Talk is cheap. Time to play. (Courtesy: Eric Hartline-US PRESSWIRE)

Phinally: Flyers-Penguins Begin Tonight

So what looks like the most entertaining 1st round series is set to begin tonight in Pittsburgh. The Flyers are the underdog in Vegas, and in most people’s minds. However, anyone with any knowledge of these teams knows it will not be easy.

In any single game, the better team doesn’t always win. But in a best of 7 series, the team that matches up better usually wins. Looking at these two squads, it’s really hard to tell who is better. There’s just too many things we don’t really know.

Which Bryzgalov will we get?
Do we get the one from most of the season, who struggled and looked like the worst signing in Philadelphia sports history? Or will we have the one who  set a club record for his shutout streak? Chances are that we get the one closer to what we saw down the stretch. But, he does have that chip fracture in his foot. We don’t really know how bad the injury is. Maybe it limits him from playing good enough to win, maybe it doesn’t. Bottom line is that he had too shaky of a season for us to know how good he’ll be when the stakes get higher.

Is Briere going to be able to turn his play up again?
Each of the last two seasons, he was a monster in the playoffs. And his playoff success was unrelated to his regular season stats. Two years ago, he had a mediocre season before turning it on. Last year he had a very good season and managed to keep it going. This season, he’s been mostly invisible. He set a personal record in futility by going a few months between goals. Lately, he’s come on a lot stronger, prior to getting hurt against the Pens a bit over a week ago. But that injury is what makes him so questionable. How seriously hurt is he? Will it prevent him from turning things up again? For offensive depth purposes, I really hope not.

Is Claude Giroux ready to prove himself as “the man”?
He was also a clutch performer the last two years. However, he wasn’t the focus of the offense. He was a guy who stepped because we had a ton of offensive depth and he didn’t face the top defenses. We know what happened in the offseason was because the team was ready to make him the centerpiece of the whole show. Now, we find out whether he’s just a regular season stat machine, or if he really can lead us.

Will the defense remain solid, or revert back to early season form?
As bad as our goaltending stats were for the majority of the season, a lot of it had to do with porous team defense. We were not physical, we were not in position, and we turned the puck over a lot. Once we traded for Kubina and Grossmann, things got better. But it wasn’t just those two, it was a better effort from everyone. I thought Timonen was having a crappy season, but he got a lot better down the stretch. It’s crucial that the Flyers play their hearts out on D, or else the Penguins offense will easily light us up if given time and space.

I can keep going and going. I can talk about the rookies. Not just because they are first year players. But because they are guys who have never played this many games in their lives before. I can talk about Pittsburgh just having more offensive depth. I questioned Laviolette’s coaching last season, especially how he handled the goalies. Will he over-coach again and screw us? There’s a lot I don’t know. It’s what makes this series so hard to predict.

What I do know is this: This is going to be one hell of a series. The teams probably hate each other as much as the fans hate each other. It’s going to be intense, it’s going to be painful, and it’s going to be fun. Let’s Go Flyers!

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Tags: 2012 Nhl Playoffs Claude Giroux Danny Briere Eastern Conference Quarter Finals Ilya Bryzgalov Kimmo Timonen Nicklas Grossman Pavel Kubina Peter Laviolette Philadelphia Flyers Pittsburgh Penguins

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