorites, and they did so with a take-no-prisoners mentality. A team that wins a first-round series always has momentum on their side, but the Flyers momentum is significantly higher than that of any other team in the NHL right now because of who they beat and how they beat them. The Flyers feel good about themselves now, and that's important. They feel they can go into any stadium, against any squad, and score 8 goals. They feel like they're in control now, and that's huge.
4. The Demeanor - Many references to the Broad Street Bullies have been made to this young Flyers team. The way they play is very unique. They're a high-powered offense, with the ability to score a good amount of goals on any given night thanks to their deep rotation. Despite the fact that they're primarily an offensive team, they possess the toughness that it takes to win in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Peter Laviolette sends these young players the right message, and it's one of the golden rules of hockey...you hit me once, I hit you twice. That's the type of demeanor I see from this team, and they do it in a classy manner, staying clear of dirty hits and attracting stupid penalties. The demeanor of this team is just right to make a run.
5. Ilya Bryzgalov - What is the one thing that has bitten the Flyers in the butt the last few years in the playoffs? It sure hasn't been scoring goals. Every hockey fan knows it. It's been goaltending. The past few seasons, mediocre goaltending has held Flyers teams back from reaching their ultimate goal, the Stanley Cup trophy. Bryzgalov has been shaky and streaky this season, but he's sure better than anything the Flyers have had in the recent past. If he get on a roll, which he's shown he's capable of doing, there's not a team in the NHL that can beat Philadelphia. If Bryz plays like Bryz can play, the Flyers will win the Stanley Cup.