A few short weeks ago, the Philadelphia Flyers were heavy underdogs going into a playoff series against the best player in the world.
After a wild first round, the situation is reversed.
The Flyers are the heavy favorites in their second-round series with the New Jersey Devils. And their own Claude Giroux suddenly is being touted as the best in the world after he helped trounce Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins in six games.
It's good to be a Flyers fan right now, as they have spent a week resting and watching the rest of the Eastern Conference playoff teams battle through seven-game series.
But it's time to get back to business. Sandwiched between the heated series with the Penguins and a potential conference final matchup with the rival New York Rangers is a series against the Flyers' old nemesis, the Devils.
The Flyers and Devils have met four times in the playoffs since 1995. The Devils won that year and in 2000 on their way to Stanley Cups, but Philadelphia ousted Martin Brodeur and Co. in 2004 and 2010, both times in five games.
Here are five questions that likely will determine the outcome of this series.
1. Will the Flyers be rusty? The week off helped players such as defenseman Kimmo Timonen recover from a physical series with Pittsburgh. But hockey is an emotional sport, and they Flyers have had a lot of downtime. New Jersey, meanwhile, is coming off an emotional, double-overtime victory in Game 7 on Thursday night against the Florida Panthers. Momentum is on the Devils' side, so the Flyers will need to overcome that.
2. Which goalie will be better? Brodeur vs. the Flyers' Ilya Bryzgalov is just about as compelling a goaltending matchup as you will ever see. One is arguably the greatest goalie ever but will turn 40 on May 6. The other is a bizarre reality-television star who signed for $51 million in the offseason. Each goalie was benched once in the first round, but both are capable of taking over a series.
3. Will the Flyers play down to the competition? If the Flyers play as well as they did against Pittsburgh, they should sweep the Devils. But the animosity they had toward Pittsburgh isn't there for New Jersey, and the Flyers might even get caught looking ahead to a showdown with the Rangers.
4. Can the Flyers dominate on the power play again? Philadelphia converted on an unheard-of 52 percent of its power plays against Pittsburgh. As a healthy James van Riemsdyk works his way back in, the unit could get even more potent. The question is how New Jersey will handle it. The Devils killed a league-best 89.6 percent of penalties during the regular season, but in the first round of the playoffs only Pittsburgh was worse than their 66.7 percent.
5. Will Sean Couturier shut down the Devils' top line? The Flyers' 19-year-old rookie was the defensive star of the first round, hounding Penguins superstar Evgeni Malkin. Now, Couturier likely will be matched against New Jersey's top line, which features Ilya Kovalchuk, Zach Parise and Travis Zajac. That line scored eight of the Devils' 18 goals in the first round. If Couturier can do as well against them as he did against Malkin, the Flyers should win this series easily.
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