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Farewell to the Devils

June 12, 2012 in Farewell, Playoffs

The finale of a series where Fanspeak said goodbye to the eliminated teams during the 2012 playoffs.

In a few weeks, the New Jersey Devils may be able to appreciate what they almost pulled off against the L.A. Kings in the Stanley Cup finals. But, for now, the Devils will be lamenting the fact that they couldn't capture the franchise's first championship since 2003 — and got blown out in the Kings' clinching 6-1 game six victory last night.

While the Devils gave the Kings more trouble than any of their previous opponents, they couldn't reinvigorate the victorious formula they discovered against the Florida Panthers, Philadelphia Flyers and New York Rangers. In the first three rounds of the playoffs, the Devils averaged 2.83 goals per game, allowed 2.33 goals per game and converted 18.2 percent of their power plays. Against L.A., they were outscored 16-8 and went one for 18 on the power play (5.5 percent).

Although they sported a similar puck-possession game as the Kings, their version wasn't as potent, missed on way too many opportunities and simply were out-hustled and out-dueled by a hungrier, bigger and better team. Coach Peter DeBoer, who had done so much this season to craft the team in his image and take them from a mess that missed the playoffs last season to a group that topped 100 points this time around, looked badly outmatched for the most part by Kings Coach Darryl Sutter.

Devils leading scorers Ilya Kovalchuk, Zach Parise, Travis Zajac and Bryce Salvador, who combined for 55 points in the first three rounds, notched just seven against the Kings. (By the way, the Devils boast three players whose last names begin with Z: Zajac, Dainius Zubrus and Marek Zidlicky. There are only eight players in the entire league who have last names beginning with Z.)

Major changes could be ahead for the Devils. Parise, the team captain, is an unrestricted free agent and will be the biggest prize on the market as of July 1 if New Jersey can't re-sign him before then. Franchise goalie Martin Brodeur, 40, is a UFA too, as are lesser-known players Stephen Gionta and Peter Harrold. Ilya Kovalchuk is signed through the apocalypse 2024-25 season, while Anton Volchenkov is under contract until 2015-16. Patrik Elias, Zajac, David Clarkson and Adam Henrique are signed through next season. Needless to say, it'll be an interesting off-season in Newark.

Hail to the Kings

June 12, 2012 in Playoffs

The Los Angeles Kings, after cruising through the first three rounds of the playoffs, took a harder path to winning the Stanley Cup. With their 6-1 victory over the New Jersey Devils last night in game six, the Kings earned the franchise's first championship in its 45th year of existence. It was the second Cup won by a California-based team, joining the rival Anaheim Ducks (who captured it in 2007). They're also the first team since those Ducks to capture the Cup on home ice.

The story of L.A.'s postseason is one of superlatives. While their clinching win came after their first two-game losing streak of the postseason, they went 16-4 overall in the postseason — the second-best mark ever — and 11-1 on the road, with the lone loss away from Staples Center occurring during Saturday night's game five against the Devils. L.A. allowed only 1.50 goals per game during the playoffs (a half-goal better than the next-best team, the Ottawa Senators, who were eliminated in the first round by the New York Rangers) and scored 2.85 goals per game.

Overall, the Kings outscored their opponents by a dominating 57-30 margin. (By comparison, the Devils only outscored their competition by a slim 59-58 margin.) Their penalty kill was best in the league at 92.1 percent, while their power play was revitalized against New Jersey. After converting just 8.1 percent of their extra-man opportunities against the Vancouver Canucks, St. Louis Blues and Phoenix Coyotes, the Kings scored on a whopping 30 percent (six-for-20) during the Stanley Cup finals, including three on a five-minute major in the first period of game six. The Devils, meanwhile, converted 18.2 percent of their power plays before the finals, but went just one-for-18 (5.5 percent) against the Kings.

Furthermore, L.A. goalie Jonathan Quick, who captured the Conn Smythe Trophy as the most valuable player in the postseason, stopped 125 of 132 shots in the Cup final to reduce his goals-against average to 1.41, the lowest in a playoff year among goalies who have played at least 15 games. The next-best mark is 1.55, compiled by Detroit's Chris Osgood in the Red Wings' 19-game Cup run in 2008. (s/t The Los Angeles Times)

The remarkable part in all of this is that the Kings were a No. 8 seed (the lowest seed to ever win a Cup) and the core of their team isn't going anywhere any time soon. Quick, 26, is signed through next season and will surely get a huge contract extension. Ditto captain Dustin Brown, 27. Rob Scuderi, 33, who just won his second Cup (he was a vital cog on the 2009 Pittsburgh Penguins), also is signed through next season. Otherwise, Anze Kopitar, 24, is signed through 2015-16; Mike Richards, 27, through 2019-20; Jeff Carter, 27, through 2021-22; Justin Williams, 30 through 2014-15; and Drew Doughty, 22, through 2018-19. The team's only notable free agents are Dustin Penner, 29 (who was on that Cup-winning Ducks team), and Jarret Stoll, 29.

Finally, hats off to 35-year-old Willie Mitchell, who has battled health concerns for much of his outstanding career. Mitchell captured his first Cup last night after being part of the Canucks team that lost to the Boston Bruins in last year's finals.

Here's betting that L.A.'s run to the Cup wasn't a fluke and the Kings perform much better next season and beyond.

Devils' Case for the Stanley Cup

May 29, 2012 in Playoffs, Preview

Second of a two-part preview of the 2012 Stanley Cup finals.

History: The New Jersey Devils boast three Stanley Cups (1995, 2000, 2003) and plenty of experience. Although goalie Martin Brodeur is the only player on the roster to win all three titles, Patrik Elias has captured the last two. According to Puck Daddy, the Devils are the best No. 6 seed in Eastern Conference history, and one of only three to crack the century mark (the others being these same Devils in 2004 and the Rangers in 2006, both of which had 100 even). Furthermore, while the team's trapping system has changed, its building blocks of defense and goaltending have not.

Road to the Finals: Defeated Florida Panthers, 4-3; defeated Philadelphia Flyers, 4-1; defeated New York Rangers, 4-2. The Devils, after surviving a scare in the first round, got stronger as the playoffs progressed and more comfortable with their playing style. N.J. has averaged 2.83 goals per game and allowed 2.33 goals per game. The Devils are playing their best hockey of the season right now.

Leading Scorers: Ilya Kovalchuk (seven goals, 11 assists); Zach Parise (seven goals, seven assists); Travis Zajac (seven goals, five assists); Bryce Salvador (three goals, eight assists).

Why They Will Win: The Devils were better than their seed indicates — finishing as the ninth-best team in the league during the regular season and one of 10 teams to surpass the 100-point plateau. Their offense is balanced and deadly, their defense is stellar, and Brodeur has found the fountain of youth after a few sub-par seasons. They can match the Kings stride-for-stride, goal-for-goal, and give L.A. a challenge unlike anything they've faced from the Vancouver Canucks, St. Louis Blues or Phoenix Coyotes. The Devils need to force the Kings to rely on players who are not on their top two offensive lines for goal scoring. They need to get ahead of the Kings and do something that no L.A. opponent has been able to do thusfar in the playoffs: win game one. The Devils also need to take the advantage on the power play, where the Kings have been anemic (8.1 percent), while New Jersey has been successful 18.2 percent of the time.

Why They Won’t Win: The Kings are most likely the best team in the league right now. If you add up the regular season point totals of their opponents, the Kings have had tougher competition (317 points for the Canucks, Blues and Coyotes vs. 309 for the Panthers, Flyers, and Rangers) in reaching the Stanley Cup finals — and took fewer games to reach 12 wins (while staying undefeated on the road). The Devils haven't faced an offense like the Kings' and also have less rest than the Western Conference champs. L.A. goalie Jonathan Quick has been stellar with 1.54 goals against average and .946 save percentage. While the Devils hold an advantage on the power play, the Kings' have a huge advantage over the Devils on the penalty kill (91.2 percent vs. 74.2 percent, respectively).

Intangibles: Experience is the Devils' biggest advantage, with Brodeur and Elias leading the way. They'll help the players on the roster making their first appearance in the Stanley Cup finals. Brodeur also is playing his best hockey in a long time, and the offense has been rolling. The Devils earned some rest by dispatching the Rangers in six games, too.

How the Series Might Go: New Jersey and L.A. play a similar puck-possession system, so the margin between the two teams is even smaller than in previous series. Both offenses and goalies are sure to dazzle, so the difference will come from the special teams battle (L.A.'s great penalty kill vs. New Jersey's solid power play) and the non-star players who provide magic at big moments.

Prediction: Kings in six games.

Kings' Case for the Stanley Cup

May 29, 2012 in Playoffs, Preview

First of a two-part preview of the 2012 Stanley Cup finals.

History: The L.A. Kings are in rarefied air for many reasons. It's only the second Stanley Cup finals berth in franchise history. Second, they're only the second No. 8 seed to ever reach the finals (the other was the 2005-06 Edmonton Oilers, who lost in seven games to the Carolina Hurricanes). Thirdly, this is only the fourth time that a team from California has reached the finals; the other two berths were by the rival Anaheim Ducks, who won the Cup in 2007 and lost in the 2003 finals to the New Jersey Devils. The Kings are undefeated on the road this postseason (8-0), becoming the first team to go unbeaten away from home on the way to the finals. Finally, this is the lowest combination of seeds (the Devils are the No. 6 seed) in the Stanley Cup finals since the NHL switched to the current format for the 1994 postseason. (It's hard to determine official conference seeding before then.)

Road to the Finals: Defeated Vancouver Canucks, 4-1; St. Louis Blues, 4-0; Phoenix Coyotes, 4-1. The Kings eliminated the top three seeds in the Western Conference, something last achieved by the 2003-04 Calgary Flames. Along the way, the Kings are 12-2 — boasting two fewer losses than teams eliminated in the first round and four fewer losses than the Devils. In fact, of the 16 playoff series played so far, seven have reached at least six games — meaning the Kings have fewer losses in three rounds combined than some teams did in one series.

Leading Scorers: Dustin Brown (seven goals, nine assists); Anze Kopitar (six goals, nine assists); Mike Richards (four goals, seven assists); Justin Williams (two goals, nine assists).

Why They Will Win: The Kings have that rare ability to combine an amazing offense with a stifling defense. L.A. has averaged 2.93 goals per game so far, while allowing just 1.57 goals per game — the only team in the league to give up fewer than two goals per game. While their power play is inept (8.1 percent), their penalty kill is deadly (91.2 percent). Not to be discounted is the fact the Kings have only played 14 playoff games — four fewer than the Devils. Rest will give them the same great advantage that they've had in previous rounds, when they've won the first two games (all on the road) in each series. Being able to do that against the Devils might possibly clinch it for them, although the Devils are 6-4  on the road (including two victories against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden).

Why They Won't Win: The Devils are the only other team in the playoffs that have the ability to match the Kings' offensive dominance. N.J. has averaged 2.83 goals per game, which is head and shoulders above everybody other than L.A. (not counting the numbers from the ridiculous Battle of the Keystone State between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh). The Devils have a relatively stingy defense (2.33 goals allowed per game, eighth), but then again, so did Vancouver, St. Louis and Phoenix. The Devils also have the ability to match the Kings' style of play, something their predecessors didn't, which could get L.A. off their game. The Devils are certainly the Kings' biggest challenge of the postseason.

Intangibles: While we've already discussed the Kings' ransom of rest and road play, let's not forget about their goalie. Jonathan Quick boasts an impressive 1.54 goals against average and .946 save percentage, the best in the league among teams that advanced beyond the first round. Finally, momentum is clearly on their side and, in the playoffs, that's not to be underestimated.

How the Series Might Go: New Jersey and L.A. play a similar puck-possession system, so the margin between the two teams is even smaller than in previous series. But if L.A. continues its road mastery, it'll win the first Cup in franchise history. And, given the ease in which the Kings plowed through their previous competition, it's hard to see their fate changing.

Prediction: Kings in six games.

Farewell to the Rangers

May 28, 2012 in Farewell, Playoffs

The continuation of a series where Fanspeak says goodbye to the teams that have been eliminated.

The New York Rangers ran out of magic against their cross-river division rivals, the New Jersey Devils, during the Eastern Conference finals. In beating the Ottawa Senators and Washington Capitals in the previous two rounds, the Rangers were able to ride lots of defense and shot blocking with just enough offense to win those series in seven games. But against the Devils, they lost three straight games for the first time this postseason — and the first time since March 6-9.

They ended the postseason averaging 2.15 goals per game, ninth overall and worse than everybody (except the Caps) who advanced out of the first round. They did allow only 2.05 goals per game, third best overall behind the Ottawa Senators and L.A. Kings, and boasted three of the top-four and four of the top-10 shot blockers in the playoffs (Ryan McDonagh, Dan Girardi, Marc Staal, and Ryan Callahan).

Offensively, Brad Richards, Girardi, Marian Gaborik, Callahan, Artem Anisimov, and Michael Del Zotto lead the way — with Richards justifying the monster contract he signed in the off-season. Richards was in the right place at the right time in the offensive zone and really bought into the team concept encouraged by Coach John Tortorella.

Finally, goalie Henrik Lundqvist (1.82 goals against average, .931 save percentage) was stellar throughout the Rangers' 20 playoff games, leading all goalies in time on ice with 1,250:49 (including five overtime games) and keeping his team in game after game after game.

After finishing a regular season in which the Rangers lead the NHL with 51 wins and boasting 2.71 goals per game, New York has to be concerned that their offense dipped about a half-goal per game in the playoffs and went long stretches where they looked out of whack. The Devils beat the Rangers at their own game and exposed weaknesses in their game that other teams couldn't.

Moving forward, Del Zotto is a restricted free agent and back-up goalie Martin Biron is an unrestricted free agent. Otherwise, the core of the team will return — but they need to find a way to be more consistent and keep improving their offense without sacrificing the defense that made them so dominant.

Farewell to the Coyotes

May 23, 2012 in Farewell, Playoffs

The continuation of a series where Fanspeak says goodbye to the teams that have been eliminated.

On the one hand, the Phoenix Coyotes should be thrilled that they made it to the Western Conference finals for the first time in franchise history. On the other, they should be disappointed that they were dismissed in five games by a team that finished two points behind them in the Pacific Division during the regular season.

But the biggest regret for the Coyotes should be the fact that everything that worked during series victories against the Chicago Blackhawks and Nashville Predators failed against the L.A. Kings. (More on the royal juggernaut during previews for the Stanley Cup finals.) In 11 games against the Hawks and Preds, the Coyotes allowed 21 goals (1.9 goals per game); in five games against the Kings, they allowed 14 (2.8 goals per game). Consider the flip side to that equation: they only scored eight goals in five games against the Kings (1.6 goals per game) compared to 29 goals in the first 11 games of the playoffs (2.63 goals per game). So they scored 1.3 fewer goals per game and allowed 0.7  more goals per game. Not a recipe for success.

This is a team that's depended on its defense all season and just couldn't slow down the Kings the way they had quelled the attacks of their previous opponents. That being said, they still allowed an average of 2.19 goals per game for their entire 16-game playoff season, which is still good for sixth in the league. Goalie Mike Smith had his best season as a pro, while Antoine Vermette, captain Shane Doan, Keith Yandle, Ray Whitney, Daymond Langkow, and Derek Morris all made solid contributions.

The biggest looming off-season question for the Coyotes is with the 35-year-old Doan, an unrestricted free agent. Here's betting he stays. Langkow and Whitney also are UFAs. But with Smith signed for another season, Yandle signed through 2015-16 and Morris through 2013-14, there are many good things going on in the Valley of the Sun.

But the best news for the franchise is that they're going to be staying put — thus ensuring that all the momentum they built this season can continue well into the future.

Caps Contemplate Massive Off-Season

May 15, 2012 in Playoffs

Last year at this time, the Washington Capitals were contemplating what went wrong after the Tampa Bay Lightning swept them right out of the conference semifinals. They vowed to get better, be more responsible, and play a better two-way system.

Here we are a year later, and the Caps lost (again) in the conference semifinals. They played better defense, but their offense was clearly weakened. Last year, they averaged 2.56 goals per game over nine playoff games, slightly better than the 2.07 goals per game they averaged in 14 games this postseason. Additionally, they gave up 2.67 goals per game in the playoffs last year, and that number dropped to 2.14 goals per game this time around. (This, of course, was a huge drop from the 3.14 goals per game they averaged during the 2010 playoffs, but then again, they lost in the first round that year.)

The offense has looked more stagnant each year and the defense has gotten more solid. What has changed, though, is the attitude of the team (at least in public). The players all spoke about putting team before self, and players were genuinely upset when Dale Hunter decided not to return as coach.

GM George McPhee’s first major decision of the off-season is deciding who should stand behind the bench next season. And he needs to do something he hasn’t done: find a coach who has won a Stanley Cup.

Four of the five coaches McPhee has hired as GM never coached an NHL game before leading the Caps. Only Ron Wilson, his first coach, had NHL coaching experience. Otherwise, Bruce Cassidy, Glen Hanlon, Bruce Boudreau, and Hunter all coached their first NHL game with the Caps. But that also follows the franchise’s historical trend. Over the course of the Caps’ 38 years of existence, only nine have included time with an experienced head coach – and eight of those nine years were eaten up by Wilson and Jim Schoenfeld. Otherwise, every other Caps coach was plucked from the minors (or juniors, in Hunter’s case).

But finding a new coach is only the tip of the iceberg. McPhee needs to find more players who will commit to a two-way style of play. There are clearly players who will do this that already are on the roster: Brooks Laich, Nicklas Backstrom, Troy Brouwer, Matt Hendricks and even Joel Ward (to some extent).

With Alex Semin pretty much bidding “do svidaniya!” to the Caps, the franchise has $6.7 million in cap space to find more players. Although they didn’t make as much, Keith Aucoin, Jeff Halpern, and Mike Knuble also could be gone.

Defensively, the two biggest question marks are Mike Green and Dennis Wideman. The former is a restricted free agent coming off a four-year, $21 million contract who has missed a significant number of games the last two seasons due to injury. His next deal will be smaller, and I imagine McPhee could give him a one-year deal to prove himself (which would bring him to unrestricted free agent status, I believe). Wideman was acquired at the trade deadline last season, and had an uneven campaign. Since he made almost $4 million this past season, he might be gone simply so the Caps can commit money elsewhere.

Uber-stud defenseman John Carlson is a restricted free agent and is in line for a huge raise and long-term extension. Dmitry Orlov is still young and learning, and probably will get more time with the Caps next season.

Some of the Caps’ positional requirements haven’t changed. They still need a second-line center and will now need a top-six forward with Semin’s departure. If Wideman leaves, they’ll need a pretty good defenseman, especially because Jeff Schultz and John Erskine aren’t reliable (and may not be tradeable).

McPhee has done pretty well in trades over the years, and the biggest prize this year is Columbus captain (and winger) Rick Nash, who does understand defensive responsibilities. If that doesn’t happen, there are a few other players out there could fit the bill. But nothing can happen until a new coach is hired, which will be McPhee’s most important acquisition this summer—and maybe over the entirety of his tenure as the Caps’ general manager.

Read more about Washington teams in Fanspeak’s DC Sports section.

Eastern Conference Finals Preview

May 13, 2012 in Playoffs, Preview

For the first time since 1994, the New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils will meet for the right to represent the Eastern Conference in the Stanley Cup finals. (And it's already guaranteed that the Eastern Conference will have home ice in this year's Stanley Cup finals.)

These Atlantic Division rivals last met in the playoffs in 2008, when the Rangers eliminated the Devils in five games in the conference quarterfinals. Although the Rangers also made the conference finals in 1997 (losing to the Flyers in five games), the New York-New Jersey series in 1994 was significant because it contained tons of drama (including a historic guarantee by Mark Messier that preceded Rangers' victories in games six and seven) and was a precursor to the Rangers winning the Stanley Cup.

The Devils, meanwhile, haven't made the conference finals since they won the Stanley Cup in 2003, the end of a nine-season run that contained three titles and another trip to the Stanley Cup finals. In fact, before this season, the team hadn't won a playoff series since 2007 and didn't even make the postseason last year.

The teams split six meetings during the regular season. The Devils have required fewer games (12) to reach the conference finals. New Jersey also is averaging three goals per game in the playoffs (best among teams still playing), while the Rangers are averaging 2.07 goals per game, which is the lowest amount. New York also is struggling to score a goal at even strength (five-on-five), something they did twice last night against the Caps but hadn't done since scoring the first goal of game five. The Rangers must be able to find a way to do that against the Devils because they probably won't receive too many power plays against New Jersey, who are only averaging about 10 penalty minutes per game (almost the same amount as the Rangers).

However, the Devils' penalty kill (73.9 percent) isn't very good — so the Rangers might be able to take advantage of that, if they can get their power play on track (15.8 percent, worst among teams still playing). The Devils' power play (20.9 percent) is the best among teams still playing, while the Rangers' penalty kill (82.6) is only slightly better than New Jersey's.

The stars of this series reside in goal: Henrik Lundqvist and Martin Brodeur. Lundqvist has been sparkling this postseason, sporting a 1.68 goals against average and .937 save percentage, while Brodeur has recaptured his youth with a 2.05 GAA and .920 save percentage.

Both teams have stars on offense. Ilya Kovalchuk (unlike Russian compatriot Alex Ovechkin) has shined during the postseason with five goals and seven assists (holding the NHL points lead among players still active), while the Rangers' Brad Richards (six goals, five assists) is just one point behind. The Devils' Travis Zajac (five goals, five assists) and Rangers' Marian Gaborik (four goals, six assists) also are succeeding.

This series is going to come down to whether the Rangers can continue to muster enough offense to win games and enough defense to slow down their opponent. The Devils boast the best offense they've faced as of yet and possibly the best defense and goalie (although the Caps and Senators have more-than-legitimate arguments in that regard).

In the end, the Devils are going to frustrate the Rangers and pay New York back for that 1994 defeat.

Prediction: Devils in six games.

Farewell to the Capitals

May 13, 2012 in Farewell, Playoffs

The continuation of a series where Fanspeak says goodbye to the teams that have been eliminated.

What an up-and-down season for the Washington Capitals. After changing coaches, not making moves at the trading deadline, pretty much (unofficially) putting a freeze on contract extensions and barely making the playoffs, the Caps eliminated the defending champion Boston Bruins in the first round before bowing out to the New York Rangers in last night's game seven of the conference semifinals.

After undergoing an identity transplant this season, the team managed to right the ship for the playoffs. — sorta. Their biggest find was Braden Holtby, who entered the playoffs with no postseason experience and only 21 regular-season games played, but ended with a 1.95 goals against average (sixth-best in the league), a .935 save percentage (also sixth) and all seven of the Caps' wins, not to mention constant lauding by myriad members of the national media.

Furthermore, in front of Holtby, the Caps' defense allowed just 2.14 goals per game and boasted a 87.5-percent effective penalty kill. Both led to all but one game being decided by one goal — despite some inept offense and occasional boneheaded penalties and line changes.

The lack of offense, ironically, is what cost the Caps in the end. Against the Rangers and Bruins, they averaged a little more than two goals per game and only converted 18 percent of their power plays. Although their special teams play improved during the postseason, it still misfired at key moments (such as the one they received late in the third period last night when they were down by a goal) and they still didn't get shots off on odd-man breaks.

This is a team that went from a "shoot early and often (and play defense when convenient)" mentality to just the opposite: concentrating on defense and trying to muster just enough offense to win games. It nearly worked — and did win them 7 playoff games — but they certainly weren't as effective as they could have been.

For a team that went from expecting to win their division and conference, to a team that just barely squeaked into the playoffs (and broke a streak of four straight division titles) to coming just one win away from the conference finals, there is a lot to ponder from the 2011-12 season.

Other than Holtby, the best players this season were the defensive team of Karl Alzner and John Carlson and center Nicklas Backstrom, who found his form in the playoffs after missing significant time during the regular season. Backstrom was the team's best player the entire postseason.

As for captain Alex Ovechkin, it was evident that he was trying (at times) to embrace Coach Dale Hunter's system. He was attempting to block shots and was a team player when his playing time was slashed. But for the team to really excel in the future, Ovechkin will need to find a balance between his preferred firewagon style and a more defensively-responsible environment.

Finally, this could have been the end of the Alex Semin era and maybe even that of Mike Green. Semin never looked comfortable under Hunter and Green had huge moments of panic. With Holtby's emergence, Tomas Vokoun — who missed the last part of the regular season and all of the playoffs — surely won't be back. Look for more on the team's future later this week.

Read more about Washington teams in Fanspeak’s DC Sports section.

Farewell to the Flyers

May 10, 2012 in Farewell, Playoffs

The continuation of a series where Fanspeak says goodbye to the teams that have been eliminated.

Although the Eastern Conference Finals match-up hasn't been set yet, it's time to say goodbye (belatedly) to the Philadelphia Flyers, who proved that match-ups mean everything. Against the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Flyers scored a league-high 30 goals and averaged 27.5 shots per game. But, in five games against the Devils, they scored just 11 goals, and after getting 36 shots in winning Game 1, they averaged just 24.5 shots per game over the final four games. (S/t NHL.com for the stats.)

Overall, the Flyers averaged 3.73 goals per game during the playoffs, but just 2.2 against the Devils (after averaging five per game against the Penguins) — and scored fewer goals (seven) combined over the course of the series' final four games (all losses) than they did in both game two and three against the Penguins, when they scored eight goals per game.

Furthermore, Claude Giroux and Danny Briere are still the leading point-getters in the league — but their offense dipped against the Devils. Giroux registered six goals and eight assists against Pittsburgh but just two goals and one assist against New Jersey (in four games, since he was suspended for game five). Briere was a little more consistent: he had five goals and three assists against the Pens and three goals and two assists against the Devils.

All in all, the Devils' strength on defense and in goal — in addition to their consistent offense and ability to rattle the Flyers — turned this series into a rout fairly quickly. The two teams split six regular-season meetings, but this playoff series showed that the Flyers had more flaws than they exhibited against the Penguins.

Unfortunately for Philadelphia, previous problems will continue into the off-season. They're still shaky in goal and on defense, and while their offense and power play are extremely strong, their psyche is not. They've also got to be concerned with the fact that captain Chris Pronger has missed so much time. He's signed through 2016-17 at nearly $5 million per season, so that eats up a lot of cap space. Defensemen Pavel Kubina and Matt Carle are unrestricted free agents as well.

Goalie Ilya Bryzgalov was a disappointment in the playoffs — and he's signed through the 2019-20 season at $5.67 million per year, so clearly the Flyers need to find a way to get more out of their investment.

It's going to be another interesting off-season in the City of Brotherly Love.