GAME: Philadelphia Flyers at Tampa Bay Lightning.
PLAYOFF SERIES: Eastern Conference finals; Game 1.
TIME: Saturday, 3 p.m. EDT.
Regular season results are said to be irrelevant in the playoffs.
The Philadelphia Flyers certainly hope so.
After losing all four games to the Tampa Bay Lightning in the regular
season, the Flyers try to prove that meaningless when the teams meet in Game 1
of the Eastern Conference finals.
Having already each won eight playoff games to reach this point, the Flyers
and Lightning understandably have little concern for the regular season now.
The fact remains, however, that Philadelphia was outscored 18-8 in four
straight losses to Tampa Bay this season.
Lightning coach John Tortorella doesn't put any stock in his club's regular
season success against the Flyers.
"That means squat," he said. "As far as what we did, what they did, you
throw that right out the window. I think both teams by the time Saturday comes
along, is going to have a pretty good understanding about what the other team
One of Philadelphia's biggest concerns in this series will be its ability to
control Tampa Bay's quartet of skilled and speedy forwards - something it
couldn't do in the regular season. Martin St. Louis, Brad Richards, Vincent
Lecavalier and Fredrik Modin combined for 11 goals and 15 assists in four games
against the Flyers.
"We'll have some tough matchups," Flyers captain Keith Primeau said.
"They are young, talented, offensive kids who skate very well."
These teams haven't met since Feb. 17, and Philadelphia has made a couple of
key acquisitions since that game. Center Alex Zhamnov has found a home on the
Flyers' top line with Jeremy Roenick and Tony Amonte, and defenseman Vladimir
Malakhov has added size and skill.
Using virtually the same roster all season has benefitted the Lightning, who
went 28-7-2-5 in the second half and earned the top seed in the East with a
franchise-record 106 points - five more than Philadelphia.
The first two rounds of the playoffs posed little trouble for Tampa Bay,
which eliminated the New York Islanders in five games and swept Montreal in
four straight. The Lightning have outscored opponents 26-10 this postseason.
Nearly every aspect of Tampa Bay's game has been outstanding, but Nikolai
Khabibulin's goaltending has clearly been the biggest factor in the Lightning
reaching the conference finals for the first time.
Khabibulin, in net for all four regular season wins against the Flyers, has
been near perfect in the playoffs, allowing nine goals on 248 shots for a
remarkable .964 save percentage. After recording three shutouts in five games
against the Islanders, he gave up five goals on 107 shots against Montreal.
"Nik has been our best player and he is going to have to be our best player
if we are going to move on in this thing," Tortorella said.
Though he doesn't have the numbers that Khabibulin does, Philadelphia's
Robert Esche has already outplayed two of the best goaltenders in NHL history -
New Jersey's Martin Brodeur and Toronto's Ed Belfour - in the first two rounds.
In his first postseason as a starter, Esche is 8-3 with a 2.02 goals-against
average and a .931 save percentage.
"He's battled some high-profile goalies, and now he has another one,"
Flyers coach Ken Hitchcock said. "This is another challenge. Hopefully, he's
up for another one."
Philadelphia had a relatively easy first-round series, beating defending
champion New Jersey in five games, but the conference semifinals against the
Maple Leafs was a far more physical and demanding series.
Roenick's overtime goal in Game 6 sent the Flyers to the conference finals
for the first time since 2000.
"We've had the harder path," Flyers winger Mark Recchi said. "They might
have just played that well and made it easier on themselves. Time will tell.
We've definitely played two hard, physical series, and they have not had a
Philadelphia is hoping Tampa Bay will be rusty because it will have been off
eight days by the time the puck drops Saturday. The Flyers, meanwhile, will
have had only three days off.
"You have an edge from the standpoint we are still in the mode of playing
games," Primeau said. "This is just the right amount of time between games. I
don't know how we would have responded if we had to play a Game 7 (against
Toronto). I know having days off between round one and two is nice, but it
starts to become long. Eight days will be difficult. Who knows how they'll
The key to this series could be whether Philadelphia can do enough to
contain Tampa Bay's speed and aggressive forecheck. After facing
defensive-minded New Jersey and a veteran-laden team in Toronto, the Flyers now
have to deal with the young, fast and highly skilled Lightning.
Philadelphia's job of containment becomes more difficult because of injuries
to several key players.
Defenseman Kim Johnsson is playing with a broken bone in his right hand and
Malakhov missed Game 6 against the Leafs with a possible concussion. Forward
Sami Kapanen, who has been helping out on defense, was injured in overtime of
Game 6 after a vicious hit from Toronto's Darcy Tucker, but is expected to play
Though Tampa Bay will see a much more physical team than the ones it faced
in the first two rounds, Tortorella doesn't want his club to change its style.
"We are going to play our game, we are going to be on the attack and we are
going to go," he said. "How Philly plays is how Philly is going to play. We
are not going to get away from how we play and we are very aware of that."
This is the second postseason meeting between the teams and first since
Philadelphia defeated Tampa Bay in six games in the 1995-96 conference
Game 2 is Monday at Tampa Bay.
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Flyers - 3rd seed; beat New Jersey Devils 4-1,
quarterfinals; beat Toronto Maple Leafs 4-2, semifinals. Lightning - 1st seed;
beat New York Islanders 4-1, quarterfinals; beat Montreal Canadiens 4-0,
PLAYOFF TEAM LEADERS: Flyers - Primeau, 5 goals; Zhamnov, 8 assists and 12
points; Donald Brashear, 18 PIM. Lightning - Modin, 5 goals; St. Louis, 7
assists; Modin and St. Louis, 11 points; Andre Roy, Chris Dingman and
Lecavalier, 12 PIM.
PLAYOFF SPECIAL TEAMS: Flyers - Power play: 20.0 percent (7 for 35). Penalty
killing: 88.9 percent (40 for 45). Lightning - Power play: 12.5 percent (5 for
40). Penalty killing: 84.6 percent (22 for 26).
GOALTENDERS: Flyers - Esche (8-3, 1 SO, 2.02 GAA); Sean Burke (0-0, 1.50).
Lightning - Khabibulin (8-1, 4, 0.99); John Grahame (no appearances)
REGULAR SEASON SERIES: Lightning, 4-0. Khabibulin was in net for all four
wins against the Flyers, allowing eight goals on 99 shots. St. Louis had three
goals and five assists and Modin had four goals and two assists for Tampa Bay.
Esche, one of four goalies used by the Flyers against the Lightning, was 0-1
with a 3.60 goals-against average in two games.