New Round, New Challenges
Flyers expecting whole new look to second round
VOORHEES, N.J. -- Like so many other hockey fans on the East Coast, several of the Flyers players were up early Friday morning watching the double-overtime thriller taking place between the Devils and Panthers in South Florida.
The Flyers, though, were watching for an entirely different reason than the rest of the hockey community. They knew the next goal would decide if they would have to hop on a flight to Fort Lauderdale to start the Eastern Conference Semifinals, or stay home and get ready to play their New Jersey Turnpike rivals for the fifth time in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Devils rookie Adam Henrique provided the answer with his goal 3:47 in to the second overtime. Roughly four and a half days after finishing off the Penguins in Game 6, the Flyers finally knew the identity of their next opponent.
"Guys are just having fun right now," Flyers center Claude Giroux said. "We need to go back to being focused, go back to working hard."
They've got until Sunday at 3 p.m. ET (NBC, CBC) to apply their game faces.
As amped up, intense, offensive and attention-grabbing as their series against the Penguins was, the Flyers anticipate a much different brand of hockey against the Devils -- only they still believe it'll come with the same type of animosity that was on display in the first round.
"It's easy to hate Pittsburgh, but the Devils are right there on our list, too," Scott Hartnell said. "Being a division opponent just [up] the turnpike, it's going to be a battle. It's going to be fun."
But it won't be nearly as wide open as the series against the Penguins, which featured a combined 56 goals, including 24 special-teams goals.
"I think that was a once-in-a-lifetime experience," Flyers center Danny Briere said.
"I can't imagine an 8-5 game or a 10-3 game coming up in this one," Hartnell said. "We're going to have to sacrifice, play great defense. [Ilya Bryzgalov] is going to have to be terrific. We have to keep on going with that power play, and five-on-five we have to score some goals."
Maxime Talbot told NHL.com that the three keys for the Flyers against the Devils is to play with speed, get traffic in front of New Jersey goalie Martin Brodeur, and win the special-teams battle. That's really no different than their three keys going into the first-round series, but the Devils pose an altogether different challenge than Pittsburgh, which led the NHL in scoring during the regular season.
For instance, the Flyers power play was 12-for-23 against the Penguins in the first round; it was 3-for-33 against the Devils in the regular season.
"They're a team that likes to slow the game down," Briere said of the Devils. "They don't take many chances. They play tight defensively. And they like to frustrate teams. One of keys for us is not getting frustrated; just wait patiently for our chances to come."
The Penguins frustrated the Flyers at times with their offense, especially in Game 4 when they scored 10 goals. The Devils at times frustrated the Flyers during the regular season with their patience.
Each team won three games in the six-game regular-season series which included a combined 32 goals; 18 for the Flyers.
"They play a tight-checking game and they wait for you to make mistakes," Wayne Simmonds said. "Against Pittsburgh, we had a lot of offensive opportunities. Against New Jersey, they tend to limit the offensive chances-against. If you're not getting chances your game can fall apart, and you can't let that happen. If we get pucks behind their defense, we know we can grind them down and play our game."
All that said, the Flyers are not naive. They see enough firepower coming from the likes of Ilya Kovalchuk, Zach Parise, Travis Zajac, Patrik Elias, David Clarkson, Petr Sykora and Henrique to understand the Devils' long-standing reputation of being a defensive, trapping team doesn't quite define how they play now.
A better way to describe the Devils would be an opportunistic, defensive-oriented team.
"It's definitely a different team than the Penguins, but they're not the good old Jersey Devils that would just sit and wait," Talbot said. "They bring their first 'D' on the rush and they try to play with skill. They're dangerous. There is a reason why they are here."
And the Flyers don't see any reason why they are the favorites in this series, even though they own the home-ice advantage and just knocked off the team many considered to be the best in the NHL.
"We were [five] points behind the Penguins, so I'm not sure how that translates to a heavy favorite," Flyers coach Peter Laviolette said. "New Jersey finished one point behind us, and I'm not sure how that translates into a favorite. And I think it's all irrelevant. None of that matters. It's two teams that are going to go out and play hockey; the team that does it the best is going to move on."