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Pierre McGuire's Breakdown
Philadelphia    New Jersey 
Things weren't looking too good for the Flyers when they went down 2-0 to the Penguins, but then the offense kicked in. By inserting a playmaker like Daymond Langkow between Mark Recchi and John LeClair, coach Craig Ramsay put points on the board for his team. Andy Delmore's offense was a pleasant surprise, but don't expect it to continue. And don't expect the Flyers to have their way with the Devils because New Jersey doesn't give up many shots. The Flyers hope Keith Primeau is back in the lineup; if not, it could be a very tough series offensively for Philly.  OFFENSE

The Edge:

Patrik Elias, Jason Arnott and Petr Sykora make up one of the most explosive lines in the playoffs. Claude Lemieux is also in vintage playoff form. The Devils can score with all four lines, and they can grind out offensive chances down low, where this team wears opponents out. (Just ask the Leafs). New Jersey also has defensemen who can add offensive punch: Scott Niedermayer, Vlad Malakhov, and Brian Rafalski. They jump into the rush often because they know they'll be backed up by the responsible Devils forwards. 

The Flyers did a nice job containing the Penguins' big guns in the last four games of the second round, but the Penguins' fatigue was a factor. The Flyers must be more responsible in this series. Who do you match up against the Arnott line? Chances are it's Eric Desjardins and Chris Therien. But if you do, can you count on another pairing to handle Bobby Holik, Randy McKay and Sergei Brylin? The answer is a solid team commitment defensively. Defensemen playing against New Jersey usually end up kissing the glass, so one player the Flyers may want to think about adding -- if he's healthy -- is Ulf Samuelsson.  DEFENSE

The Edge:

They give up very few odd-man rushes, and their ability to stay up in the neutral zone is tremendous. Scott Stevens has been a dynamo this playoff season and his partner (Rafalski) has done a nice job insulating him by going back and getting the puck. This keeps Stevens away from big hits that would take a toll. Quietly, Malakhov and Colin White have been a solid tandem, but the explosive skating of Niedermayer and the stay-at-home grit of Ken Daneyko help make the Devils as solid as any team in the league. One great matchup to watch will be Stevens vs. Leclair in the slot area -- two big men who play hard whistle to whistle. 

Philadelphia: Brian Boucher, once an unknown quantity, can no longer be dismissed. He deserves credit for fighting back from a 2-0 hole against the Penguins and winning four straight. He seems to be getting more comfortable in his role, and, perhaps most impressively, he has adjusted nicely from game to game. In this round, Boucher should remember that New Jersey has guys who love to shoot the puck coming down the wing, so controlling rebounds will be crucial.   IN GOAL

The Edge:

What more can you say about Martin Brodeur? He's solid, professional, intense, proud and consistent. He has it all. Brodeur's puckhandling makes him even more of an asset. The Flyers should be aware of this when shoot the puck in and try to forecheck. The Leafs found out that Brodeur is a one-man forecheck destroyer. Brodeur also has the size to close down the Flyers when they try to crash the crease. Pittsburgh's Ron Tugnutt did not. 

This is a real strength for the Flyers. They work the PP with precision and smarts. Desjardins is clearly the quarterback, and everybody knows that LeClair is a huge factor as well, but it is the slippery and cagey Mark Recchi who can chew you apart. The Devils must stay out of the box and keep the Flyers out of the offensive zone.   PP

The Edge:

This group has worked well for the Devils most of the playoffs. In the last series, the Devils made an interesting move by putting the puckhandling and shooting-savvy Sykora on the point. New Jersey has all sorts of weapons at its disposal, and the Devils used them against the Leafs. Scott Gomez, who has really come alive, will be a big PP key for the Devils. 

They are coached by one of the best penalty killers who ever played, so they know what to do. Unsung Jody Hull has been solid, as has Simon Gagne. One thing the Flyers do very well is stack the offensive blue line and not allow opponents easy access into their zone. Flyers defenders are also excellent shot-blockers, so the Devils must make good decisions when shooting the puck.   PK

The Edge:

They don't count on many people to kill penalties, but the players who do are very thorough. Jay Pandolfo and John Madden are a fantastic tandem up front. So are Claude Lemieux and Sergei Nemchinov. Then there's the down-low presence of Daneyko and Stevens which makes this group difficult to beat. Once Brodeur makes the initial save, his defensemen often clear the puck on the first try. 

Ramsay has now proven he can coach at the NHL level. The players love him, and his ability to illustrate a point has been key. One thing a coach must do over the course of a playoff series is recognize trends and act on them. Ramsay did that against the Penguins by making sure he had the right people on the ice in Games 3 and 4 in Pittsburgh. Also, keeping a team focused for five OTs is no small chore.   COACH

The Edge:

Larry Robinson was great against Toronto. He never panicked, he showed his team the way and he helped make some of his people better as the series went on. Robinson has a group that believes in him, and it is ready to go the extra mile. An example of Robinson's impact on his team: As the Leafs fell apart in the Eastern Conference semifinals, he helped the Devils stay disciplined throughout. 

The Flyers aren't afraid to use their size and grit, but they also have far more skill than people are willing to grant them (Rick Tocchet and Adam Burt are examples). Injuries to Primeau and Eric Lindros could really hurt the Flyers, though, who lose some size down the middle without them.   INTANGIBLES

The Edge:

As I wrote before the Devils' last series, this team has more speed than a lot of people think. Just ask the Maple Leafs defensemen. Because they can be so opportunistic, the Devils counterattack game must be respected by the Flyers or it will be a short series. 

Valeri Zelepukin. He'll have to play a big role against his former teammates. The Flyers have shown a great deal of heart, but they don't have the overall depth of the Devils. Thus, players like Zelepukin and Peter White have to play above and beyond what they have done to date.   X-FACTOR

The Edge:

Claude Lemieux. He should thrive in this series. Coach Robinson has him under control, and his teammates are feeding off his enthusiasm. But the ultimate X-factor is that they challenge you at the point of attack on each and every shift. They never give you an easy inch of ice, and they make you pay a physical toll to get offensive chances. 
McGuire's Prediction: New Jersey in 6

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