WILMINGTON, Mass. – Are the Bruins and Philadelphia Flyers going to stage an Eastern Conference semifinal playoff series over the next two weeks, starting Saturday, or an old-fashioned alleyway rumble?
For the Bruins’ sake, they better hope they can keep the majority of the action related to hockey in order to get past the Flyers and into the conference finals. Seemingly since the dawn of time, the Flyers have carried the moniker of “Broad Street Bullies” with them, and they’ll no doubt be trying to maintain that reputation while trying to take out the Bruins.
“That’s what makes it so fun. They’ve held that identity of the ‘Broad Street Bullies’ for the last 40 years, and it seems like every team that they’ve had the last 40 years, that’s been their identity,” said Bruins winger Milan Lucic after today’s practice. “I’ve got to say, it’s fun to play against. It’s not easy. It hurts after every game, every time you play them. But it’s definitely a lot of fun. But you find ways to put a smile on your face after playing a team like that.”
There’ll be more smiles in the Bruins’ dressing room if they utilize the Flyers’ aggressive, and sometimes over-aggressive, style against them. Philadelphia was third in the regular season in time shorthanded and gave up 32 power-play chances to New Jersey in just five games in the first round of the playoffs. Compare that to the Bruins, who would never be accused of being even the slightest bit softer than the Flyers. Boston allowed just 19 Buffalo power plays in six games of the first round, and finished 26th during the regular season in times shorthanded.
The Flyers’ penalty kill seemed to heat up against the Devils with 28 kills in those 32 chances, but Boston’s much-maligned power play has turned the corner with five goals in its last 14 opportunities against Buffalo, plus Marc Savard is now healthy enough to contribute to the man-advantage.
Of course, those power plays only come if the Bruins use their heads when it comes to retaliation.
“I think we’ve got a pretty focused bunch,” said winger Shawn Thornton. “Buffalo tried to do the same thing with a few guys. I think even though we got the reputation as the ‘Big, Bad Bruins’ the last couple of years, I think we’ve been fairly disciplined, ever since I’ve been here anyway. So I don’t know if it’s warranted and if you can get us off our game. I’m sure they’ll try, it’s playoff hockey, you’re always looking to get a little bit of an edge. We should be doing the same thing.”
Sure Paul Gaustad, Adam Mair and Patrick Kaleta tried to play tough with the Bruins. But compared the Flyers’ fierce combination of Daniel Carcillo and Scott Hartnell up front, not to mention former Norris Trophy-winning giant Chris Pronger on the back end, those Sabres tough guys seem like the Girl Scouts. And the Flyers’ bangers bring a higher level of skill, which they use to beat you up in one instant and then beat you with a big goal or assist the next.
That’s why head coach Claude Julien has a dilemma. During today’s practice he skated Thornton, Blake Wheeler and Vladimir Sobotka as part of the fourth line with Steve Begin. Daniel Paille was in that group Wednesday instead of Sobotka. Someone will have to sit out now that Savard is back, and Julien has to decide if he’s going to stick with Thornton to defend against any extracurricular hijinks from the Flyers or dress the skill of Wheeler or Paille. You have to figure that Sobotka and Begin, as centers, are guaranteed their spots in the lineup.
“Thornty is a big piece of the puzzle,” said Begin. “Everybody knows what he brings. The coaching staff has a tough decision to make, but we still don’t know what’s going to happen. Everybody knows what he brings. It’s time for other guys to step up and play as hard as they can and I’m sure … it’s just a matter of everybody showing up.”
Boston might have enough toughness from Lucic, Begin, Sobotka and captain Zdeno Chara to survive without Thornton. More important, regardless of what tactics the Flyers try, the Bruins need to have the sense not to get into a slugfest with the Flyers and make sure most of their focus is on the scoreboard and not on revenge.