The 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs are right around the corner and the matchups are set. Some of the current opponents have never met in the playoffs before like Nashville and Colorado but others are all too familiar with theirs.
That’s the case for the Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers but I didn’t need to tell you that. This is one of the most storied rivalries in sports. So many amazing story lines and battles between these two franchises have taken place. The drought of wins in Philadelphia until the arrival of Mario Lemieux or the the back and forth playoffs series throughout the years.
As a Penguin fan, one memory leaves a sour taste in my mouth to this day and that is the 2012 Eastern Conference Quarter Finals. The series I avoid recalling whenever I can and for good reason.
The Penguins got murdered. This series had everything but defense. The Flyers would come back from 3-0 to win in OT in Game 1 and then score EIGHT goals in consecutive games to lead the series 3-0. Not the best start. With their backs against the walls and their season on the line, the Penguins would put on an offensive clinic and score ten goals in a 10-3 victory over a team that recently had given them nightmares on the defensive front.
The Penguins then scrapped together another hearty win to send the series to a sixth game in Philadelphia. Hope was in the air. The city of Philadelphia was loosening their collars as their rival from the western region of the state was looking to stay hot and complete the reverse sweep. Then, on the opening shift of Game 6, Claude Giroux ended the Penguins’ momentum. Giroux laid a hit on Sidney Crosby and the Wells Fargo Center erupted. Shortly after that, Giroux would score the first of five Flyers goals that night and that was all she wrote. The Flyers take the series in 6.
Most people look back on that series with memories of Marc-Andre Fleury playing some of his worst hockey in his career. An .882 save percentage with a goals against average of 3.52. That’s atrocious for a six game span. That’s atrocious any way you look at it, but that’s not entirely why they lost in 6.
Ilya Bryzgalov was nothing special for Philadelphia. Through six games, he posted a save percentage of .871 and a goals against average of 3.88. He was statistically worse than Fleury by a small margin. What really made the difference in that series was the power play and special teams as a whole.
The Penguins scored 9 power play goals in the series and the Flyers scored 12 power play goals and 3 short-handed. Since that’s not that big of a margin, what’s the problem?
Due to Game 3 being an absolute blood bath, I exempted the goals scored in that game so that brings the goals between teams to an even 8 for each on the power play and Philadelphia only scoring 2 short-handed goals. The Penguins’ power play percentage was 25% and the Flyers’ percentage was 38%, not counting Game 3’s stats because I’m lazy and that was too daunting of a task for my small brain. That’s a 13% difference for those of you that don’t enjoy doing math like me, luckily I’ve done all the math prior.
The Flyers made slight work of their power play chances and found themselves up two men multiple times during the series. The Flyers baited the Penguins into their trap of having low grade players go after superstars/penalty killers to take them off the ice and score with a downgraded penalty kill in front of them. Also having Steve Sullivan play defense on the power play lead to multiple short handed opportunities and goals that made not scoring on the power play sting even more. This costed the Penguins a playoff series, bragging rights, and a possible Stanley Cup run because they couldn’t keep their cool and let a hot power play unit obliterate them time after time.
These Penguins are not those Penguins, Mike Sullivan is not Dan Bylsma, and Steve Sullivan doesn’t run the point anymore on this power play unit. Hope is high and expectations are even higher. Let’s have a cup run.