Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-US PRESSWIRE

Cracking The Code At The HP Pavillion (Flyers-Sharks Preview)

It has been a long time since the Flyers have had a victory over the Sharks in San Jose. In fact the last win for Philadelphia in San Jose didn’t even take place in this century. You’ll have to go back all the way to November 5th 1999 to find the last time the Flyers were successful across the country against the Sharks. In that time much has changed: we successfully survived the Y2K scare and the internet has become the new medium. Newspapers in the form of an actual everyday paper are on the verge of becoming extinct and the NHL survived a yearlong lockout that almost crippled the league for good, yet here we are in 2012 talking about a matchup of two teams that are really more comparable than you might think.

Both the Sharks and the Flyers come into every season with championship expectations, their fan bases just wouldn’t accept anything else. The conference finals have been the Sharks kryptonite in the past two seasons, in 09-10 Chicago brought out the brooms, then last year Vancouver vaulted their way to the finals in five games. Back in 03-04 season the Sharks also reached the conference finals, but fell to the Calgary Flames in six.

The championship expectations for the Sharks are always heightened by the stellar play in the regular season. In the past five years the Sharks worst finishing position in the conference was 5th and that was back in the 06-07 season (07-08-2nd, 08-09-1st Presidents Trophy winners, 09-10-1st, 10-11-2nd). Yes the Flyers are starving for a Stanley Cup, but they haven’t been considered the team to beat besides maybe during their impressive regular season run last year. The East has been loaded with teams in the past five years: Crosby’s Penguins before the concussion, Ovechkin’s Capitals before his ego squeezed everyone else out of the locker room, the Bruins, now apparently the Rangers. The Sharks have been the class of the West for the past four years, yet they cannot find the way to get over the hump that is the conference championship. Somewhere Andy Reid is nodding his chins at that statement.

So what’s interesting about tonight’s tilt at 10:30? Well for starters the Flyers will face a familiar foe in net, Antti Niemi, the villain that stole the Stanley Cup away from Philadelphia’s grasp back in 2010. Neither he nor Michael Leighton were impressive back in that series, but Niemi did make some big saves in game 6. None more impressive than this:

Maybe the next time the Kings play the Sharks Carter will actually lift the puck over Niemi when he sees that the goalie is sprawled down on the ground. Alas it wasn’t meant to be and the Blackhawks went on to win the game and the cup, leaving the hockey club of Philadelphia without a parade.

In a surprising move that offseason Chicago let Niemi go and he signed with San Jose giving them a young goaltender with a championship resume. This year had been pretty good for Niemi up until the month of February. In nine starts this month he has been pulled twice after giving up three goals in the first period. The rest of his stats in February are as follows: 2-6-1, 29 GA, 5.11 GAA, .829 SV%, so even though we have been going through the BryzGOALov syndrome lately, the Sharks have been dealing with a goal virus of their own.

With Niemi in the net tonight, it gives the Flyers a perfect opportunity to close out this road trip on a good note. Philadelphia really needs to have a solid game from beginning to end. This is how I would define a perfect game tonight:

1.)    Score first (Giroux gets an assist)

2.)    Score two minutes later (Giroux gets another assist)

3.)    Take a bad penalty

4.)    Kill the bad penalty

5.)    Take another bad penalty

6.)    Bryzgalov gives up a weak goal

7.)    Score again

8.)    Score again (Giroux goal)

9.)    Flyers win 4-1, dominate in shots, and Bryzgalov makes two impressive saves.

Look at this point you know that there is going to be a weak goal given up by Bryzgalov, but I was very impressed with his effort in the shootout against Calgary on Saturday. He appeared to be much more confident in a one on one situation and it would be nice to see that confidence carry over and begin to snowball.

Come 1 am on the east coast someone will be walking away with two valuable points with the playoff push on the horizon. The Sharks have been on a free fall lately as they have dropped from 2nd to 7th in just a matter of two weeks. The Flyers need to keep up their winning ways because of just how good the Atlantic has been, but if the Flyers do continue on the win then lose seesaw, it might actually benefit them because the six seed might just be the perfect spot to be.

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Tags: Antti Niemi Claude Giroux Flyers-Sharks Ilya Bryzgalov Philadelphia Flyers

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