As you surely know by now, the Flyers will be facing off with the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round of the NHL playoffs, beginning this coming Wednesday evening in Pittsburgh. It’s a matchup that will undoubtedly be tough for the Flyers, who didn’t beat Pittsburgh once in their four matchups this season, but it’s one that figures to have a lot of potential storylines as Pennsylvania’s two NHL teams face off in postseason action for the first time in six years.
Our staff here at BSH (or at least, whoever on our staff found themselves near a computer on this lazy Sunday afternoon) talked through its feelings about the series earlier today, touching on topics ranging from the advantages the Penguins have to which Flyer(s) will need to step up to pull an upset to how confident we are in Claude Giroux (extremely) to our first guesses at predictions. Our very informal discussion, which has been lightly edited for the sake of clarity and continuity, can be seen below in its entirety.
Kurt: So. It’s the Penguins. Of all of the potential first-round opponents the Flyers faced entering Saturday (Washington, Pittsburgh, Tampa, Boston), was this the worst possible one for the Flyers?
I think it’s pretty much a wash between all of the non-Washington teams (thought the Caps were the best possible first-round matchup for the Flyers), but there is something particularly demoralizing about going up in the first round against a team that beat you four times in the regular season.
Mike: As far as matchups, I’d say yeah. They’ve got four lines all push the pace and three good scoring lines.
Steph: I felt better about facing any one of Tampa, Boston, or Washington as this team has already won against them this year. Pittsburgh ... has scored 5 goals against the Flyers in each of their four wins this season. That doesn’t bode well for a 4 game series.
Mike: Yeah I agree with Steph. Though I think the Flyers can make things interesting, outscoring the Pens in a long series is not something I’m confident it. A couple games, yes, but not a long series.
Steve: The Flyers were going to be underdogs in any series. We might as well make it a knock down/drag out with our biggest rivals.
Steph: The very tiny optimist in me is totally here for that narrative. I can’t imagine there would be anything more satisfying than ruining that threepeat for this particular rival. The pessimist in me says oh shit they’re going to get swept.
Steve: Oh yeah, I am trying with all of my might to not assume the sweep will be happening. I am stuffing the realist in me in a trunk and throwing him in the Delaware.
Mike: I think they win a few games, as long as they capitalize on their power play chances and get production from the big guys. Can’t be a series where they get nothing from G, Coots, Jake, etc. or it’ll be real quick.
Maddie: My feeling is Pens in seven, if only for the fact that the universe is cruel and would allow the Flyers to get within one game of advancing and then rip it away from them (and all of us).
Steve: That sadly sounds very right, Maddie.
Craig: I want to believe the Flyers have a chance, but then I think of the Pens’ power play against the Flyers’ penalty kill.
Steve: The Flyers’ defense has been inconsistent all season. For them to stand a chance, they are really going to have to step up and help Brian Elliott out.
Craig: Right. Elliott coming back was huge. I’m also worried there will be a game or two like the game between these two that happened on March 25th. Flyers outplay the Pens, but Pittsburgh capitalizes on the minimal opportunities provided.
Steve: Also inconsistent: Brian Elliott! We are in for a fun one, folks.
I would love if the Flyers could recapture the rat ways of the 2012 playoffs, where they baited the Penguins into a number of dumb penalties. Unfortunately, the shoe appears to be on the other foot in that regard.
Kurt: I think the Pens have two key advantages that are going to make this tough: their forward depth is better and their goalies probably have a higher likelihood of stealing games. I have faith in Giroux and Couturier to match up with literally any line in hockey right now, and I still don’t think Pittsburgh’s defense is anything special. But the second and third lines definitely slant in Pittsburgh’s favor, and Murray has enough of a résumé that I’m not counting on him wilting even though he hasn’t had a great year.
This series is gonna be a biiiiiig test for guys like Voracek, Patrick, and Konecny.
Jake: Pittsburgh is odd. I think we have the top end talent to compete with them and their D corps is nothing special at all. Plus Murray has looked pretty average this year. But they have Phil Kessel and Derick Brassard playing 3rd line minutes for them and their coach is significantly better.
Also, they just strike me as a team that’s waiting for the playoffs to turn it on since they’ve won back to back Cups now. I think if Patrick can play the way he has the past few weeks especially, they can take this thing to 6 games. Coach is gonna have to get out of the way and let everyone play.
Mike: Yeah, Jake, that’s a fear for me too, that they’re doing a LeBron-like cruise control before ramping up in the playoffs. Say what you want about the man, but Crosby knows when to put on the throttle and wreck a team.
Craig: I think there is potential for this series to get 2012-ish. I don’t think it will, but it could. The Pens had that meltdown against the Caps last week. Malkin and Letang always seem to be vulnerable to an outburst once things start working away from the Pens.
Emily: I was really just hoping for not-Washington in the first round, I guess this is preferable? I just had hoped I’d be done watching the Penguins pistol-whip us this year. Now I have to watch a whole playoff series? I can only take so much.
On the real, I think it’s easy for us to take a fatalist approach with this team, but the Flyers are by no means so awful that they can’t pull an upset. I’m not worried about Giroux-Couturier matching up against any line the Penguins could throw at us, beast-mode Crosby or not. The depth is an issue. Goaltending is too, if Elliott remains rusty. But that Penguins D can be exploited, 100%.
Gonna agree with Maddie and say Pens in 7 because 1) it is the most Flyers thing that can happen and 2) lower expectations is always the safest route for minimum heartbreak.
Kelly: Hello, The Optimist has joined the conversation. For all of the Flyers’ perceived flaws and the Penguins’ perceived superlatives, the Flyers finished two points behind this “juggernaut”. Two. Points. We lost ten games in a row, for f***’s sake.
I really, truly believe that, armed with the tools to succeed, this team can beat the Penguins in a seven-game series. HOWEVER, Dave needs to make the right choices. Such as not using the Flip line as a shutdown line against got dang Sidney Crosby, and not juggling things too much.
We had that one game in which Dave deployed the lineup we all wanted (well, the closest we’d ever get with this set of players). If he did it once he’s capable of doing it again. He’s just gotta do it.
Emily: How much do we trust Dave to make the Right Choices, though?
Kelly: I absolutely do not.
Mike: I trust Dave to create a series hole big enough that when he finally goes to the right lineup matchups and choice it’ll be too late.
Kelly: That’s his MO, Mike. Eventually get to right choice, just way too late for it to be effective.
Mike: Sullivan will eat Hakstol alive early, then we’ll all be frustrated that Dave killed a team that could have put up a better fight than they’ll end up giving because of him.
Emily: Let’s do Kelly’s optimism thing. Claude Giroux scores many goals and makes Sidney Crosby look like a dumb baby.
Kurt: I will say, I think the performance the Flyers had in their last game against the Pens was pretty solid for the most part, even though it still led to a loss.
Emily: I agree with that, it was close. Also two of the games this season were overtime losses, it’s not like they are completely outmatched here. They just have to be smarter than they have been.
Kelly: Can’t lose in a shootout in the ‘yoffs, baby!
Steve: Smarter is key. They have been taking dumb penalties against the Pens all season.
Kelly: To Emily’s point, I think Giroux is going to be on FIRE. He’s on another level.
Emily: 100%. A hat trick in the most important game of the season, 102 points. Dude’s gotta be feeling himself.
Kelly: Yeah, like, you know when guys can’t buy a goal and they’re gripping the stick too hard and nothing they do works? He’s got whatever the opposite of that is. Everything works.
Emily: He could shoot blindfolded and still find a way to make it in the net, I have never been less worried about him. Just for entertainment’s sake I’d love this series to be a Giroux/Crosby standoff.
Steve: For sure, this could be one of the most entertaining series in the entire first round. It could also be a disaster!
Emily: If we lived through that Washington series in 2016 we can make it through this
Kyle: If we lived through the first pens series we can survive this one.
Kurt: OK, so let’s stick with the optimism thing. Say the Flyers win. I think we all agree that this is going to require a good effort from Giroux, but good efforts from Giroux all season long have only got the Flyers to a 42-40 record. Someone else is going to have to step up a lot to get them over the hump. Who does that?
Kelly: I’m hoping Simmonds finds his game, does a little Danny Briere and becomes Mr Playoffs.
Kyle: Simmonds for sure.
Emily: Simmonds hands down.
Kurt: That was nice and unanimous!
Emily: I mean, a Penguins series with a fired-up Wayne Simmonds. That’s just fun.
Kelly: I think Claude comes out and slams Crosby into the ice again and the entire team (and city tbh) is ready to tear down every wall.
Kurt: This seems like it kind of goes without saying, but Elliott is gonna need to be good. Had an up-and-down season. If he’s on the up right now, that could matter a lot. He’s something to prove after his stinker in last year’s playoffs, too.
Emily: I’m glad he got some games in to end the season because man, he’s been shaky
Kelly: Yeah, Elliott needs to be extremely on his shit. Had to shake the rust off. The Rangers did not play Good Hockey on Saturday, but he made some saves. He got some reps in.
Kyle: Other than Simmonds though, if Laughton has a huge series I feel like that could be a huge factor.
Kurt: Laughton’s a good one. The Flyers’ second and third lines are really going to need to weather the storm, but that fourth line on Pittsburgh is very much just a bunch of dudes. If Laughton/Read/(ugh it’s probably going to be) Lehtera can get an edge on those guys, that’ll help.
Kelly: I just need the 4th line to play not a lot and also just hold things together while they’re out.
Kurt: My closing thought for now: I think they’re going to lose this series and it’s going to suck. That said, while I think that the concept of Getting Playoff Experience is a little overrated in some corners, it is definitely important to at least some degree, and there’s no better way to get guys like Provorov, Konecny, Patrick, Sanheim, etc. experience at playoff speed than to toss them up against the twice-defending champions. I really do hope they get their shots.
Kyle: I think Patrick could sneakily have a really good series. And yeah, there’s no better way to give the young guys playoff experience than putting them up against the Pens.
Jake: Yeah, the, biggest most important thing out of this series is getting the young guys playoff experience. It can’t be replicated.
As for who needs to step up, Simmonds is an easy choice being a third-line guy. But I think Brad and Kyle mentioned last night about Patrick. I agree. If he can come up and come close to breaking even with Malkin, that gives this team a great shot. That’s a really tall order for a 19 year old kid, but the way he’s been playing the last three weeks or so ... Hakstol has to take the leash off and just let him go.
Kurt: Patrick and Malkin did (mostly) match up in their last game. So yeah, worst-case, that’s something of a baptism for Patrick that ends up being a learning experience; best-case, he (with some help from Voracek) fights him to a draw and the Flyers’ chances at winning increase meaningfully.
Kelly: My brain tells me they will lose, but my heart tells me that can give it a real fight. And if this series ends the season for us, I just hope they’ll have at least given it a real hard fight.
Emily: Fatalist Emily says they will lose miserably, it will suck, and my Pittsburgh fan boss will give me unrelentless shit for it until the day I die. Optimist Emily says they will put up a good fight and at the very least won’t make it easy for them. Mom Emily says “you know I love you no matter what and what’s really important is that you do your best and I’m proud of you anyways”.
Jake: Realist in me says Pens in 6 but if the Flyers win I think they’d win in 6 as well. I don’t see them winning a Game 7 against Pittsburgh in Pittsburgh.
Kelly: Flyers in 6. There, I’m saying it.
Jake: Love it
Emily: Alright, let me look deep within my heart here. Hmmmmmmmmmm. Flyers in 6. I’ll go with my bias, ignore my pessimism and stick with it. Karma has finally got to catch up to the city of Pittsburgh and I deserve to be happy, etc.
Jake: Who knows, maybe we get lucky and Brassard isn’t quite ready for Game 1.
Kurt: This series has to go seven games because the Flyers, as the league’s most average team, know nothing if not coming as close to winning as many games as they lose as possible. But I’ll take Pittsburgh in 7. For now.
Emily: It’s also easy to forget that Pittsburgh needed seven games to take out Ottawa last season. Why Not Us? (do not bring up Karlsson, thanks)
Kurt: Honestly Pittsburgh winning last year was kind of bull**** right? In 2016 they were a buzzsaw and I was pretty sure they were going to win the Cup in like March. Last year’s team, I didn’t think they were nearly as good, and they needed some fortunate bounces to beat Washington, Ottawa, AND Nashville.
This year’s team I think is somewhere between those two. Not the obvious Cup favorite but still very good.
Emily: They needed a lot of luck last year, they weren’t nearly as threatening, this year is pretty similar to that. Like Kelly said, we were extremely mediocre this year and we still finished just two points behind them. I think I’m talking myself into believing in the Flyers, guys.
Jake: I think a lot of people are and will do that over the next few days. And then the Pens will score first and everyone will snap back to reality, haha.
Another kind of under the radar guy that could really make a difference this series is Sanheim. Not to put pressure on the kid, but he can be a real difference maker both in terms of the OZ and zone exits/breakouts.
Kurt: The Sanheim/MacDonald pair has, unsurprisingly, cooled off a bit after its torrid start, as most pairs containing Andrew MacDonald tend to. But yeah, if they can hold up that’s going to be crucial.
Jake: Oh I absolutely expect them to get hemmed in quite a bit, I’m just saying specifically as it relates to Sanheim, I could see him scoring a goal and creating chances as a trailer on the rush and if they’re smart they’ll keep him on PP2.
Also kinda funny that Sanheim’s first playoff series comes against the team he grew up rooting for.
Kyle: I think the Flyers could have a similar series to the Caps/Leafs last year. They won’t go down quietly.
Brad: I don’t think they win more than 2 games, but if they do, I think Oskar Lindblom will be the guy who steps up. All of his underlying numbers are fantastic and doesn’t his game just scream “playoff hockey” to you?
Jake: It does. God, I love the young guys on this team. They’re just really fun players to watch.
Steph: Brassard has been ready to play, he’ll be in game one. I think, realistically, Pens in 5.
Brad: I think Giroux will take over at least one game by himself, and then someone like Weal or Lindblom will have the biggest game of their (early) career in another game, giving the Flyers 2 wins. Pens in 6.
Mike: I’ll go Pens in 6, but it wouldn’t surprise me if the Flyers gutted it to 7 games somehow.