NHL Playoff Pick 'em: Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Philadelphia Flyers

Note: Feel free to treat this post as an open thread for those of you watching games tonight.

Good theater is always to be expected from 4 v. 5 seed NHL playoff matchups, but this year offers particularly juicy ones in both the Eastern and Western Conferences. We polled you for your opinion on the intra-Central Red Wings vs. Predators series earlier.

Now we turn to the Battle of Pennsylvania, one of three series that begin tonight -- and one that is sure to draw some of the heaviest media attention. (Note: The regular LHH playoff prediction pool is here; get those votes in by this evening. You can also check out the SB Nation panel of picks, which I cowardly completely forgot to submit to.)

Pit-slim_medium Phi-slim_medium
4 Penguins (51-25-6) vs. 5 Flyers (47-26-9)
Season Series: Philadelphia, 3 reg. W, 1 OTW, 2 reg. L
Vermin Hangouts: PensBurgh | Broad Street Hockey

This one's made richer by rivalry, recent histrionics, and the quality of the teams. As a bonus, each team dropped a couple of games to the Islanders this season -- a rarity, and one that cost the Penguins a much better seed.

Vote your conscience below. But I suspect I'm like a lot of outside fans eager to watch these two loathsome teams tear one another apart and maybe, if we're lucky, fall into a hole for the good of humanity.


Overview

The Penguins are very good and they appear to have Sidney Crosby healthy and in form. They're so good, they've come this far mostly without Crosby's help -- and remember he was gone for last year's playoffs. They're so good, their fans can go on pretending Marc-Andre Fleury is an all-world goaltender without batting an eye, operating in an oblivious echo chamber reminiscent of the Penguins TV broadcast on any night of any season.

But as Chris Osgood has shown, when you have a fantastic team you only need an NHL goalie who is capable of being quite good here and there. The Penguins are that team. (Which, incidentally, is what makes all the charges of "arrogance" and such problematic; winning teams always draw scorn from their bitter rivals. But the Penguins' have operated with a "What, us do wrong?" attitude over the last several seasons that warrants criticism. A franchise born on third base -- twice -- thinking it hit a triple. So sorry that you actually have to slide into home.)

Speaking of fantastic teams, the Flyers are much less so but are still very deep. And constantly hit by blueline injuries and their own special head case in goal. The Chris Pronger injury really hurt, so it's impressive how well they've done in his absence. Up front, contributions from rookies Sean Couturier, Brayden Schenn and Matt Read have been essential in helping the Flyers overcome the near-term risk of dumping the Mike Richards and Jeff Carter contracts last summer.

They make a fitting first-round matchup, one where emotions and "momentum"-type events could sway things either way.

The Flyers famously won their first five appearances in Pittsburgh's new [FOSSILFUELENTERPRISE] Center, though the Penguins finally shook them in the final meeting of the season with no stakes on the line.

X-Factor That May Mean Nothing

These teams tied for the fifth-most productive powerplays in the league, but by shots generated at 5-on-4 the Penguins are near the top of the league while the Flyers are further behind but still top 10. The Penguins have an embarrassment of riches on the powerplay with Art Ross-winner Evgeni Malkin, which is why they've messed with Crosby at the point and appear to be altering that to give Kris Letang his space. (Aside: This is also probably why Jaromir Jagr picked Philly.)

This team could swing on special teams -- the Penguins have an excellent PK, too -- but it's close enough that either a bad roll of the dice could turn the narrative against the Pens.

History

So much delicious history, including major battles in 2008 and 2009 that saw the Pens emerge and reach the Cup finals. In 2010 it was the Flyers turn to run to the finals, though they did so while avoiding another Pens rematch.

Seeing Jaromir Jagr and Maxime Talbot in orange and black is a terrible sight for Penguins fans, and any contributions they make in this series will make defeat all the more bitter, victory all the sweeter.

But for the delightful and most recent history, there was this theater earlier this month:


I'm sure the NHL will be watching Peter Laviolette and Dan Bylsma (and Tony Granato) closely, just like they do John Tortorella ... right?

Pick 'em

This site is mostly for Islanders fans, which makes "rooting" for either side in this series an exercise far worse than kissing your sister. But who do you like, and who do you think will win?

Head Says: Pittsburgh in seven. Penguins should win, but the Flyers should make it close.

Heart Says: Let them all rot.

TV Schedule

Wednesday, April 11, 2012 7:30 p.m. Philadelphia at Pittsburgh NBC Sports Network, TSN
Friday, April 13, 2012 7:30 p.m. Philadelphia at Pittsburgh NBC Sports Network, TSN
Sunday, April 15, 2012 3 p.m. Pittsburgh at Philadelphia NBC, TSN
Wednesday, April 18, 2012 7:30 p.m. Pittsburgh at Philadelphia NBC Sports Network, TSN
*Friday, April 20, 2012 7:30 p.m. Philadelphia at Pittsburgh NBC Sports Network, TSN
*Sunday, April 22, 2012 TBD Pittsburgh at Philadelphia TBD
*Tuesday, April 24, 2012 TBD Philadelphia at Pittsburgh TBD
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