As the Philadelphia Flyers come to town Saturday afternoon to face the Pittsburgh Penguins, you’ve probably heard a lot of fans express nervousness about the two Pennsylvania rivals possibly getting together in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
I don’t think they should worry too much. At least, they shouldn’t worry more than what’s typical this time of year.
I’m not saying the Flyers would be an “easy” matchup, or any better than seeing the Detroit Red Wings or the Columbus Blue Jackets in the opening round. I am saying the Penguins are a better team than Philly.
Pittsburgh has proven that over the course of the season, compiling 16 more points than Philadelphia despite suffering more than 500 man-games lost to injury. Although the Pens have gone 1-3 in the season series, I’d like their chances in a best-of-seven against the Flyers – and anyone in the Eastern Conference except Boston.
The 2012 first-round debacle is still fresh enough in most minds that seeing the orange and black in the springtime can trigger unpleasant flashbacks. But just as recently as 2008 and ’09, Pittsburgh won back-to-back playoff series against the Flyers, an opponent that had long tortured them at any time of year.
The point of this is that history means next to nothing in these situations. All that matters is how the current teams play, and especially if Evgeni Malkin returns to the ice soon, the Penguins are the smart pick to advance to their second straight East final.
As it stands Saturday morning, Pens fans don’t have to sweat the specter of the Flyers much, as the Blue Jackets are Pittsburgh’s most likely opponent at 65 percent probability according to SportsClubStats.com. The Red Wings are the distant second favorite at 22 percent, followed by Philadelphia at 13 percent.
However, even if the improbable occurs and the Flyers return to town in the middle of next week, the Pens will (and should) be picked to win. It might not happen, but the odds are in Pittsburgh’s favor, at least at first.
Tonight’s Game: Penguins (51-24-5, 107 points – 1st Metropolitan) vs. Flyers (41-30-9, 91 points – 3rd Metro) at Consol Energy Center
Faceoff: 3 p.m. ET
Radio: 105.9 The X
Tickets: Consol Energy Center tickets
As for the Flyers, they can clinch the Metropolitan Division’s No. 3 seed and guarantee a first-round meeting with the New York Rangers with a win at Pittsburgh. Philadelphia is tied with Detroit and Columbus at 91 points, albeit with a game in hand on both.