|Pierre McGuire's Breakdown|
| 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.
| 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.
| 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
| 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
| 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.
| 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
| 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
| 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.
| 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.
| 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.
| 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|