|THE SKINNY |
Some of the League's best young talent will be on display in this Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series, which features two teams that didn't make the postseason last spring.
Of course, there is Alex Ovechkin, the unquestioned star of the 2007-08 season. The 22-year-old winger finished with a whopping 65 goals and also led the League with 112 points. This is a player who already can do it all, and has yet to reach his prime.
|Olaf Kolzig makes a save against Steve Downie of the Philadelphia Flyers on February 6, 2008. Caps-Flyers |
But he will not be the only young gun on the ice here. In his own dressing room, he has to share that spotlight with defenseman Mike Green, 22, and center Nicklas Backstrom, 20. Green led all NHL defensemen in goals with 18, while Backstrom made his first season a memorable one with 69 points.
Let's not forget about the Flyers, either. This is a team that aggressively rebuilt after finishing in last place in the League last season. Despite the disappointment, the Flyers maintained their young core, and supplemented it by smart free-agent signings.
Mike Richards, 23, led the Flyers in scoring with 75 points. Jeff Carter, also 23, had 53 points. R.J. Umberger, 25, added 50 points and Scott Hartnell, also 25, had 43. On the blue line, 23-year-old Braydon Coburn has turned into quite the revelation.
So what does all this youth mean? It means these teams should play a high-octane, Katy-bar-the-door style of game. In the regular season, these two clubs combined for 29 goals in just four games.
That means the goalies better be prepared. And that seems to be the case.
“It's about the passion and determination that comes into playing the game. Xs and Os can only take you so far. It's the little things that will make a difference. ...” – Flyers coach John Stevens, on the necessary mindset for the playoffs. Washington obtained Cristobal Huet from the Canadiens on trade-deadline day to stabilize the situation in net. All he has done since his arrival is go 11-2 with a 1.63 goals-against average and .936 save percentage. Oh yeah, he has won nine straight games, as well.
At the other end, Martin Biron pitched back-to-back shutouts in the final two games of the season to not only get the Flyers into the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but move the club from the fringes of the race to a solid sixth-place finish.
Now, let the fun begin anew between these teams in the postseason.
Washington will win if -- Its hottest players stay hot. There is no stopping the Capitals if Ovechkin is dominating. “AO” is a player who can win a game in so many ways, it is almost scary to think about what he can accomplish in a playoff-style game. Then, there's Huet. Nobody's beaten him for the better part of a month. Philadelphia will have to find a way to do it four times if it wants to advance.
Phialdelphia will win if -- It stays disciplined. All season long the Flyers have walked the edge, if not crossed over, when it comes to taking too many penalties. If Philadelphia loses its cool here, the Caps will punish the Flyers with a lethal power play that can feature Ovechkin, Backstrom, Sergei Fedorov and Green on the ice at the same time. So, clearly, Philadelphia wants to see that collection without extra ice as much as possible.