Yesterday we rolled out the Tale of the Tape for the West, and today we look closer to home. Everyone, break out your keystones! It’s the Battle of Pennsylvania! You’re got a friend in this series, because you’ve got a friend in Pennsylvania! (Yes, Gentle Reader, it’s true. Everything we know about the great state next door we learned from their license plates.)
Pittsburgh (2) vs. Philadelphia (6)
Looking at the “forwards v. defense” breakdown for this series, we can’t help but notice the decisive mismatch of “Sid & Malkin v. Hatcher”. Which, of course, favors Philly hugely. Oh, wait — the point is to win the series? Huh. That changes everything. To be fair, we hardly look at Pittsburgh’s blue line and think, “How impenetrable!” either, so it’s probably not kind to poke too much fun at the Flyers just because they still have the misfortune of having to dress Derian Hatcher every night. The fact is that no one in the league has, on paper, the answer to the one-two punch of Sid and Malkin. Meanwhile, we don’t really have any idea yet who plays for the Flyers. We ignored them all year, but for the eight times the Devils played them (during which the Devils managed to score something like 20% of their total offense for the entire season, while still being shut out twice), and now that we’ve been enjoying them in the playoffs, it’s like a breath of fresh air — all these players we’ve never heard of before! Since this year’s Playoff Flyers are existing in a vacuum for us, how are we to know Umberger isn’t as awesome as Malkin? In reality, there is no question that the Pens are a better team, pound for pound, than the Flyers, but in our playoff vacuum, the Flyers were scoring at will against the Second Coming of Patrick Roy (what? He wasn’t the second coming of Roy? Get out!), and the Pens were outplayed at even strength by the Rangers. So as long as the Flyers don’t get into penalty trouble, they– wait, what? Huh. Okay, Advantage: Penguins
Watching Fleury and Biron is like eating a store-bought cake at a employees-only birthday party. At first it seems like it’s the best cake you’ve ever had because it’s the middle of a long work-day and a sugar rush is just what the doctor ordered. Two or three bites later you start to have your doubts, but you’re like, “Hey, it’s still cake, right?” Then comes the fateful bite when you realize that underlying flavor of coconut oil can longer be denied, nor can you continue to ignore the fact that the amount of icing on the cake is obscene. The remaining half of the cake goes straight to the garbage can as you go on a desperate search for a can of soda to wash down the memory of that awful, awful birthday cake. Fleury and Biron are both riding that mid-day sugar rush as they both look more than serviceable, good even. Biron, in particular, has been making huge saves left and right. However, we have so little faith in both of them that we’re fairly confident that fateful bite of awfulness is just over the horizon. The only question is, will it be in this round or the next? Of course, this is Philly we’re talking about. It always comes down to goaltending for Philadelphia. Advantage: Penguins
For reasons we totally can’t verbalize, we have long labored under the perception that Michel Therrien is a hack. Maybe it’s because the guys on the national TV feeds (hint: his name rhymes with “Blierre Blcguire”) have been pulling “Look for Therrien to be fired by [X date]!” rumors out of their asses for the last two seasons. Of course, those same people were telling us John Stevens was going to lose his job this year, too. So if you believe everything you hear (which we certainly do), both of these guys are scrappy underdogs who also kind of suck as coaches. As Devils fans, we’re also more than willing to blame everything bad that happens with a team on the coach, so we’re doubly willing to think these guys are both coasting on the awesomeness of their players more than being brilliant bench bosses. Our assessment of them is going to have to come down to one thing: Therrien looks like a slightly less lumpen version of Brent Sutter, while Stevens looks like a guy who you’d have a huge office crush on if he worked in your cubicle sea. Advantage: Flyers
While the Pittsburgh uniforms are hardly the Montreal “CH” or, even better, the Hartford Whalers “HW” (a vastly underappreciated logo) at least they don’t make the Penguins look like they’re wearing shrugs over their unis. That the Flyers look like they’re wearing shrugs in Flyers orange only makes our eyeballs projectile vomit that much more. Advantage: Penguins
Let’s see, Pittsburgh’s got Iceburgh the Penguin and the Flyers have Bobby Clarke. Iceburgh rocks the classic mascot tailoring (loose fitting fuzzy suit with eyeholes in the character’s mouth, or in this case, beak); Clarke is cut from the “classic” hockey player cloth (gap toothed smile and narrow-minded bombast). Iceburgh spends the duration of hockey games wandering the crowd, clapping his wings and googlying his googly eyes, and shaking his head sadly when fan after fan after fan can’t correctly identify a picture of Malkin covered in pizza slices on the Jumbotron (seriously, people, we saw this happen); Clarke passes hockey games sitting in a Barcalounger wondering why no one has hired him as GM and flinging darts at pictures of Eric Lindros and Roger Neilson. Iceburgh makes up for a rather uninspiring collection of mascot-tricks by adding an adorable “h” to the word “iceberg”; Clarke tries to fool people into thinking he wasn’t the crackpot “genius” responsible for the decline of the Flyers by dropping the potentially-soft-sounding “-by” from “Bobby”. When all is said and done, though, Clarke is the far more entertaining figure. Advantage: Flyers
Players We Love, In Spite Of Ourselves:
Every self-respecting contrarian Devils fan should hate all mega-super-duperstars, but we can’t deny it: we love Malkin and Sid. News flash: they’re just so awesome! There… aren’t a lot of other Pens we like. But Sid and Malkin! So awesome! On the other side of this matchup, there’s the Flyers. And the sad truth is that we know so little about them, and have been cheering for them anyway for the last two rounds, that we kinda, sorta, a little bit, just a skoch, like most of them. Even though we know we should hate them all. For starters, we decided to settle our random, Getzi-style playoff crush this year on Mike Richards, who looks so much like all the theater nerds we ran with in high school and college that it’s hard to believe he’s not a guy who makes Brecht jokes all the time. Pookie’s got a nascent playoff-goggle crush on Jeff Carter. We all love once and future Devil Jason Smith. Thanks to his curly hair and burly build, we’ve assigned an Intermission-inspired nickname on Scott Hartnell: “Hard As Nails Cunts”. How do you not love a guy called “Hard As Nails Cunts”? But still. Sid and Malkin! Advantage: Push. We’re going to have to wait and see how our hearts settle when this one starts.
Players Who Annoy The Living Crap Out Of Us:
This one pits Ryan Malone vs. Steve Downie. Every time Downie takes the ice Boomer hisses, “sociopath”. Every time Malone takes the ice, Schnookie shrieks like a banshee. Downie has a history of dirty, malicious, sickening play; the fact that he’s still in the league at all is a disgrace. Malone thinks he’s hotter than he actually is. That’s just wrong. Advantage: Flyers
Playoff History Against New Jersey:
Since we’ve been Devils fans, we’ve seen our fair share of memorable playoff series. One, in 1999, was a complete heartbreaker of a 7-game first-round choke job that ended in a Penguins win and the driving of the final nail into the coffin of our ability to stomach Jaromir Jagr. Another, in 2000, was the single most awesome 7-game ECF choke job that ended in the Devils going on to win the Cup and Schnookie experiencing the unbridled joy that is listening to a Flyers fan say, “Yeah, well, you guys might have won three in a row, but we had you up 3-1. We won three in a row, too.” Other series that don’t figure as prominently in the forefront of our hockey consciousness include a five-game ECF in 2001 that ended in the Devils going on to lose the SCF, and included the wheels falling off a young phenom of a Pens goalie and the infamous (and delicious) “Hey Ace” goal. Another was a five-game first-round mercy-killing that put an end to the Devils’ miserable 2004 while launching the Flyers run to… whatever it is they accomplished in 2004. So there’s good and there’s bad on both sides. We’ll toss in the 1995 ECF that predated our fandom, though, and say Advantage: Flyers
City Claims To Fame:
We’ll kick this off with a little free association.
Schnookie: Independence Hall! It kicks ass!
Pookie: PSFS building, the first office building to have air conditioning!
Schnookie: [crickets chirp]
Pookie: [crickets chirp]
Okay, okay, that’s not really fair. Pittsburgh treated IPB very well on our visit there in October. We were pleasantly surprised by the stunning approach to the city skyline. We were also extremely pleasantly surprised to find ourselves smack dab in front of the Allegheny Courthouse Jail (designed by IPB favorite H. H. Richardson) while trying to drive out of the city. In short, Pittsburgh is the Arron Asham of cities. Philly, on the other hand, is the closest major city to stately IPB Manor. How many times have we ventured into the city proper in almost 20 years of living less than an hour from the City of Brotherly Love? Well, Pookie twice got lost in Center City driving to and from a job interview she didn’t get, and… that’s about it. This is a really tough one because we truly love both of their airports. But since Philadelphia is a day trip from here, we’ll say Advantage: Flyers
The numbers don’t lie, Gentle Reader: 5-3 Philadelphia. We fully expect the Pens to be able to overcome this numerical disadvantage, though. Meanwhile, we’re going to let go and let Playoff Goggle. We simultaneously really loathe and really like both these teams. It should be fun.