Sunday, April 6, 2008

Flyers 2 - Penguins 0; Biron Finishes Regular Season With Back to Back Shut-outs

It's official, the NHL Eastern Conference third place Washington Capitals will face the sixth place Philadelphia Flyers in the first round of the 2007 - 2008 season playoffs. As a kid I was a HUGE Flyers fan so I thought I'd have been a little bit conflicted. I am not at all though, so - LETS GO CAPS!!!!

Both the Caps and the Flyers are hot right now. The Flyers finished the season 7-1-1 with Marty Biron shutouts in the two final games. Even though Sidney Crosby didn't play in the final game, the Penguins played a solid game and the Flyers had to work to win two well deserved final regular season points. The Caps are 13-4-0 since March 1st, and Caps Goalie Christobel Huet had a GAA of 0.750 in the last three games of the season. The Caps finished the season with a seven (7) game winning streak and are the hottest team in the NHL right now. For the season the Caps have the second most improved regular season record; the Flyers have the most improved regular season record. The series will be hard fought and hard hitting. Injuries will play a factor. The Capitals have some injury challenges right now, particularly on Defense. Jeff Schultz went down in their season finale against Tampa Bay and did not return for the rest of the game; and as of this writing there has been no update on his status.

Updated Player Pos Injury Expected Return
04/07/2008 Jeff Shultz D Unannounced Questionable
04/06/2008 Chris Clark RW Groin Questionable for first round of playoffs
04/06/2008 Shaone Morrisonn D Upper body Questionable for first round playoffs
04/06/2008 Brian Pothier D Concussion Doubtful for first round playoffs
04/06/2008 Dave Steckel LW Finger Probable for first round playoffs;
02/06/08 Michael Nylander C Shoulder IR. Out for the season

For the Flyers their injury report is slightly less daunting:
Updated Player Pos Injury Expected Return
02/27/2008 Simon Gagne LW Concussion IR. Out for season
12/28/07 Mike Rathje D Groin IR. Likely out for the season
03/17/08 Derian Hatcher D Leg Out for season

Center Daniel Briere, Right Wing Sami Kapanen, Defenseman Jason Smith, and Center Denis Tolpeko were all also scratched and didn't play in the Flyers season finale against the Penguins today.

Over the course of the season the two Eastern Conference foes met 4 times and the Flyers led the series 3-1. Since the Caps Thanksgiving day coaching change the series was knoted at 1-1. All four games were tight, three of the four were decided by one goal and the only game that the margin of victory was greater than one goal was a game where the Flyers scored an empty net insurance goal in the final minute. Fans can expect this series to be hard hitting; fast paced and probably low scoring. Goaltending will be key for both teams, in the end it will however come down to Washington's big men against a balanced Flyers attack. The Flyers have seven (7) forwards with twenty (20) or more goals this season. The Caps have three (3) forwards including league goal scoring leader Alexander Ovechkin, along with left wing Alexander Semin and center Brooks Laich with more than 20 goals. They also have defenseman Mike Green with 18 (leader among all NHLdefenseman this year) as well as Victor Kozlov with 16 goals and rookie center Nicklas Backstrom with 14 goals. Additionally, trade deadline pickups Sergei Federov and Matt Cooke have made their presence felt on special teams since their acquisition. In goal the Flyers #1 Martin Brion has no NHL Playoff experience in his 9 NHL seasons, while backup Antero Nittymaki has 2 NHL playoff games under his belt in his three NHL seasons. On the Goaltender situation for the Capitals, they have two #1's and an experienced backup ready to go all with more playoff experience than either choice Flyers Coach John Stevens has. It seems clear, Caps coach Bruce Boudreau will look to trade deadline pick-up Christobel Huet, who is the hot goalie in DC. Huet has 32 wins this season split between Montreal and Washington; he's won his last 9 outings and has a save percentage of 97.0% (and a GAA of 0.750) in his last 4 outings. Like Biron and Nittymaki, despite playing 4 NHL seasons, Huet has limited playoff experience - he went 2-4 with a GAA of 2.44 and a save percentage of 92.9% for Montreal in the 2005-2006 season playoffs. If anyone is motivated to have a great playoffs though it's Huet; he'll be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season and each round the Capitals advance that he is in net will likely result in solid financial rewards for the NHL's only French Born player. Additionally, he's got to be motivated by the intense competitive nature all goalies share to drive his new team deeper into the playoffs than the Canadeans rookie of the year candidate, Cary Price, who he was cast aside for. If the Caps need playoff experience in goal, they can turn to current number " 1/2", veteran Olaf Kolzig. The 37 year old Kolzig has a 20-24 record in 45 playoff games including the 1998 playoffs when he backstopped Washington to the Stanley Cup finals. Sidelined, healthy scratch, Caps number two, Brent Johnson also has more playoff experience than both Flyers netminders combined. Johnson has 12 games of NHL playoff experience, most gained during the 2002 playoffs with the Saint Louis Blues when he went 5-5 in 10 games played.

The series will be fun to watch when it kicks off on Thursday or Friday; hopefully I'll be able to catch it on satellite - I'll be in the Bahamas, fishing for Marlin, Tuna and Dorado, with a few of my USMMA Class of 1982 Classmates on my Best Man's boat. It was a tough call but not that tough. We'll be fishing for four days from Thursday through Sunday, we'll spend a day or fishing the eastern side of the gulf stream around Bimini and dock for the night in Alice Town, one of Hemmingway's old hang outs. Then we'll proceed into the Tongue of the Ocean and spend two days fishing out of Chubb Cay Marina, some of the best Marlin fishing in the world in early April. Over the past four years this trip has become an annual tradition for five of us and each year we seem to find a way or reason why it's length needs to grow from it's original three day weekend duration. This year we are going from April 9th - 14th so I won't be making any blog posts during those from the 9th until the 15th.
I'm ready for a break, even if it means I'll miss the first few playoff games the Capitals have. Over the last month, we've had a lot of excitement. At work, ICx Technologies, has had am eventful couple of months. I was on a team that just finished submitting a competitive proposal for a large DoD CBRNE program, it was the largest program I've been involved in chasing since joining the company in 2006 and both exhilarating and pressure filled. One of our larger trade shows just concluded - ISC West - on Friday and during it, we had several product releases as well as product update releases. On my return from vacation, I'll be in the middle of chasing two more smaller DoD Force Protection initiatives that will keep me busy and occupied for the next couple of months. So a short break from the real world pressures with a few days of fishing in paradise, and maybe a cheeseburger or two there as well, will be a welcome respite.

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