Stanley Cup Playoffs: Penguins vs. Flyers:
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Streaking: Sidney Crosby was shut out three times during the Penguins' final five games, but before that stretch had at least one point in his previous 16 games. Center Jeff Carter rang up five goals and two assists in the Flyers' final six games.
Difference-makers: Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are keys to whatever playoff success the Penguins have and both have done some of their finest work against the Flyers: Crosby 20 goals and 26 assists in 26 regular-season games; Malkin 13 goals and 18 assists in 21. Carter is coming off a breakout regular season, with 46 goals. Probable MVP Alex Ovechkin, with 56, was the only player to record more.
Special teams: Even though the Flyers' power play cooled as the season wound down, it still ended up ranked sixth in the league. The Penguins' penalty-killing ranked eighth and played well during the stretch drive, allowing more than one goal just once in March and April. The Penguins were exasperatingly unproductive with the extra man for virtually the entire season, finishing with a conversion rate of 17.2. Philadelphia led the NHL with 16 short-handed goals and Richards singlehandedly matched the Penguins' total of seven.
Intangibles: Both sides figure to have their emotions percolating from the earliest shifts of the series, so keeping that passion reined in and focused will be critical. Although the Penguins gained a modest edge when they ended up with home-ice advantage, both clubs won in the other's arena, so that won't necessarily be decisive. Martin Biron of the Flyers made his NHL playoff debut in 2008 and fared pretty well, but is coming off an up-and-down regular season, so if could put a few dents in his confidence if the Penguins get to him early.
Who will win: Penguins in six.
First Published April 15, 2009 12:00 am