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The Next Chapter In The Keystone State Battle – Pens vs. Flyers

Will the Pens’ domination over the Flyers continue in the playoffs?
(AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

The Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers are set to meet tonight in the NHL playoffs for the seventh time in their respective histories. To say that these two teams have played some memorable playoff series would be an understatement. The first playoff meeting of these Keystone State rivals came during the 1989 Patrick Division finals. In Game 5 of the series Mario Lemieux scored five goals and recorded eight points in a 10-7 win. Despite Lemieux ?s heroics, the lasting memory of this game was Flyers goaltender Ron Hextall chasing Penguins forward Rob Brown around the ice after he had scored the Penguins ? ninth goal.

Fast forward to the five-overtime game on May 25, 2000 (the game actually began on May 24). Keith Primeau won for the game for Flyers in the wee hours of the morning and went on to win the next two games to win the series. There was Max Talbot shushing the Philadelphia crowd in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals in 2009 right after his fight with Daniel Carcillo. Many believe that Talbot’s fight then sparked a furious comeback by the Penguins from down 3-0 in the second period to win the game and the series. Finally, there was the last time these teams met, the 2012 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. During that bizarre and fight-filled series the teams combined for a total of 56 goals in the six games, including 10 by the Penguins in Game 4 at Philadelphia. The Flyers eventually took that series, four games to two. Only the hockey gods know what this chapter of the rivalry will bring, but you can bet there will be no love lost.

Even though the Penguins won all four games during the regular season, scoring five goals in each, the teams are a bit more evenly matched than that 4-0 record would suggest. On offense, the Penguins finished the regular season with three of the NHL ?s top-ten scorers: Evgeni Malkin (98 points), Phil Kessel (92), and Sidney Crosby (89). Likewise, the Flyers finished with two players in the top-15 in scoring, Claude Giroux (102) and Jakub Voracek (85). Given these numbers, nobody will be surprised if this is a high-scoring series. The Penguins finished the season third in the league in goals per game averaging 3.29 goals per game, while the Flyers ranked 12th averaging 3.04 goals per game.

Of course, the Penguins did a lot of damage on the power play this season, ranking first in the NHL in that category converting at a 26.1% rate. The once feared Flyers ? power play has taken a step back in recent seasons, ranking 14th last season and 15th this season. During the season series the Penguins scored five power play goals, while the Flyers only scored two.

On the other end of the special teams spectrum is the penalty kill. The Penguins ? much-maligned penalty kill has been a hot topic ever since defenseman Ian Cole was traded away. It has been giving up nearly a goal per game since the trade and has looked lackluster. However, the Penguins finished the season ranked 17th on the PK, killing 80% of the opponents ? power plays. While all of the talk of the Penguins ? PK has been doom and gloom, they finished just .2% less effective than their PK last season. Additionally, for how bad the Penguins ? PK has seemed to be, the Flyers ? PK is worse. They finished this season ranked 29th in the league, killing only 75.8% of opponents ? power plays.

It is often said that a team ?s best penalty killer has to be its goalie. For the Penguins, Matt Murray will be looking to win his third straight Stanley Cup between the pipes for Pittsburgh. During his first two playoff runs, Murray was 22-9 with a 1.95 goals-against average and a .928 save percentage in 32 games (31 starts). He had an up and down regular season missing extended periods due to injuries and the death of his father. He finished the season with a .907 save percentage in 49 games played, but did seem to find a level of consistency as the season wound down, starting seven of the Penguins ? final eight games, helping the Penguins earn points in five of those games. Meanwhile, the Flyers have three goalies from which to choose. The likely choice is veteran Brian Elliott, but they also have Petr Mrazek and Michael Neuvirth at their disposal. Elliott ?s save percentage this season was .909 in 43 games played. He was 0-1-1 this season versus Pittsburgh and was also on the wrong end of the 2010 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals as a member of the Ottawa Senators. During that series he played four games, going 1-2 with a 4.14 goals-against average and an .853 save percentage.

Lastly, on the blueline both teams have a plethora of offensively-talented defensemen. For the Penguins, Kris Letang finished the regular season 17th in scoring amongst defensemen with 51 points while Justin Schultz finished with a respectable 27 points in 63 games played. At the other end of the ice, the Flyers boast of a talented stable of young defensemen with Shayne Gostisbehere and Ivan Provorov leading the way. Gostisbehere finished fourth amongst all defensemen with 65 points and Provorov recorded 41. As far as team defense goes, the Penguins gave up 248 goals on the season and the Flyers allowed 236, which ranked the teams 20th and 14th, respectively in goals against.

One thing to keep in mind is that these are not the same goonish Flyers of which hockey fans have become accustomed. These Flyers play more of a fast-skating, high-octane style. Sure, Radko Gudas and Brandon Manning can still bring an aspect of the old Flyers ways, but expect more offensive exchanges and less exchanging of fists.

Despite the Flyers ? changed ways, the Penguins still check off the boxes as having the advantage in every category, however slight that advantage might be. The Penguins ? power play, goaltending, and even defense and penalty kill show to be better than the Flyers ?. The series will be intense but look for the Penguins to win it in five games.

Professional sports writer, fluent in sarcasm and other humorous arts. Bachelor and Master degrees from Duquesne University. Member of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association. Have previously written for many outlets, including the AP, Sports Xchange, PA SportsTicker, etc. Regularly appear as a guest on local sports radio. Expert at Name That Tune and proficient in many other areas of useless knowledge.

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