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Battle of the Underdogs

It’s battle of the underdogs in the Eastern Conference Final, but for the Philadelphia Flyers it’s looking like no battle at all. After an auspicious 6-0 victory over the Montreal Canadiens on Sunday, Michael Leighton and the Flyers repeated the performance on Wednesday, beating the Habs 3-0.

I share Courtney’s opinion that Philly’s lack of any marquee names is what’s enabling them to get under Montreal’s skin so well. The Habs are great at what the media has aptly dubbed “giant killing.” They shut down Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby easily enough. No doubt this was the secret to their success over Washington and Pittsburgh. But in the land of blindingly orange hockey sweaters, there aren’t any giants to slay. Instead the Habs are grappling with an entire team that doesn’t need to fall back on superstar power.

Philly didn’t completely pants Montreal this time around (yeah they still shut out the Habs, but 3-0 isn’t as bad as 6-0, right? Right?). Instead, Philly steadily put in one goal a period. Danny Briere in the 1st, Simon Gagne in the 2nd, and Ville Leino in the 3rd. Both Briere’s and Gagne’s power play goals exposed Montreal’s weak penalty kill. Leino’s was off a seemingly over-confident (or half-assed, depending on your viewpoint) glove save attempt by Halak.

The Habs were missing their usual hard charging enthusiasm, and the Flyers…well what do I say about the Flyers? Philadelphia is not a pretty team. They play rough and most of their goals are scored up close and personal with whichever goaltender they’re currently slaughtering. There’s arguably nothing visually appealing about how the Flyers play hockey, but it sure has kept them on top for two consecutive shutouts against the Habs. Likewise, the Habs don’t play a much more visually appealing game than the boys in orange, and seeing the two together made me acutely aware of how spoiled I’ve been by NHL media darlings. But what these two teams lack in showmanship they make up for with some interesting hockey.

Mike “I want a starting position next season” Leighton went from a virtually nameless goaltender to a puck stopping machine after stepping up when Brian Boucher was injured. In five games, Leighton has logged a 0.87 goals-against average and .969 save percentage. The same can’t be said for the normally rock solid Jaroslav Halak, who is either finally caving under the playoffs stress or taking a while to get in his groove. If the last two series are anything to go by, the Flyers might want to start watching their backs around Game 4 because that’s when the Habs like to heat it up.

My prediction for the rest of this series: Flyers in 5.

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