Flyers vs. Canadiens: Who's the favorite?

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Habs4.jpgWe only have one day to dwell on the big series win by the
Philadelphia Flyers, one that has seemingly overwhelmed the incredible
win by the Montreal Canadiens over the Pittsburgh Penguins. While the
Flyers ousting the Bruins wasn’t exactly unexpected — although coming
back from down 0-3 was — the Habs taking out both the Penguins and the
Capitals in two straight rounds is something that absolutely no one saw
coming.

So now we have perhaps the most improbable conference
finals matchup in recent memory, and not just because it’s the bottom
two seeds in the conference. What both teams have had to overcome to
reach this point is nothing short of amazing, but unfortunately only one
team of destiny can advance from here.

The question is, which
team is now the favorite? Is it the Flyers, the team that has overcome
so many injuries and goaltending issues to surprise the Devils and then
shock the Bruins? Or is the Canadiens, who found the perfect system that
frustrated the heck out of the greatest hockey players in the world?

Whichever
it might be, there’s no doubt that this upcoming series will be like
nothing either team has faced before.

Chris
Iorfida of CBC Sports
lays out how the Flyers present a different
challenge for the Habs, as they may actually be — at this point — a
more complete team than the Penguins and the Capitals:

Philadelphia, even without Carter, still has six players in the
lineup who scored at least 14 goals this season. The list doesn’t
include talented late-season pickup Ville Leino, who stepped into the
lineup in the Boston series and contributed two goals and four assists.

The list is headed by Mike Richards. The captain isn’t quite on the
level of Ovechkin, Crosby or Malkin, but he can score regularly while
also giving maximum effort in his own end, something that can’t always
be said of that trio.

The Canadiens were successful against the Penguins and Capitals by
playing a system that was nearly the direct opposite of those two teams.
The Habs used sound defense and stellar goaltending to negate the
offensive attack that both teams employ while utilizing their
counterattack approach to perfection. The Canadiens managed this by
taking out the two best players on each team and taking advantage of the
lack of depth each team turned out to have.

The Flyers present a different challenge for the Habs, a team that is
just as relentless and deep as they are. But turned around, you also
have to think that the Flyers have yet to face a team like the Habs.

Both the Devils and the Bruins lacked the attitude and the confidence
the Habs now possess, nevermind the defensive fortitude and goaltending
they’ve build through two series. The knockout, physical and hard
fought series we expected with the Bruins should certainly come to
fruition against Montreal.

Which team is the favorite? It’s likely that most will pick
Philadelphia after the momentum they’ve build after the series against
Boston. Despite the different challenges that the Canadiens will face
with the Flyers, there’s no way you can count them out. Especially in a
seven game series.

Lightning lament Game 6 effort, Cooper doesn’t blame disallowed goal

TAMPA, FL - MAY 24:  Brian Boyle #11 of the Tampa Bay Lightning reacts after losing to the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game Six of the Eastern Conference Final with a score of 5 to 2 during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Amalie Arena on May 24, 2016 in Tampa, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Carlson/Getty Images)
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The Tampa Bay Lightning seemed to sleepwalk through the first two periods of Game 6, and waking up in the final frame wasn’t enough to edge the Pittsburgh Penguins.

On the bright side, at least the Lightning aren’t in denial about that weak first 40 minutes.

It seemed like everyone on the team more or less admitted as much in unison.

Brian Boyle added that he felt like the Lightning tiptoed around this game. Jon Cooper often provides great quips, yet he was pretty matter-of-fact in this case.

Many will linger on this disallowed goal for Jonathan Drouin, which would have provided a 1-0 lead for Tampa Bay in the first period.

Let’s face it; that moment came pretty early in the game. To Tampa Bay’s credit, they’re not pinning the loss on that setback.

Now they must set their sights on competing throughout Game 7 … and maybe earning some bounces of their own in the process.

Read more about Game 6 here.

Penguins force Game 7 after holding off Lightning rally

TAMPA, FL - MAY 24:  Kris Letang #58 of the Pittsburgh Penguins celebrates with his teammates Sidney Crosby #87 after scoring a goal against Andrei Vasilevskiy #88 of the Tampa Bay Lightning during the second period in Game Six of the Eastern Conference Final during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Amalie Arena on May 24, 2016 in Tampa, Florida.  (Photo by Jason Behnken/Getty Images)
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The Pittsburgh Penguins played with fire late in Game 6, but they also showed plenty of fire in beating the Tampa Bay Lightning 5-2.

With that, this thrilling Eastern Conference Final will go the distance with Game 7 on Thursday.

There are at least a few “What if?” scenarios to consider, especially for the Lightning.

What if that offside goal counted?

Jonathan Drouin played some fantastic hockey on Tuesday, yet his most memorable moment came via something that ultimately “didn’t happen.” An offside call on a goal review kept a 1-0 lead from happening for Tampa Bay:

Instead, the Penguins poured it on during the first period and eventually went up 1-0. They then carried that momentum over through the second period, adding two more goals to go up 3-0 heading into the final frame.

What if Tampa Bay played more like they did in the third period?

The difference between the level of play in the first 40 minutes and the final frame were night-and-day.

Now, you can make a chicken-and-the-egg argument here. Did the Penguins take their feet off the gas with that lead? Maybe Jon Cooper finally unleashed the hounds when the Lightning were facing a big deficit?

Maybe it’s a combination of those factors; either way, the Bolts couldn’t come all the way back even after making it interesting. At one point the game was 3-2 before a Bryan Rust breakaway goal and an empty-netter put things out of reach.

Both Matt Murray and Andrei Vasilevskiy faced plenty of tough chances and came through more often than not. We’ll see if there are any goal controversy rumblings, but each netminder came through at times tonight.

***

Now the series shifts back to Pittsburgh for Game 7 with a Stanley Cup Final on the line. Excited and/or nervous yet?

More: Great goals by Sidney Crosby and Phil Kessel.

Sidney Crosby scores a superstar goal

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With the Pittsburgh Penguins’ season on the line in Game 6, plenty of eyes are on big guns Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang and Phil Kessel.

Those marquee names are really coming through so far as they’ve now built a 3-0 lead through two periods against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

You likely already saw Kessel’s display of high-end hand-eye coordination (if not, check it here). Kris Letang scored his first goal of the series to make it 2-0 on a very tricky, well-placed shot.

The highlight really might be Crosby’s tally, though. He left multiple Lightning players baffled and beat a very-much-game Andrei Vasilevskiy to beef that lead up 3-0.

Video: Phil Kessel displays incredible hand-eye coordination on goal

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This has been a tough postseason for Phil Kessel haters.

The supposed “choker” is on a team that’s in the Eastern Conference Final, but Kessel obviously isn’t just in for the ride with the Pittsburgh Penguins. He scored his 18th point in 17 postseason games by scoring the 1-0 goal against the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 6.

(Watch that goal in the video above.)

It was a dramatic first period, with a Jonathan Drouin goal getting disallowed and Andrei Vasilevskiy making some huge saves on tough chances.

Can Pittsburgh protect this slim lead with 1-0 down one period? We’ll see, but either way, what a great postseason for Kessel.

Update: Here’s the goal Kessel accidentally “scored” for the Lightning:

Ouch.