The Flyers fan perspective:
Yes, we know about the Flyers-Penguins clash in the Eastern Conference Finals starting this Friday in Pittsburgh. Yes, we also know that many people are referring to the series as the “Battle of Pennsylvania.” However, what you probably don’t know is that the people and players of Philadelphia don’t really care who they’re playing. To quote Flyer’s head coach John Stevens, “It’s the battle of Pennsylvania, I guess…It doesn’t matter who we’re playing, the fact you’re playing is the main thing.”
In my opinion, there are three major factors in this series:
1. What is most shocking is the fact that the Philadelphia Flyers turnaround from finishing dead last in the NHL a season ago to the conference finals this year is one of the more improbable transformations in league history; heck in any professional sports league. They are the first team to reach the finals, after posting the worse regular season record, since the Detroit Red Wings accomplished the same feat in 1987. To quote Stevens again, “It just seems there’s a bigger purpose for us right now.”
2. The Flyers are on a roll! After coming out to a fast start this season (which had them contending for first place in the East around the All-Star break) the “Fly Guys” had a terrible second half to the season (one stretch saw them losing 10 straight games). The Flyers were able to pull-off a playoff berth with just two games remaining. In these playoffs, grit, determination, and positioning have launched them into this situation. Who cares about “pretty” goals from “pretty” players when “ugly” players can throw pucks on net while crashing it setting screens and cleaning up the trash for “ugly” goals? Not Philly fans. All four lines can and will score! Ahhh….Flyers hockey!
3. RJ Umberger. Anyone who has remotely watched these playoffs knows that Umberger has been on a tear tallying eight goals in the Montreal series. The 26 year old just seems to be in the right place at the right time. However, what many people don’t realize is that he is a Pittsburgh native growing up in Plum Borough, a small suburb 20 kilometers east of Pittsburgh. He grew up a Penguins fan, and once caught a puck off of Paul Coffey’s stick and sat heart-broken in the stands when Keith Primeau scored in the 5th overtime to lead the Flyers to victory in the 2000 playoffs. When asked what it would be like to be playing for a berth in the Stanley Cup Finals against the team he rooted for as a kid he said, “It is such a heated rivalry between the two teams. You are born to grow up that way…but once I signed here (with the Flyers) I joined a family!” Oh, and by the way…Umberger just seems to step-up his game when he plays the Penguins. How may goals can one person score in a single series?
My prediction (for what it’s worth): This will be a long, physical series that I see going no less than 7 games. It’s Malkin, Crosby and Hossa vs. Biron; beautifully set-up goals vs. crash the net and stick-home the rebound goals; pens power play vs. the flyers penalty kill (2nd ranked PK in the 2008 playoffs); Rutuu vs. Upshall (who can irritate who better).
Flyers win the series 4 games to 3
Edit: With the recent news of the blood clot in Kimo Timonen’s ankle, I am definitely not as confident as I was two days ago.