For most of March and all of April, it seemed as if the Flyers would be facing the Carolina Hurricanes in the opening round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. The only variable being who would have home ice. Well on the last game of the season for most teams in the Eastern Conference, Pittsburgh defeated the Montreal Canadiens, 3-1, to leap frog past the losing Hurricanes into the fifth spot, directly into the warpath of the Flyers.
The Flyers have one more game to play on Sunday, against the New York Rangers at home. If Philadelphia wins, it will clinch crucial home ice advantage in the opening series. If not, the Pens will tie the Flyers with 99 points, but will have home ice due to a tie breaker.
Any hockey coach will tell you a team with revenge on their minds are a dangerous squad to face. And that’s exactly where the Flyers will fall against Pitt. The Pens knocked the Flyers out of the Eastern Conference finals last year and it wasn’t pretty. This year, the Flyers will be looking to do the eliminating. Philly went 2-2-2 against the Pens this season, with their two losses separated by a total of three goals.
However, the Pens aren’t the same team they were early in the season. With new coach Dan Bylsma and new players like Chris Kunitz and Bill Guerin, the rejuvenated Penguins went 17-2-3 in their last 22 games, to go from playoff outcast to red-hot contenders.
For both teams, the war so early in the playoffs is likely unwanted. The Flyers dominated Carolina and Pitt controlled New Jersey during the regular season. But for any fan of the game, this matchup with be a must see.