In 2010, the Bruins held a 3-0 series lead over the Philadelphia Flyers, only to watch helplessly as the Flyers completed the greatest series comeback in NHL history and winning Game Seven. In 2011, the Bruins had a chance to overcome last year's heartbreak against a wounded Flyers team. Heading into the series, I said the following:
Philadelphia has the offensive firepower, but enormous questions in goal. Boston has an elite goalie, but lacks a big scoring threat to put pressure on the Flyers. These two teams are very familiar with each other, and it should be an incredibly physical series. We'll give the edge to Philadelphia based on their scoring depth and better power play unit, but if one of the Boston forwards steps up it could easily turn in Boston's favor.
Philadelphia in six games.
The logic was sound; the final prediction was not. The gap between Tim Thomas and whoever Flyers coach Peter Laviolette threw in net was even more dramatic than predicted, as Thomas recovered from his subpar series against the Montreal Canadiens and rediscovered his historic form from the regular season.
What Happened To Philadelphia?
They had been a flawed team all season, but were able to hide these flaws with superior offensive firepower and solid defensive play in front of the net. Unfortunately for Philadelphia, they faced a Boston team very familiar with these flaws and with the personnel to take advantage of these weaknesses.
Philadelphia needs a true #1 goalie. Sergei Bobrovsky was good enough to make it through the regular season effectively, but wasn't quite good enough for a long playoff series. The constant goalie rotations were a disaster in waiting -- they used three goalies in their quarterfinal matchup against the Buffalo Sabres -- and took full bloom against Boston. You could blame Coach Laviolette for this decision, but he likely didn't have a choice.
The loss of Chris Pronger also exacerbated the goalie situation, as Bruins forwards camped in front of the crease all series. Philadelphia had a substantial offensive advantage in this series, but that was negated by poor defensive play.
The Flyers, more than any other team, are praying for a salary cap increase next year to repair their goalie situation. With only 18 players under contract for 2011-2012 (and only $430,000 in projected space), the Flyers don't have the flexibility to add a Thomas Vokoun or Ilya Bryzgalov this summer without remaking much of their roster.
What Have We Learned About Boston?
The Bruins had been awaiting this series for a year, and it was obvious by their play. They were aggressive, enthusiastic, and outplayed a Flyers team that may have more talent on their roster.
The Bruins won because of Tim Thomas. The veteran goalie displayed his regular season form and rebounded to dominate the series. His Game Three performance stands out, but overall his .953 SV% is utterly remarkable, a performance for the ages.
But even with Tim Thomas playing this well, the Bruins don't win the series -- let alone sweep -- without the offensive breakouts of Brad Marchand, Nathan Horton, and David Krejci. The Bruins needed offensive breakouts this playoffs with the absence of Marc Savard, and this young trio provided the necessary points; these three combined for 15 goals and 16 assists in these playoffs. For the Bruins to advance to their first Stanley Cup Finals since 1990, they will need continued output from these players, especially since their leading scorer Patrice Bergeron reportedly suffered a concussion in Game Four and appears unlikely to play in the Conference Finals.
This Bruins team may not be the most talented team left, but they smart and aggressive hockey, and they have complete faith in their veteran goaltender. Do not count out this Boston team.