Articles by Ryan Szporer

A listing of all the articles written by Ryan Szporer for the RotoWire Blog.

Chris Pronger for Conn Smythe, Win or Lose

Where has Jonathan Toews been? Patrick Kane? Anyone? As the Chicago Blackhawks and their fans begin to see what was a sure thing five days ago slip through their fingertips, Chris Pronger and the Philadelphia Flyers are embracing the chance of a lifetime (or in Pronger’s case, the second).

The Flyers were within one shot of being down three games to nothing for the second time in these playoffs, and, considering they became just the third team to overcome such a deficit in the history of the National Hockey League in the second round against the Boston Bruins, there was little chance they would have been able to do the same again, especially not against the heavily favored Hawks.

Instead, Flyers forward Claude Giroux scored in that notorious game three to cut the series deficit to one game, and then the Flyers as a team tied the series on Friday night, following a spirited effort in game four.

It has been the ultimate of all turnarounds. Not only that, but the Flyers have both history and destiny on their side all of a sudden (or at least that’s how it appears in the case of the latter). Since the lockout in 2004-2005, each Stanley Cup Final has started the exact same way, with the home team winning the first three games of the series. The team that has won game four in each year? Well, feel free to do the legwork if you aren’t able to guess.

I’m not about to go back on my prediction that the Hawks will win the Cup (but I may have to rethink the bit about them winning in five games). I still think that they will pull it out, even if it takes seven games. The sheer fact that people (who aren’t Flyers fans) are talking about a possible seventh game is a credit to the Flyers. I credit them for making games one and two as close as they were. I credit them for not giving up and dying in game three when Kane scored in the third period to give the Hawks a short-lived lead. Most of all, I credit Pronger for being the straw that has stirred Philly’s drink all this time.

His puck-stealing escapades have been well-documented, so I won’t go into the circumstances surrounding them, but it is clear that the resulting distraction was just what the Flyers needed to find a way to get back into the series after losing two hard-fought games. On the ice, however, even if you agree with the Hawks that he should be penalized more than the one minor he received in game three (not counting the game misconduct at the end of game two), there’s little taking away from his three points and +/- +7 rating in the series. There’s also little denying that he has meant more to the Flyers than any one Hawk has meant to Chicago.

Hawks captain Toews, who also leads the team and league in scoring with 27 points? He has just one assist in four games and is a +/- -3. Kane has one goal and two assists, but has a +/- -6 rating. Defenseman Duncan Keith is leading by example with five points in four games and a +/- +2 rating. However, is he really more valuable to his team than Pronger is to his? Doubtful. One look up and down the two line-ups will reveal a much deeper Hawks squad and one look at the four games’ boxscores will reveal that the Hawks have only scored one power-play goal all series long, one area of play that Keith should be helping to improve. Only he isn’t. Maybe, just maybe, Pronger, who logs big minutes on the penalty kill, is a big reason for that?

So, why not give the Conn Smythe Trophy to Pronger, however this series ends? Jean-Sebastien Giguere won it in 2003, despite his team losing to the New Jersey Devils (the Anaheim Mighty Ducks reaching the final in much the same way the Flyers have this year, as huge underdogs in several of their series). Four others have won it as a member of a losing team as well, including Flyer Reggie Leach in 1976. It seems kind of fate that Leach was the only non-goaltender to win it in a losing scenario. Maybe Pronger should do the same.

Of course, this is all assuming the Flyers end up losing the series. Even down two games to nothing, the series was much closer than many (including myself) anticipated. There have been three one-goal games in this series, and it seems oddly funny that the one two-goal win belongs to the Flyers. Maybe it shouldn’t, though, seeing as they seem to have shed the labels of seventh seeds long ago. Pronger clearly led the ripping-off party then, just as he could be leading the Stanley Cup parade in Philly a few days from now. Simply incredible.

Oh, by the way, I loathe Pronger with a passion. Just thought I’d add that in there.

A Year After the Chris Pronger Trade

Perhaps the question being asked (see excerpt) is a tad premature. That being said, it needs to be asked eventually, so why not now with the Philadelphia Flyers in an 0-2 hole against the Chicago Blackhawks in the Stanley Cup Final, the very trophy general manager Paul Holmgren had his eyes on when he opted to send forward Joffrey Lupul, top-end defensive prospect Luca Sbisa, and two first-round draft picks to the Anaheim Ducks for the rugged Hart Memorial Trophy-winning rearguard.

For the sake of completeness, let me ask it again, more drawn out this time, in case the implications weren’t so obvious the last time around: if the Flyers fail to win the Cup with Pronger on board, will giving up a potential number-one defenseman in Sbisa, a top-six forward in Lupul, and two draft picks (the first of which ended up being traded to the Columbus Blue Jackets, resulting in forward Kyle Palmieri being drafted by the Ducks) be worth it?

From purely a financial standpoint, many might argue that the trade has already paid sufficient dividends, considering the fact that the Flyers have played at least 10 more home games this season, having just made the playoffs by the skin of their teeth. However, from purely a hockey standpoint, assuming the Flyers revert to their team-on-the-playoff-bubble status next year, making the championship round this year and failing to win might just end up a colossal disaster.

It took the Flyers 13 years to get back here after getting swept by the Detroit Red Wings in 1997. Who’s to say it won’t take even longer the next time around, once Pronger has long since retired and Sbisa is a Hart Trophy-candidate in his own right (not likely, but still…)?

When the season began, everyone believed that the Flyers had a legitimate chance at coming out of the East in the playoffs. No one could have predicted that they would have accomplished the feat the way that they did, making the playoffs on the final day of the regular season, in a shootout no less, upsetting the New Jersey Devils in the first round, coming back from an 0-3 deficit against the Boston Bruins, and then beating the Montreal Canadiens with home-ice advantage as a seventh seed. It all just lends itself to a storybook ending that may never come.

The Flyers may become a contender next year, but they may not. Whatever they end up doing to address their goaltending situation in the off-season (keeping Michael Leighton and Brian Boucher, for one option), it may not be enough and the same questions will present themselves once again.

Was it worth it? Even if they find a way to win it all this year, unless Pronger helps to make the Flyers into a perennial contender, it won’t be.

Blackhawks Over Flyers in Five Games

On the surface, a number-two seed versus a number-seven seed seems like a classic mismatch, but tell that to the Philadelphia Flyers who upset the New Jersey Devils in the first round under much the same circumstances. You don’t have to, mostly because I’m sure the Flyers realize that the Chicago Blackhawks are a much different animal than the Devils. The Flyers, I’m sure, also realize that they have their work cut out for them in trying to do what most believed heading into the playoffs was impossible.

The Flyers have got everyone (or more accurately perhaps almost everyone) believing that they can do it again, starting this Saturday when the Stanley Cup Final begins in the Windy City, that, after coming back from a three-game deficit against the Boston Bruins in the second round, they are a team of destiny. To that I say: which is it? Are you a team of destiny or are you going to beat the Hawks based solely on your own merits? They had better hope that it’s the former, because Chicago is a far stronger team than Philadelphia.

Many people point to Philadelphia’s depth as one sign of an ability to match up well against the Hawks. The Flyers arguably have two top lines and a third that’s not far off in Claude Giroux, James Van Riemsdyk, and Arron Asham. Of those three, however, Giroux is the only capable scorer (Riemsdyk is still very much unproven) and Asham is the only capable checker. In contrast, Chicago’s third line of Andrew Ladd (whose status for game one is admittedly questionable), Dave Bolland, and Kris Versteeg is much more complete and provides the opposition with migraine headaches each and every time they step on the ice. A similar story unfolds when comparing the two teams’ fourth lines.

In terms of defense, yes, Philly has got a top four of Chris Pronger, Kimmo Timonen, Matt Carle, and Braydon Coburn. To that argument, I ask what’s wrong with James Norris Memorial Trophy-nominee Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Brian Campbell, and Niklas Hjalmarsson (apparently pronounced Chalmarsson)?

In net, I will call it a wash, as Michael Leighton for Philly has proven himself not only to be a capable number-one goalie, but a potential star in the future, not only since coming on in relief of Brian Boucher during the Boston series and then posting three shutouts against Montreal, but during the regular season as well, playing admirably behind a struggling team that had yet to peak.

The parallels between him and Antti Niemi are more numerous than most would care to admit. Leighton is 29. Niemi is going to be 27. Before this year, Niemi had only played in three games (all last year). Leighton had played in 76 total games spanning four different teams (other than the Flyers this year). Both were unproven until they were thrust into the fire this year as their respective teams’ starters. They have since at least begun to earn names for themselves.

As such, this series is not going to be won based on who is in nets, but how many times the other team can get the puck in behind whoever’s in nets. Chicago captain Jonathan Toews and partner-in-crime Patrick Kane lead the Hawks’ charge, while Philly captain Mike Richards and Daniel Briere are the two engines that propel the Flyers forward. Maybe a wash as well.

How about further down the depth chart? Patrick Sharp, Marian Hossa, and Dustin Byfuglien versus Jeff Carter, Simon Gagne, and Ville Leino. For Chicago that’s two proven scorers and one immovable object against two bodies just off the injured reserve and one not-so-proven playmaker for Philadelphia.

The rest of the story you know. Sometimes a classic mismatch on paper is just that, right up to the quick ending.

Bold prediction: Chicago Blackhawks over Philadelphia Flyers in five games

Habs Look to Next Season After Successful Post-Season

When the Montreal Canadiens made it to the third round of the Stanley Cup playoffs this spring, it marked the first time they accomplished the feat since 1993, the last time the team won the Stanley Cup itself. As such, fans should be slightly forgiven for getting carried away the way that they did (I’m not talking about the hooligans that decided to riot in downtown Montreal following every other Habs victory and besmirch the good name of actual die-hard Habs fans, just people who started to actually believe that the team was good enough to win it all again). Those same fans should be grateful for the lengthy playoff run this year as there are no guarantees that the team will even make one at all next year.

One gets the sense that through the first two rounds, the Habs caught lightning in a bottle and that that degree of success cannot be replicated no matter how strictly they follow that game plan again, how hot goalie Jaroslav Halak gets in the future (that is, if they decide to keep him, but more on that later). Congratulations to head coach Jacques Martin for making something big out of almost nothing at all, an eighth-seeded team that needed its last game of the regular season (an overtime loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs) to even make the playoffs to begin with. True fans should never forget that fact and brace themselves for another up-and-down season next year. It’s healthy to believe in the general sense, but very unhealthy to believe another championship is just around the corner for a team that, even taking into account its two series wins this spring, is still mediocre.

Sure, they’ve got skill up front and a relatively deep defensive corps on the back end. But, aside from the behemoth that is Hal Gill, they still lack size in both areas.

Forward Scott Gomez, who bookended the Habs’ playoff run with his two goals this post-season (one in the first game against Washington and his second and last against the Philadelphia Flyers in game five of that series), is still not the big center this team needs. He disappeared throughout the Philadelphia series only to reappear in the final game and tease Habs fans with a potential comeback and get them thinking falsely that he is a top-end player. Rest assured, all due respect to him, he is not. Top-end players do not just show up when it is convenient for them. He would be an above-average second-line center on most other teams, but his salary-cap hit of $7,357,143 (up until 2014) makes that kind of impossible from happening.

Michael Cammalleri, who may well end up still leading the league in goals by the time they’re all said and done, is still one of the streakiest players in the entire league. Personally, I believe he is a core part of this team no matter how streaky, but facts are facts. Facts point to him not being able to score at the same pace during next year’s regular season.

Andrei Kostitsyn may never live up to the potential that had him drafted above such current superstars as Jeff Carter, Dustin Brown, Brent Seabrook, Zach Parise, Ryan Getzlaf, Brent Burns, Ryan Kesler, Mike Richards, and Corey Perry in the first round of the 2003 draft. For whatever reason, he probably only had two other decent games in the playoffs after he netted a hat trick in the team’s second game against Washington. With decreasing interest in the games being played and the ice time to go with it, he ended his playoff run with just the three goals and five assists in 19 games.

Meanwhile, Tomas Plekanec, who led the team in scoring during the regular season with a career-high 70 points, went cold during the playoffs with a meager four goals and 11 points. There is little explanation to be had for that fact. What is for sure is that general manager Pierre Gauthier has his work cut out for him this summer.

According to hockeybuzz.com, the Habs are $1,249,560 over the salary cap, which means the team cannot bring back the exact same team next year, which includes soon-to-be unrestricted-free-agent Plekanec. He will surely be looking for big bucks in order to not be tempted to sign with another team, but does he deserve them? Considering his 70 points are just one more than his previous career-high established in 2008 (when he scored 29 goals compared to 25 this year) and that the following season he dropped back down to earth with a mere 39 points, it stands to reason that he is not worth anything above $4,000,000. If he is looking for anything more than $5,000,000, Gauthier should not take the risk that he won’t have another average year next season. Chances are he will, however much money he signs for and whichever team in the league he signs with.

Furthermore, goalies Halak and Carey Price are set to become restricted free agents and each will be looking for raises (justified or not in the case of Price; most certainly justified in the case of Halak, whose cap hit is currently a paltry $750,000). The general consensus is that Price will eventually become better than Halak, but that the Habs can’t afford to get rid of Halak after his incredible other-worldly performance in rounds one and two.

The only way to keep both, one would have to think, is to let Plekanec leave, and to not re-sign fellow future UFAs in forwards Dominic Moore (who was so instrumental in the two playoff upsets), Glen Metropolit, and Mathieu Darche and defensemen Paul Mara and Marc-Andre Bergeron. Probably for the best in at least most of those cases, but the choice does end up becoming Plekanec or Price. One would think that in layman’s terms that translates into again barely squeaking into the playoffs next year or missing them altogether in order to build a stronger team well into the future. So does Gauthier do what’s best for the long-term health of the organization or appease the rabid fan base that will be hungry for another long playoff run next year that, whatever the decision ends up being, it still may not get? The obvious choice is clear. But hockey is a not-so-obvious sport. Case in point would be what happened with the Habs these past two months.

Bob Gainey has received a lot of credit for the success the team enjoyed this past spring, but, when it all comes down to it, the Habs weren’t built to win it all. One can argue that they weren’t even built to make the playoffs. Don’t get me wrong; there’s a solid group of players in place right now. However, solid isn’t good enough. Unfortunately, whatever Habs fans take away from these past playoffs, it never will be. It’s been 17 years since the Habs last won the Cup. In all honesty, however hard it may be for some people to hear (and me to say), it may take that long for the team to get back to just the third round again.

Maple Leafs GM Burke Speaks out Against Worlds

No one will ever confuse the World Hockey Championships for the Olympic hockey tournament. One, at least over the past 12 years, brings together all of the world’s greatest hockey players, while the other showcases the leftovers of the National Hockey League playoffs.

Still, one has to take into account that the Worlds are a tournament for the rest of the world, and not necessarily Canada or the United States, the two countries of origin for most NHLers. In this case, “one” is Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke, who had this to say a few days ago, after his U.S. team, the one he put together, just barely avoided relegation after a horrible tournament in Germany that saw the Americans go 0-1-2 in the preliminary round:

“It’s too much hockey. It’s too much for our players and I don’t think it has the luster that the tournament normally has because everyone was focused on Vancouver. NHL teams don’t get anything out of this. The players don’t get paid,” he said, in a bid to get the International Ice Hockey Federation to consider foregoing the tournament every second year.

Obviously, players do get the chance to represent their respective countries, but, to put Burke’s comments in perspective, they came a few days after an editorial article had been posted on the IIHF website, criticizing players such as Sidney Crosby for not playing in the tournament when invited to do so. The argument made in the article is that players shouldn’t use fatigue as an excuse, taking into account the nature of their job. Burke’s comments were in part a response to that column.

Right or wrong, Burke came across as bitter and a hypocrite in saying what he did. For starters, if he was so against the tournament to begin with, why did he agree to manage the American team?

I won’t begin to claim a deep foundation of knowledge when it comes to the inner workings of USA Hockey, but I do know two separate people, Steve Yzerman and Mark Messier, managed the Canadian entries at the Olympics and the World Championships. Why didn’t Burke step aside to let someone else take the helm of the team if he is so opposed to the tournament? And why has he managed the team before, in 1993, if he truly believes: “it’s based on greed. I think they have a television contract… and that’s why they play it.”

Maybe so. But you can’t deny that the NHL is a business too and that at the end of the day teams such as the Maple Leafs make business-related decisions, even when it comes to personnel (i.e. the players).

Now, I’m not saying that Burke doesn’t have a point. I just think it’s not all that well thought out.  I actually like Burke. He speaks his mind and isn’t afraid of the media. Oftentimes, he’ll even utilize the media to his own advantage (such as now, in trying to get his point across to the hockey world). All in all, however, his point would have carried a lot more weight if he wasn’t so close to the situation on both sides of the coin… as a gm in the NHL and on the world stage.

In hockey, it’s seldom that you can have your cake and eat it too. In this case, it seems the cake would be the honor of playing (or managing a team) for your country. Eating it would be akin to winning a medal, which, needless to say, Burke failed to do in Germany. Nowhere in that equation is there a third option that would have you then digest the cake properly (having the Worlds played every other year, for Burke). Maybe it’s time Burke realized the envelope can only be pushed up to its limits and not beyond. Some battles just can’t be won. This one shouldn’t even be waged.

Is Tallon the Right Man for the Job in Florida?

By now, everyone knows the story (or at least the basic plot): Dale Tallon is hired by the Chicago Blackhawks as the team’s general manager at the tail-end of the lockout in 2005 after the team missed the playoffs and finished second-to-last in the regular season in 2003-2004. It was the second-straight year that the Hawks missed the playoffs, falling from 96 points in 2001-2002 to 79 in 2002-2003 and 58 in 2003-2004.

From the day that he was hired, the Hawks began to steadily climb in the standings, earning 65 points in 2005-2006, 71 in 2006-2007, 88 in 2007-2008, and 104 in 2008-2009, all culminating in his firing (or demotion) at the end of that season for a clerical error that resulted in several restricted free agents potentially becoming unrestricted free agents unless deciding to re-sign with Chicago for inflated dollars (but no sense).

Chicago was able to re-sign those free agents, including forward Kris Versteeg and defenseman Cam Barker (now with the Minnesota Wild), but at a cost greater than the total sum of the contracts handed out: less salary-cap breathing room. As it stands now, Chicago is $4,721,583 above the cap ceiling, meaning tough times ahead. That being said, it is hard to deny Tallon’s contributions to the Blackhawks, which have turned the perennial joke of the league into a legitimate contender. However hard, I will still try.

The secret to Tallon’s success is generally considered to be the draft. After all, in 2006, he selected current captain Jonathan Toews (the same Jonathan Toews who is leading the league in scoring right now in the playoffs). In 2007, he selected Patrick Kane, who was the team’s leading scorer during the regular season. As great as those picks have turned out to be, it is pretty hard to screw up a top-three pick, which both players were. Tallon’s success rate when it comes to middle-of-the-pack picks is much less impressive.

In 2005, for example, he drafted forward Jack Skille, who hasn’t lived up to expectations. In picking Skille, he passed on other first rounders such as current Los Angeles Kings superstar Anze Kopitar (along with like 10 other gms, so I’ll give him a mulligan on that one), Boston Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask (a mistake remedied by the signing of current goalie Antti Niemi), and future St. Louis Blues star T.J. Oshie. In 2008, he drafted Kyle Beach, missing out on revelation-of-a-defenseman Tyler Myers of the Buffalo Sabres by a mere draft pick. Admittedly, though, Beach may still turn out to be the next Stan Mikita, so some time should be granted before a verdict is reached in that trial.

Still, some of the team’s better players that were drafted by the Blackhawks weren’t drafted at all by Tallon, players like Norris Trophy-nominated defenseman Duncan Keith and his defense partner Brent Seabrook and forwards David Bolland and Dustin Byfuglien.

All things taken into account, as much as the draft is responsible for the success of this current incarnation of the Blackhawks, Tallon did just okay in that facet of his job. It remains to be seen what he can do with the Florida Panthers, who have been graced with the third pick in this year’s draft.

Meanwhile, through trades, he was able to acquire Versteeg, who was nominated for the Calder Memorial Trophy last year, and fellow versatile forward Patrick Sharp, for next to nothing in both cases, so consider that a plus for him.

However, in terms of free-agent signings, he did ink goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin, who was hit or miss during his four years with the team, as well as mainly miss goalie Cristobal Huet a year later to try and erase that initial mistake. The result: prior to Niemi taking the reins in the Chicago net, the team had two aging goaltenders taking up over $12,000,000 of valuable cap space (now just the $5,625,000 given to Huet until he becomes an unrestricted free agent two years from now).

Add to that the $6,000,000 paid to forward Martin Havlat, which he only began to be worth in the final year of his contract last year, and the $7,100,000 paid to defenseman Brian Campbell, who many might argue will never be worth that much, and it’s very plain to see why the Blackhawks are in such dire straits salary-cap wise.

The aforementioned clerical error that led to Stan Bowman being named the team’s new gm didn’t help the team’s situation in that regard all that much either. Signing forward Marian Hossa to an insane 12-year contract certainly didn’t help at all. While Hossa has been a relatively valuable component of the team’s offense, his signing can best be described as a move of excess, one that didn’t necessarily need to be made.

Perhaps excess is a word that best describes Tallon’s tenure with the Blackhawks. The team most certainly exceeded all expectations made at the time of his hiring five years ago. They seem poised to at least seriously contend for the Stanley Cup this spring (which is the ultimate goal of any gm) and who knows how many years into the future.

If anything, Tallon knows how to build a winner, which bodes well for Florida, seeing as the Panthers haven’t won a game in the playoffs since the 1996-1997 season (when they only won the one). One thing that Tallon may find useful is that Florida has $4,665,833 left of cap space (for this year).  It should be interesting to see how long it takes for him to turn the Panthers into the Blackhawks for better and for worse.

Blackhawks Hold Edge Against Sharks

One point and one win separated the Chicago Blackhawks from the San Jose Sharks during the regular season. While the Sharks were able to best the Hawks 113-112 points to earn the regular-season National Hockey League Western conference title, the extra victory belonged to the Hawks (53). Of course, the playoffs are a different animal than the regular season, and, while the Hawks’ 3-1 record (including two overtime victories) against the Sharks serves as a hint as to just how well they match up against them, the facts do a much better job:

•    The Hawks are the epitome of youth (and talented youth at that), while the Sharks – not so much. Chicago’s top five scorers during the regular season (Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Sharp, and Marian Hossa) average an age of approximately 26 years. Meanwhile, the Sharks top five (Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Dany Heatley, Dan Boyle, and Ryane Clowe) average about 30 years. The argument stands that Chicago is less likely to break down and grow tired this deep into the playoffs.

If you don’t believe the logic, take the Sharks’ leading scorer Joe Thornton for one example as to just how much difference four years make. Four years ago, Thornton won the Art Ross and Hart Memorial Trophies as the leading point-getter and most valuable player in the league. In that season, he totaled 125 points. The next: 114. The next after that: 96. After that: 86. This season, he had 89 points, but the truth is he just isn’t the same player at 30 years of age (when he should be in the prime of his career, one could argue) that he was at 26.

•    Their starting goaltending is better. While there were questions entering the playoffs regarding the reliability of starting goaltender Antti Niemi, he has answered the call and has posted a better save percentage (.909) than the Sharks’s Evgeni Nabokov (.907). Nabokov does have a better goals against average (2.43 versus 2.57), though.

•    The Hawks have got Toews, who currently leads the league in points (20). Shark Joe Pavelski has 15 to lead his team. While the Sharks have played one fewer game, though, once you start to examine the depth of the teams, the discrepancy between the two becomes that much greater. The Hawks’s Kane and Sharp have 15 and 14 points, while Sharks Thornton and Marleau have 11 each.

•    The Hawks don’t have a history of choking. The Sharks last got to the conference final in 2004 and have lived through their share of heartbreaking disappointments since then. The Hawks got there as recently as last year, only to lose to a better team in the Detroit Red Wings.

This year, they are the better team, though.

Bold Prediction: Chicago Blackhawks over San Jose Sharks in six games

As for the anti-Western conference, where the bottom two seeds will face each other, it pains me to say this, but I believe the Philadelphia Flyers will beat out the Montreal Canadiens.

After the Flyers came back from three games down in their conference final and three goals down in the final game to beat the Boston Bruins, it’s hard to see them not coming out on top once again. Whether or not the Bruins choked big baby bear chunks becomes irrelevant. After being able to come back from the largest of all deficits, the Flyers are able to legitimately use the one rallying cry that can unite them under the worst of circumstances. It’s fair to say that the Flyers won’t go down three games to none again, so, worst-case scenario is that they go down three games to one. Then what? All they have to do is look back to the previous round and say: “Three games to one? We can come back from that with one hand tied behind our backs!” Conversely, if the Flyers find themselves up in the series, they know firsthand what not to do to let the Canadiens back into it.

Ideally, not only would the Habs liked to face the more-banged-up Bruins, but the more emotionally fragile Bruins as well. Game seven in that Flyers-Bruins series unfolded perfectly up to a point for the Habs: the Bruins gave up a three-goal lead and were unquestionably filled with self-doubt the length of that infamous third period. All they had to do was get that one third-period goal instead of the Flyers to win the series and then they would have been ripe for the taking in the conference final. Instead, the Habs will play an infinitely more resilient opponent in the Flyers, and, as impressive as Montreal has been, one cannot deny that they’ve gotten to this point more out of luck and good (no, awesome; no, spectacular; no, superhuman; no, Halakian) goaltending than skill. The Flyers are arguably the underdogs in this series and the role of favourites is not something the Habs (or at least this edition of the Habs) play well. If Montreal is fortunate enough to get a three-game lead, then it’s over. If not…

Bold Prediction
: Philadelphia Flyers over Montreal Canadiens in six games