BOSTON – The last time the Philadelphia Flyers met the Boston Bruins in the playoffs, it was a matchup between two physical teams?the Broad Street Bullies vs. the Big Bad Bruins.
Now, 32 years later, both sides expect another hard-hitting series when their Eastern Conference semifinal starts Saturday. The team that does a better job of checking hard but staying out of the penalty box could have an edge.
It all comes down to being disciplined.
“I think it’s important in any series, but I think they get a lot of momentum after power plays,” Flyers captain Mike Richards said. The Bruins have “a great power play and, like I said before, it wears the bodies down if you keep taking penalties, and keep having the same guys out there killing and blocking shots.”
But if fisticuffs erupt, they could help.
“You have to be smart with it,” Boston’s Milan Lucic, a physical forward, said. “You have to know the situation and it’s never a bad thing to have a fight in the playoffs. I think it can create a lot of momentum for your team going forward.”
The teams last met in the playoffs in the 1978 Stanley Cup semifinals. Boston won the best-of-seven series 4-1, then fell to Montreal in the finals. That Bruins team had four players with at least 116 penalty minutes in the regular season. The Flyers had five with at least 119 each.
This season, Philadelphia had four players with at least 126 minutes, while the Bruins had just one with more than 100?Shawn Thornton’s 141?but hit hard during their first-round series against the Buffalo Sabres.
“You can definitely be physical and get in a guy’s face without taking penalties,” Boston forward Michael Ryder said. “I think that’s where we have to be smart about it. … It’s going to be, definitely, a physical series.”
It also will be a series of contrasting goaltenders.
Boston’s Tuukka Rask is a 23-year-old playoff rookie. Philadelphia’s Brian Boucher is a 33-year-old journeyman who played in just 33 games this season and had a 9-18 record. But both have been outstanding in the playoffs with Boucher leading the NHL with a 1.59 goals-against average.
The Bruins have had a four-day break. The Flyers will have had eight days between games and could be rusty.
“I liken it to when you are a backup and you go a week or two between starts and have to stay sharp in practice,” Boucher said. “I don’t think it will be that much of a negative effect.”
Boston also had eight days off before the second round last year and several players said they lost their playoff rhythm. They won the opener against Carolina but lost the next three games and dropped the series in seven.
“You try to be calm and have fun, and when it’s game time, it’s game time,” Rask said. “There’s no joking around. You just stay loose and still keep the focus on the right things.”
Both teams advanced by upsetting higher-seeded teams. The sixth-seeded Bruins beat the third-seeded Sabres in six games, while the seventh-seeded Flyers eliminated the second-seeded New Jersey Devils in five.
Boston is healthier than it was against Buffalo and will have Marc Savard back. The playmaking centre missed the last 24 games, including 18 in the regular season, recovering from a Grade 2 concussion.
Philadelphia’s forwards are in worse shape. An MRI exam on the broken right foot of Simon Gagne on Friday showed healing but he remains out indefinitely. Jeff Carter, the Flyers’ leading goal scorer, will miss the series with a broken right foot. And Ian Laperriere is sidelined with a brain contusion and mild concussion sustained when he was hit by a puck in the clincher against the Devils.
“I don’t think that’s an excuse we should be using or should be looking for,” Flyers defenceman Chris Pronger said. “We need to go out and play hard and play the game well, no matter who’s in the lineup. This is the Stanley Cup playoffs. It’s not exhibition.”
Missing scorers like Carter and Gagne is critical against the Bruins, who allowed the second fewest goals in the regular season and held the Sabres without a power-play goal in the first round.
The way these teams hit, there could be plenty of power plays.
“You have to play physical,” Boston defenceman Andrew Ference said, “but you can’t cross that line of stupidity and we can’t be so naive as to think they’re going to do that either. The stakes are the same for both teams.”