If we learned anything last year, we know that seeds mean nothing in the NHL playoffs.
Even though the Washington Capitals ran away with the Eastern Conference by 18 points, and the Pittsburgh Penguins were coming off back to back Stanley Cup Finals appearances, the seventh and eighth seeds ended up making it to the Eastern Conference Finals.
So it might be wise to avoid paying too much attention to the standings, especially in February. But right now, it seems pretty clear that the aforementioned Flyers and the Vancouver Canucks are poised to clash in a heavyweight bout for this year’s championship.
Vancouver has been cruising through the regular season and currently holds a seven point lead over the second place Detroit Red Wings. The Canucks rank first in goals scored, first in goals against, first on the power play, and fifth on the penalty kill. Vancouver has eight players with 10 goals or more and 10 players with double digit plus/minus ratings. It also has the league’s reining Hart Trophy winner, this year’s Selke Trophy lock (Ryan Kesler), and two outstanding goalies. Before last night, the starter, Roberto Luongo, had not lost a game in regulation since December 5th.
Vancouver is battle tested, having made it to the second round of the playoffs in each of the past two seasons, and just got back key veteran defenseman Sami Salo.
Meanwhile, Philadelphia has been almost as dominant in the Eastern Conference after losing in the Finals last year. They rank third in goals scored, eighth in goals against, 16th on the power play, and ninth on the penalty kill. The goaltending that has long eluded Philadelphia no longer appears to be an issue, as both Brian Boucher and Sergei Bobrovsky are more than capable of shouldering the load. The Flyers have eight players with 12 or more goals, and a ridiculous 13 players with double digit plus/minus ratings.
And last night Philly showed that it’s ready to push all its chips to the centre of the table. The Flyers added another 20-goal scorer, Kris Versteeg, who played a key role for the Stanley Cup Champion Blackhawks last season, in exchange for first and third round picks. Versteeg was a bit of a disappointment in Toronto, but in a third line role with the Flyers, he’ll thrive.
The Flyers’ addition of Versteeg is representative of what makes both of these teams such juggernauts: both have unmatched depth. That was long the key to the Red Wings’ success, and now both the Flyers and Canucks have followed suit. Both teams have an abundance of capable forwards on both ends of the ice, six solid defensemen, and two good goalies.
We know anything can happen in the playoffs, but in watching the Flyers and Canucks this year it’s hard to see how any team can match their talent and depth and outlast them in the postseason.
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