Sunday, April 29, 2012

(6) New Jersey Devils (0-0) at (5) Philadelphia Flyers (0-0), 3 pm (ET) -

A pair of Atlantic Division rivals will face off in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals this afternoon, as the Philadelphia Flyers host the New Jersey Devils in Game 1 at the Wells Fargo Center.

The Flyers and Devils are the fifth and sixth seeds, respectively, in the East and the clubs finished just one point apart in the conference and division standings. Philadelphia had 103 points in the regular season compared to 102 for the Devils.

Philadelphia entered this postseason as a considerable underdog to win its first-round series, but Peter Laviolette's club surprised many by ousting the Pittsburgh Penguins from the Eastern Conference quarterfinals in six games.

The Flyers simply proved to be too much for Pittsburgh, a trendy pick to win the Stanley Cup heading into the playoffs, scoring 30 goals during a wild series that ended with Philadelphia's 5-1 home victory in Game 6. With the win over Pittsburgh, the Flyers advanced to the second round for the third straight spring. Philadelphia last made it to the East finals in 2010.

Philadelphia's best player all season was Claude Giroux and he was undoubtedly the top skater in the conference quarterfinals against the Penguins. Giroux, who finished third in the NHL with 93 points during the regular season, led all scorers in the first round of the postseason, posting 14 points (6 goals, 8 assists) over the six games.

The Flyers' strength as a team is clearly its offense and the scoring does not begin and end with Giroux. Philadelphia had 11 players -- all forwards -- post 10 or more goals this season and four of them went over the 20-goal mark.

The balanced scoring attack continued in the first round of the playoffs, as Philadelphia had eight skaters record two goals or more. After Giroux's six tallies, Danny Briere was next with five goals and Max Talbot and rookie Sean Couturier each hit the net three times. The 34-year-old Briere is proven producer in the playoffs, compiling 104 points (47G, 57A) in 103 career postseason contests.

Giroux centers the top line and is usually flanked on the wings by Scott Hartnell and Jaromir Jagr. Hartnell posted a team-high and career-best 37 goals in the regular season and had two goals and three helpers in Round 1. Jagr, the 40-year-old future Hall of Famer, registered one goal and six assists against one of his former teams in the opening round. The Czech legend leads all active NHLers with 188 points (78G, 110A) in 172 career postseason games.

However, while Philadelphia was very impressive at putting the puck into the net against the Penguins, the Flyers struggled mightily on the defensive end. Philadelphia surrendered 26 goals over the six games against Pittsburgh and goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov deserves some blame for that fact.

Bryzgalov was signed away from Phoenix last summer, inking a nine-year, $51 million contract with the Flyers. The 31-year-old netminder had an up-and-down first regular season in Philadelphia and Bryzgalov's uneven play continued in the playoffs.

The Russian backstop surrendered 21 goals on 163 shots in Round 1, posting an .871 save percentage and 3.89 goals-against average. The former Coyote and Anaheim Duck is 16-15 with a 2.77 GAA and .909 save percentage in 33 career playoff games. However, Bryzgalov was simply stellar against Jersey in four games (three starts) this season, going 3-0 with a 0.29 GAA and .987 save percentage. The Russian backstop recorded two of his six shutouts in 2011-12 against the Devils.

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