Goaltending will carry Devils past Atlantic champion Flyers in six
Posted: Thursday April 8, 2004 2:04PM; Updated: Thursday April 8, 2004 2:04PM
No. 3Philadelphia vs. No. 6New Jersey
The Stanley Cup champion Devils won't score a lot, but they're disciplined and find ways to win. A pair of well-coached teams who will get into some physical battles from the start. New Jersey allowed a league-low 164 goals, so Philadelphia will have to fight for everything it gets.
The Devils often come into the playoffs lacking firepower up front, and this year is no exception. Patrik Elias (38 goals) is a true scorer, and linemate Scott Gomez (56 assists) is an excellent playmaker. But if the top line gets shut down, the Devils scoring will run dry. The Flyers have numerous scoring threats with Keith Primeau and Jeremy Roenick back from injuries, big John LeClair, little Mark Recchi, underrated Michal Handzus and so on.
Both teams will be without their top defender: The Devils are missing Scott Stevens, the Flyers are without Eric Desjardins. In New Jersey this means Scott Niedermayer, who could have won the Conn Smythe Trophy last year, will have to shoulder the load for a defense that's largely inexperienced. The Flyers have several adequate blueliners (Marcus Ragnarsson, Kim Johnsson) but no star to lead them.
New Jersey, with three-time Cup winner Martin Brodeur, has the best goaltending in the league. The Flyers, who'll give Robert Esche his first playoff start and have veteran Sean Burke on standby, have the most suspect goaltending in the East. Brodeur will win a couple of games by himself.
Philadelphia has a lot of power-play weapons, namely Recchi and Johnsson who has been a nice surprise at the point. The series could come down to a test of wills between the Devils' determined penalty kill and the Flyers' power-play explosiveness. Keep an eye on New Jersey's John Madden to create shorthanded chances.
The chess match to end all chess matches. Philadelphia's Ken Hitchcock and New Jersey's Pat Burns will go back and forth trying to get the edge. These are two sharp, stubborn coaches. Expect a lot of creative maneuvering.
How will Primeau and Roenick play coming off of their head injuries? And what will the Flyers get out of defenseman Vladimir Malakhov, who has dominating skills but often seems disinterested? The Devils erratic play down the stretch should not be a concern. This team knows when it's playoff time.
New Jersey has more of those role players who tend to come out in the postseason (think forward Jay Pandolfo), and it has a huge advantage in the most crucial area of the game -- goaltending. Devils win in six games.
Sports Illustrated senior writer Kostya Kennedy takes sides each week at SI.com.