The New Jersey Devils will face the Philadelphia Flyers in the second round of the 2012 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs. After a seven game series with Florida, the Devils will begin another best-of-seven with the Second Rate Rivals on Sunday at 3 PM on NBC. It feels good that the Devils will play into May for the first time since 2007. Devils fans should be pleased with the fact that the Devils got this far in the postseason.
Looking back at our predictions in September 2011 for this season, all of the writers thought that the Devils would make the playoffs. We turned out to be right. Tom, Matt E, Matt V, and then-writer C.J. were bold enough to predict that they'll advance into the second round. They turned out to be right. Nobody predicted anything further. Will that stand up as well? And if so, would that really make the 2011-12 season an unsuccessful one? I wouldn't think so.
However, it doesn't feel quite right to me to just be happy that they're in this spot. It doesn't feel quite right to Why not demand more success? Why not request some revenge for 2010, where the Flyers bounced the Devils out of the first round in five games? Why not hope for beating a rival if only for the bragging rights?
Hope is the key word. Given that the match-up is against a team that has had rest, has had success against New Jersey, and has knocked out an even better team than New Jersey in six games, we should be grounded in our expectations for this series. I think some parts of the fanbase understands that. At least, I felt that way when I asked the other ILWT writers for their predictions for this upcoming playoff series. I asked the same five questions from before the Florida-New Jersey series and I have put together the answers after the jump. We definitely were off base on some of them before the first round, maybe some of our predictions for this series hopefully go awry as well.
What one thing about the New Jersey Devils makes you confident about their chances in this series?
Tom: Goaltending. I am a bit harsh with my criticism of Brodeur, but he came up big in game 7. If he can be 75% of that player for this series he can out-duel the enigma that is Ilya Bryzgalov and his .882 even strength save percentage that he had vs. Pittsburgh.
Kevin:The fact that the Flyers aren't going to go into a defensive shell when they're up by a goal. The Panthers had a tendency to do that, and the Devils couldn't break that shell. The Flyers aren't a team that will sit back with a lead. The Devils should have somewhat of an easier time generating offense against the Flyers than they did against the Panthers.
Also, the Devils 4th line is better than the Flyers 4th line. I mean, Tom Sestito (ENERGY!!!1), Jody Shelley (lol) and Zac Rinaldo (lol) is their 4th line. What are they going to do, stir the pot at the Devils?
Matt E.: Martin Brodeur. He is playing great. He is quick, agile, puck handling well, and playing vintage Brodeur. If Brodeur is hot, I have confidence in the Devils' chances against a high-powered Philly offense.
Matt V.: Marty Brodeur. Those saves in the 3rd period and OT are big reasons the Devils are in the 2nd round. He's following the puck well and his rebound control late in the 1st round series was awesome. He's a veteran and knows the Flyers well enough in the post season. He'll have a huge test with this Flyers team that put up goals at will against Pittsburgh. If he makes saves like he did [in Game 7], controls his rebounds, and play the puck effectively - the Devils can win this.
John: I got to say the defense as a whole. As a unit, this team has held Florida to relatively few shots on net at even strength save for Games 5 and 7. As a team, the Devils have the lowest SA/G rate among all the teams in the second round. OK, Anton Volchenkov was quite poor against Florida; but I'm hoping he can get out of whatever slump he has. The other five men on the blueline have been quite good. Mark Fayne and Andy Greene won't wow anyone on paper; but they just had a great series - especially at evens, where they were on the ice for a combined one goal against. Marek Zidlicky has ate up a ton of minutes and has contributed with shot prevention and shot creation. Bryce Salvador has been the only one to get continually pinned back, but he's proven himself to get stops and not get lost in his positioning. Throw in the fact that the forwards are backchecking well and so I really appreciate how the defense has been playing in the postseason. The Devils will need it.
What one thing about the Philadelphia Flyers worries you in this series?
Tom: Potent offense/power play. Playing against such a potent offensive attack the Devils are going to have to be solid defensively.
Kevin: Ilya Bryzgalov. No, not Claude Giroux, who could be considered the best hockey player in the world right now. But rather the crazy goalie who sieved in goals left and right against the Penguins. Why? Well, for starters, he's only given up 1 goal against in 13 periods of play. Of course, there's a chance that this small sample size isn't indicative of Bryzgalov's ability, it's disturbing to see that the Devils have had so much trouble beating Bryzgalov.
|2011-12 - Ilya Bryzgalov||59||3415||33||16||7||141||2.48||1554||1413||.909||.921||6|
|2012 Playoffs - Ilya Bryzgalov||6||324||4||2||-||21||3.89||163||142||.871||.882||0|
Matt E.: Their offense will likely keep me up at night. (I can’t imagine how DeBoer sleeps, over-the-counter sleep aids probably). Even if you shut down Philly’s top line of Scott Hartnell, Claude Giroux, and Jaromir Jagr; you’ve got to deal with Brayden Schenn, Danny Briere, and Wayne Simmonds; and if you successfully shut them down then there is Matt Read, James van Riemsdyk, and Jakub Voracek. I frankly don’t know when the Devils will generate offense.
Matt V.: Scoring depth. The Flyers are going to try and use the Devils depth just like how DeBoer did against the Panthers. Each line can score, hit, and grind out a game. The Devils have to make sure they get the match-ups they want and not get caught taking long shifts or changing lines at wrong times. The Devils 3rd and 4th lines were no slouches, but this is not the Panthers' bottom 6 anymore. Can guys like Clarkson and Ponikarovsky get some goals?
John: The Flyers' scoring depth is ridiculous. In the comments from the series primer post, a Flyers fan and BSH regular Pursuit of Lappyness had this to say:
The Flyers’ lines you’re likely to see (with possible alterations, Lavy was playing around with the Briere line at the end of the Penguins series)
Hartnell – Giroux – Jagr
Schenn – Briere – Simmonds
Talbot – Couturier – Wellwood
van Riemsdyk – Read – Voracek
Goodness, I don't even know where to begin on what the Devils should do against that. I really do like how the Devils are doing on defense; but this is a match-up nightmare. Read, Voracek, and van Reimsdyk is a second-line quality trio and they're among their bottom six.
What's the key match-up between the two teams?
Tom: Special Teams Play, specifically the Devils PK vs. the Flyers PP. If the Devils remain undisciplined (the first round saw the Devils short-handed 3.85 times per game as opposed to 3.15 in the regular season) and are killing penalties, they face Flyers power play was absurdly good in the first round against the Penguins connecting at a 52.5% rate. The Devils penalty kill was successful 66% of the time. If those numbers hold up, the Devils are in trouble.
Kevin:ss Peter Laviolette's going to try and avoid this match-up- but the match-up between Patrik Elias and Claude Giroux is going to be the big one. Elias was able to stifle Kris Versteeg at even strength in the Panthers series, but unfortunately wasn't able to do much offensively (2-0-2 in 7 GP). Giroux on the other hand, had 14 points in 6 games with defensive stalwart Jordan Staal shadowing him. If Elias can play Giroux to a draw and even win that matchup, the Devils will be able to gain a significant edge. As for both Elias and Giroux's linemates, Zubrus vs. Scott Hartnell and Petr Sykora vs Jaromir Jagr both seem like washes. It's the match-up between the centers that is important.
Matt E.: Special Teams.
Philadelphia’s PP%: 52.5, PK%: 69.0
New Jersey’s PP%: 20.0, PK%: 66.7
If the numbers don’t tell you everything you need to know, the Flyers played against an offense powerhouse in the Penguins. The Devils played against the Panthers, who have very little scoring past their first line.
Matt V.: The match-ups themselves. It will be very interesting what lines are matched up on both teams. The Devils have plenty of tape to go over and the coaching staff has work to do. Find tendencies they do and find a line that can exploit it. All four lines have to play well for the Devils.
John: The Henrique line vs. the Couturier/Read line. I'll admit, this is predicated on each team's top two lines facing each other and cancelling them out somewhat. Still, this match-up matters a great deal ahead of the series. The third line of Alexei Ponikarovsky, David Clarkson, and Adam Henrique weren't factors in the Florida series until Game 7. However, they're going to face stiffer competition in the Flyers' bottom six. While they'll be centered by rookies; each has more experienced wingers. The Read unit is more offensive and the battle of possession will be crucial against them. The Coutrier is a bit more defensive; but those three can definitely get a good chance and make the most of it. If the Henrique line can perform more like they did in Game 7, then they may be able to hold their own. Otherwise, the Flyers' depth could out-shine the Devils on their way to winning this series.
Who will be the one X-Factor in this series?
Tom: Secondary Scoring. The big guys will score. Parise, Kovalchuk, Zajac of the Devils and Giroux, Hartnell, Briere of the Flyers will all find ways to score. The series will come down to the scoring of players like David Clarkson, Adam Henrique vs. Matt Read, Sean Couturier and Maxime Talbot.
Kevin: David Clarkson. He wasn't much of a factor in the first round series outside of his three assists. If there's one thing that could help the Devils, it would be a more involved David Clarkson. And more importantly, a David Clarkson who doesn't want to participate in extracurricular activities with pot stirrers and ENERGY!!1 sources.
|2011 - David Clarkson||80||30||16||46||-8||138||8||0||7||228|
As for the Flyers, I'm going with Danny Briere. He tends to score a lot of goals in the playoffs and is annoying as hell to play against. If the Devils give too much attention to Giroux, Briere could hurt the Devils.
|2011 - Danny Briere||70||16||33||49||5||69||4||0||3||174|
Matt E.: Devils: My heart say Henrique after game 7. But my brain says Brodeur will be the difference.
|2012 Playoffs - Martin Brodeur||7||409||4||2||14||2.06||180||166||.922||.956||1|
Flyers: Whichever goalie gets the nod to start for the Flyers.
Matt V.: Anton Volchenkov. He needs to play A-Train hockey. If he's hurt, I hope he rests enough so that whatever is bothering him becomes healed. His shot blocking, defensive positioning, and hard hitting are very much needed in this series. If he bounces back, then the Devils D-corps just got a lot better.
|2012 Playoffs - Anton Volchenkov||7||0||1||1||3||4||0||0||0||2||14:53|
John: Discipline. Florida made life difficult for New Jersey in the first round with their power play. Some of those PPGs came off some unfortunate bounces; while others were just plays where the Devils got exposed on their penalty kill. What's maddening about all of them is that the majority of those came on calls the Devils could and should have avoided. They were unnecessary - and that's against Florida. In this series, the Devils are facing a hated rival that knows a thing or two about being physical. I couldn't tell you how the refs will call each game; but the Devils need to keep their emotions in check and avoid gifting the Flyers power plays like they did with Florida. If they can do that, that would drastically help their chances. The same applied to Philly - they should seek to avoid giving New Jersey opportunities to go up in the game.
What is your prediction for this series?
Tom: Devils in 6. Believe.
Kevin: My optimistic prediction for this series- Devils in 7. My realistic prediction- Flyers in 6. They're the better team and their star players are performing right now. Unless the Devils can get big performances from Parise, Elias and Kovalchuk in the 2nd round, they're not going to beat the Flyers.
Matt E.: I’m a very realistic person, don’t hate me. Flyers take it in a brutal 7 games. The Devils simply don’t have the offense to match the Flyers.
Matt V.: This will not easy. It's not supposed to be. I think the Devils' bottom 6 is really needed in this series. Kovy needs to have a couple games and Marty needs to steal one or two. I think this 2OT game 7 [against Florida] will give this team confidence and more desire to continue playing. The Flyers may be playing hangover hockey after their performance. I'll say Devils in 6.
John: I want to tell you the Devils will take this series. However, I can't honestly say so. The Flyers are fantastic up front, their defense is good enough, and Ilya Bryzgalov just has to play like it's 2012 and not 1983. They're the favorites for good reason. I predict the Flyers will win this in six games and I really hope the Devils prove me wrong.
Now you've read our answers to these five questions, please let us know what you think them. What answers of ours do you agree with? What don't you agree with? I also want to know your answers to the same questions we answered for this post. What one aspect about the Devils make you confident in their chances? What about the Panthers worries you the most? What match-up will be important? Who will be the X-factor? Most of all, what's your prediction for this series? Please leave all of your answers and other predictions in the comments. Thank you for reading. One more thing: A big series preview post will come out later today. Until then, predict away.