Sportsbook NHL Playoff Preview: New Jersey Devils vs Philadelphia Flyers
Season Series: Tied 2-2
Sportsbook Game 1 Line & Total: Philadelphia -170 & 5.5 under -135
Series Line: Flyers -180, Devils +150
After knocking out the Stanley Cup-favorite Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round, the Philadelphia Flyers now shift into the role of Goliath as they take on Atlantic Division-rival New Jersey in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
The Flyers series against their in-state rivals played out more like a three-ring circus than the prototypical NHL playoff battle. A high-scoring series was expected—the Pens and Flyers ranked first and second, respectively, in goals per game—but nobody could have predicted the embarrassing disappearing act put on by the defenses and goaltenders. The two teams combined for an incredible 56 goals in six games. The Devils, meanwhile, struggled to hold off the pesky Florida Panthers—eventually taking them down in a double-overtime thriller in Game 7 after trailing in the series 3-2. New Jersey could not hang onto a lead, blowing a 2-0 advantage in Games 6 and 7 before squeaking out overtime victories in each. The Devils also lost Game 3, at home, 4-3 after jumping out to an early 3-0 lead. If New Jersey doesn’t ratchet up its defense, it could be a quick exit in the second round against the high-octane Flyers.
Two Reasons Why the Devils Can Win:
1. Ilya Bryzgalov
Yes, you read that right. Mr. Universe actually might be a positive for the Devils. The Flyers goaltender was absolutely dreadful for most of the series with the Penguins, posting a woeful .871 SV Pct. and 3.89 GAA—both marks were second-worst in the first round only to Pittsburgh goalie Marc-Andre Fleury. The Russian netminder did little to quell his poor playoff reputation dating back to his days in Phoenix, and was fortunate to have such an elite offense playing in front of him. The Devils certainly have the offensive firepower to frustrate Bryzgalov, and it will be important for New Jersey’s forwards to consistently pepper him with shots. The sooner the Devils can get in his head, the better off they will be.
2. Score More Goals
This ties into the first reason, but it truly is the Devils biggest strength. Gone are the days where New Jersey relies on the trap system and Martin Brodeur’s elite goaltending—this Devils squad is built around offense and Brodeur, set to turn 40 next week, is in the twilight of his career. The Devils defense looked overwhelmed by a rather average Florida attack in the first round, so it’s scary to think about what kind of damage the lethal Flyers can inflict. New Jersey will rely heavily on its top line of Ilya Kovalchuk, Travis Zajac and Zach Parise, who combined for eight goals and seven assists in the first round. It might sound strange since it’s the playoffs, but the Devils game plan must be to outscore the Flyers, because it’s unlikely their defense will be able to deal with the speed of the Philly forwards. That will mean increased contributions from second-line players like Patrik Elias (two goals), David Clarkson (five assists) and rookie Adam Henrique (two goals, one assist)—the hero who potted the decisive goal in Game 7.
Two Reasons Why the Flyers Can Win:
1. O My
As mentioned the Flyers are pretty good at scoring goals. Philly tallied 30 times in the first round for an absurd average of five goals per game. C Claude Giroux (six goals, eight assists) leads all players in postseason points by a wide margin (five points), and he’s truly done it all for this Flyers team—on the power play, on the penalty kill, and even as a pest who successfully got under the skin of Sidney Crosby. And at just 24 years old, it’s hard not to consider Giroux one of the best three players in the league at this point. The Flyers also had a big series from C Danny Briere (five goals, three assists) and veteran RW Jaromir Jagr (one goal, six assists). The reason the Flyers are so successful is their tremendous depth up front, allowing head coach Peter Laviolette to roll three legitimate scoring lines. With young studs like rookie Sean Couturier (three goals, one assist), Jakub Voracek (two goals, five assists) and Wayne Simmonds (one goal, three assists), the sky is the limit for this talented group of forwards.
2. Over the Hump
Now that the Flyers have gotten past their bitter rival, it’s hard to imagine them having a more challenging series at any point on the road to the Stanley Cup Finals. At this point, the biggest obstacle for the Flyers will be a mental one. It’s human nature to experience a bit of a letdown after an emotional win—and make no mistake about it, this was a huge psychological victory for Philly, who had lost its two most recent playoff series against its biggest rival. But this team is well coached and understands the magnitude of the moment. There is truly no team left in the East that can match the Flyers in terms of sheer talent. If they tighten it up on defense and in goal just a bit, it could be smooth sailing into the next round after clearing the highest hurdle early on.
The Devils won their first round series despite getting outplayed by the Panthers for long stretches—including the third period of Game 7. Despite boasting the best regular season penalty-killing unit in the league (89.6 percent), the Devils allowed nine goals on 26 chances for a horrific 65.4 kill percentage (second-worst in playoffs). That simply will not cut it against a deadly Philly power play that converted at an other-worldly 52.3 percent rate in the first round (12-for-23). Also, the Devils just did not seem committed to team defense. Their defenders were a half-step slow and lost too many board battles against the Panthers. To Florida’s credit, its forwards did an excellent job on the forecheck, making New Jersey’s blueliners pay the price physically, but this will be a much tougher test with the big and bad Broad Street Bullies. Philly should have absolutely no trouble scoring goals against this team, and as long as Bryzgalov plays like he did in Games 6 of the Pens series (30 saves, one goal allowed) it shouldn’t be a grueling series. The one question mark for the Flyers will be the depth of their blueline, which is still missing Andrej Meszaros (back surgery), Chris Pronger (concussion), Marc-Andre Bourdon (lower body) and now Nicklas Grossman, who suffered a concussion of his own in Game 4. But because the Devils have few scoring threats outside their top two lines, veteran Pavel Kubina and rookie Eric Gustafsson will be put in a position to succeed with favorable matchups.