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All eyes turn to the East

by Adam Schwartz

The Eastern Conference Finals begin tonight with Marian Hossa and the Pittsburgh Penguins hosting Mike Richards and the Philadelphia Flyers, who took the regular-season series, 5-3.
The Eastern Conference Finals start Friday night when the Philadelphia Flyers travel to Mellon Arena to face the Pittsburgh Penguins.

After defeating the Washington Capitals in seven games, the Flyers had an easier time in the second round, defeating the Montreal Canadiens – the top-seeded team in the Eastern Conference – in five games.

The Penguins have played the fewest games among the teams that have advanced to the conference finals. Pittsburgh swept the Ottawa Senators in the first round and eliminated the New York Rangers in five games in the second round.

Here’s what to keep an eye out for:

* The Flyers, who are in their second Eastern Conference Finals in four seasons, have the best power play of the four remaining teams, with a 24-percent success rate. Philadelphia, which has allowed more than 30 shots in their last seven games, has given up the most goals (34) among the remaining teams.

* Philadelphia center R.J. Umberger, who had a goal and an assist in the first round against the Capitals, had eight goals and one assist for nine points in the second round. Umberger, who played college hockey at Ohio State University, had six goals and five assists for 11 points and a plus-4 rating in eight games against the Penguins during the regular season.

* Flyers defenseman Derian Hatcher, who is interested in marine biology, is tied for second on the team with a plus-6 rating. Hatcher, a veteran of 128 playoff games, has been at least an even player in three of his last four playoff seasons, including this one.

* Philadelphia center Jim Dowd, who won the Stanley Cup with the New Jersey Devils in 1995, hasn’t been a minus player since the first game of the playoffs. Dowd, who has played more than 10 minutes in just five games during the playoffs, is in the playoffs with his seventh different team.

* Flyers center Danny Briere, who is tied for second in the League with 14 points, had one goal and six assists for seven points in seven games against the Penguins this season. Briere, who is playing in the third round for the third consecutive season, has 48 points in his last 46 playoff games.

* Philadelphia right wing Joffrey Lupul, who likes to play guitar, had a point in four of the five games in the last round. Lupul, who has averaged 16:07 of ice time per game, has scored both of his playoff goals on the road.

* The Penguins, who are 5-0 at home in the playoffs, has the best penalty kill of the four remaining teams, with an 89.5-percent success rate. Pittsburgh, which lost in the Eastern Conference Finals the last season it won a playoff round (2001), has scored the third-most third-period goals among playoff teams, with 13.

* Penguins center Evgeni Malkin, who is one of three nominees for the Hart Trophy, had six goals and nine assists for 15 points in eight regular-season games against the Flyers this season. Malkin, who is tied for the team lead in the playoffs with 14 points, had four goals and three assists for seven points in the last round.

* Pittsburgh defenseman Hal Gill, acquired on trade-deadline day from the Toronto Maple Leafs for a draft pick, has been a minus player in just one playoff game. Gill, who never has played in a conference final, is third on the team with 16 blocked shots.

* Penguins defenseman Sergei Gonchar had three goals and five assists for eight points, but a minus-5 rating in eight regular-season games against Philadelphia this season. Gonchar, who idolized Paul Coffey growing up, has been past the second round just once in his career, when he went to the 1998 Stanley Cup Final with the Capitals.

* Pittsburgh defenseman Rob Scuderi, who had a minus-8 rating in seven regular-season games against the Flyers this season, leads the team with a plus-7 rating in the playoffs. Scuderi, who usually is paired with Hal Gill, averages 18:33 of ice time per game, but has played more than 20 minutes in his last two games.

* Penguins right wing Marian Hossa, who scored the overtime game-winning goal against the Rangers in Game 5, has three goals and one assist for four points in his last three games. Hossa, whose father Frantisek coached Slovakia in the 2006 Olympics, has 20 points in 21 combined regular-season and playoff games with the Penguins since being traded on trade-deadline day from the Atlanta Thrashers.  

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