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We Talkin' 'Bout Playoffs: Flyers vs Capitals First Round Preview

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^Click play and let’s fucking do this. 

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They said the Flyers didn’t have what it takes to be a playoff team this year. They proved them wrong. They said the Flyers don’t have a legitimate #1 goaltender. They proved them wrong. They said Claude Giroux doesn’t have the HEART and GRIT to lead this team to the promised land. They proved them wrong. They said I would never be able to work up the confidence to talk to a pretty girl at the bar. Well that’s still yet to be debunked but the rest of the stuff has all been proven wrong already. So after 82 games which was filled with about as many highs and lows as Robert Downey Jr’s acting career, the Philadelphia Flyers have a date with those pieces of shit down in Washington for anywhere between 4-7 more games. I think we are all well aware of how I feel about the Washington Capitals and their fans at this point. They are a bunch of bastards who deserve nothing but sorrow and pain until the end of eternity. But I’m going to attempt to write a fair and balanced preview here nonetheless because unlike those jabronis in DC, I’m capable of having a rational thought and conversation every now and again. So here we go.

Who: The Philadelphia Flyers and the Washington Capitals

What: 1st round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs (the best playoffs in all of sports)

When: Thursday night at 7 – until whenever the Capitals and their Russian leader die.

Where: The best city in the world and a nation’s capitol that is filled with corruption and a President who DOESN’T DO HIS JOB

Why: Because Stone Cold said so. And because the Flyers clinched the 2nd wild card spot in the East while the Capitals clinched the President’s Trophy

How: Like a bunch of goddamned lunatics.

Hot Ice Girl: Here ya go.

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Now that all of the formalities are out of the way, let’s dig in to what we can expect to see over the next 4-to-7 games. Because make no mistake about it; the Philadelphia Flyers are huuuuuge underdogs in this series. But do you want to know who else was a huge underdog that was immediately counted out of the fight before it even began? Rocky Balboa. And I’m talking Rocky IV Rocky Balboa here because the Caps are Ivan Drago and it’s time to put those Russian bastards where they belong. In the ground.

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The Flyers and Caps have obviously taken two drastically different paths to the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Caps have been the best team in the NHL all season long. They put together a super team of sorts over the summer by bringing in guys like TJ Oshie and Justin Williams. Combine them with the maturation and development of young guys like Evgeny Kuznetsov and Braden Holtby, put them together with Alex Ovechkin who has drastically changed his game since Barry Trotz came in behind the bench and you’ve got yourself a damn fine hockey club. A team that has little to no weak links whatsoever. I’d like to say they lack an actual #1 defenseman but while they don’t have a legitimate Duncan Keith or a game changer like Drew Doughty, they do have a decent amount of depth on the blueline. It’s no surprise that they won the President’ Trophy as the best team in the regular season. The Flyers, on the other hand, had a stretch from October to November in which they lost somewhere around 13 out of 15 games or something like that. It looked like they were going to miss out on the playoffs for the 2nd consecutive season for the 1st time since 92-93 and 93-94. But little by little, they started to turn around the season. It started when they called up Shayne Gostisbehere from Lehigh Valley and now there’s a very strong chance that he could end up being the Rookie of the Year. He gave this team life and rejuvenated a team that looked dead right from the get-go. Then post Trade Deadline, this team found an extra gear. They’ve been playing Playoff Hockey essentially for the past month and a half, and have been able to stay hot enough to capitalize on the downfalls of some other teams and clinched their spot in the playoffs on the last weekend of the regular season. While the Flyers were one of the hottest teams in the last month of the season, the Capitals found themselves struggling a bit to maintain that same level of dominance they had in the first 3/4 of the year. Two teams that couldn’t have taken more polar opposite paths to the playoffs if they tried.

As division rivals, the Flyers and Caps played each other 4 times over the regular season. The Flyers went 2-1-1 in those games and the Caps went 2-0-2. We had 5-2 Caps in the 1st match up of the season, 4-3 Flyers in overtime in January, 3-2 Caps in February and then 2-1 Flyers the other week in a shootout. So while the Caps have been the best team in the NHL this season, the Flyers have played them extremely well despite that 1st game of the year before Ghost Bear came to town. And that’s not because the Flyers have gotten lucky at all. It’s not because the Caps didn’t have anything to play for anymore a couple of weeks ago. It’s not because of anything outside of the fact that the Flyers just match up well against this team. Realistically speaking, I’d give the Capitals a slight edge over the Flyers pretty much all across the ice. Holtby is going to be your Vezina Trophy winner this season. Ovechkin, Kuzy, Oshie, and Backstrom are a little more lethal than Giroux, Voracek, Schenn and Simmonds (ESPECIALLY when it comes to 5v5). And outside of Ghost, the Flyers are working with a bunch of clowns on the blue line. But playoff hockey is a completely different monster. Flash doesn’t get the trick done past 82 games. In the playoffs, every shift matters just a little more than the last one. Each hit has to be just a little harder than the last one. Each shot needs to be just a little more carefully placed than the last one. And you have to play with heart and you have to play with an edge and you have to wear a team down over a 7-game series. And in my biased and un-biased opinions, the Flyers are more well equipped for that brand of hockey than the Capitals are.

Another quick commercial break…

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And we’re back…

Now the biggest thing the Flyers have going for them heading into this series (aside from playing with house money at this point and virtually having nothing to lose) is that they will get back Michael Neuvirth who will be returning from injury. Steve Mason solidified his role as the team’s #1 goaltender over the last 10-15 games or so but it’s great to have an extremely competent back up ready to go for whenever hey need him. Holtby is better than Mason. Holtby is better than Neuvy. But I’m more confident in a Mason and Neuvy tandem than I would be in Holtby and Grubauer. The moment that crack in Holtby’s brick wall begins to grow, the Caps are done. Mason has already put this entire team on his back before so I have no doubt in my mind that he’ll give the Flyers every chance to win for as long as he’s between those pipes from here on out.

Outside of the guys stopping the goals, let’s look at some of the guys who will be scoring them. Sean Couturier’s line is going to have their hands full trying to shut down the Caps’ top line. However, the Flyers as a team did a great job at limiting Ovechkin’s space in open ice 5v5 the last time these two teams went up against each other. I would expect the Flyers to put Schenn and Raffl together on the wings with Couturier and they’re my two X-factors heading into this series. I can’t tell you why but for some reason I’m just feeling a breakout performance by Michael Raffl over the next few games. He’s quietly become one of the most consistent Flyers on the roster since signing his 3-year extension a couple of months ago and then Schenn has been incredible for the Flyers since his brother was shipped out to LA. So while the Coots line will be tasked with shutting down the Caps’ defensively, I see plenty of offensive production coming from that line as well. And when they’re not paired up against the Backstrom, Ovi, Oshie line, well then it’ll be Giroux’s line and that will be the best match up of the series. Because over the past couple of seasons, Nick Backstrom and Claude Giroux have developed a pure hatred for one another. It’s one of the most underrated rivalries going right now but I think they would both kill one another if given the opportunity.

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Wayne Simmonds is going to need to do exactly what he’s done the entire year so far for the Flyers. He needs to be a jack-of-all-trades type of player. He needs to be physical, he needs to park his ass in front of the net, he needs to find himself on the score sheet and he needs to make the entire Washington Capitals organization and all of their fans hate his guts by the end of this series. Claude is going to being Claude things. He’ll make his plays when he makes his plays and he’ll be the leader this team needs him to be. But Simmonds needs to be the heart. I want everybody who has ever once cheered for the Washington Capitals to want to punch him in the face because that means that he’s doing his job perfectly. We’ll see what Voracek’s health status is once the puck drops on Thursday night but as long as G and Simmonds are good to go, Jake will find his way.

This post is already going on a little longer than I wanted it to so let’s do ourselves a favor and just wrap it up with a few quick points here.

– Flyers need to limit the turnovers. They’ve been getting burned lately by trying to do just a little too much and end up giving up breaks going the other way that end up in the back of the net. If the Flyers play their brand of hockey and don’t spread themselves too thin, they’ll be in a good position to take this series the distance.

– That means don’t fucking pinch at the blueline ever if your name is Andrew MacDonald.

– Special teams will be the difference maker here. Both teams have lethal power play units. The Caps is a little more flashy, the Flyers are a little more gritty. Regardless, stay the fuck out of the box unless you want to get scored on.

– Playoff hockey is all about strong goaltending and putting away the greasy ones when it counts. That’s right up the Flyers’ alley.

– Almost impossible to not believe in this team after seeing Voracek’s playoff beard in full force already.

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Flyers have a little more motivation heading into this series than ever before. It will be the first Flyers post season without Mr. Snider and nothing would make this year more special than to go out there and Win For Ed.

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Final Prediction: Flyers in 7. Suck it, Nate.

@BarstoolJordie