May 9, 2008, 5:56 PM EDT
After almost a week of waiting around and drinking on week nights without a good reason, we finally celebrate the return of playoff hockey into our lives. The Flyers and Pens face off tonight in Pittsburgh, with the game getting underway at 7:30.
A win tonight would go a long way toward building the team’s confidence over the course of what’s bound to be a tough series, whereas a blowout neck-stepping will make leaving Pittsburgh with a split even more difficult. It will be interesting to see how long it takes for play to get chippy. Riley Cote won’t be dressing, so Georges Laraque won’t have a dance partner. But Scott Hartnell and Scottie Upshall are never shy, nor are Jason Smith and Derian Hatcher. Surely, Jarkko Ruutu will piss someone off tonight, it’s just a matter of when.
We’re without Kimmo Timonen, the club’s best two-way defender, who is on the ice nearly half of every game. But John Stevens has had a day to shuffle pairings and establish a new gameplan to accommodate for the loss, and this young squad peppered with veterans should react to his absence with some fire rather than a wilt.
There’s been some discussion of a Sidney Crosby slump, but I’ll believe that when I see it. He’s still dishing the puck for goals, even if he’s not the one getting the G. But he’s public enemy #1 here, and despite all calls to the contrary by Pens fans, he likes to dive and whine to the officials instead of just letting his talent speak for itself. In today’s NHL, he’s unfortunately not alone, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t give him shit about it.
Evgeni Malkin, an MVP candidate in his own right, is probably the guy we’re most concerned with though. In addition to the Flyers blueliners stepping up to make up for the loss of Timonen, the forwards will have to be involved in some total team defense if Malkin and Crosby are going to be slowed down. Of course, as was the case with Alex Ovechkin in the first series, this isn’t just a one- or two-man show. The Penguins are a stacked team, as much as we may hate them, and they’re playing at the top of their game in front of a goalie who is on fire. The Flyers D will have their hands full tonight, but so to will the Pens. We’ve seen a lot of fire power from the Flyers in these playoffs, but also in the regular season against the Penguins.
It’s going to take the Flyers besting the home team’s intensity (while staying out of the box as much as possible) in order to come away with a win in front of the whiteout tonight. And a little love from Stormy…
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