One of the three series to open up the playoffs on Wednesday night will be one of the biggest rivalries in the NHL, as the two teams from the Keystone State will battle it out as the second and third seeded Metropolitan Division teams. The Pittsburgh Penguins hold the home ice advantage over the Philadelphia Flyers, after the conclusion of a regular season where the former finished with 100 points and the latter with 98. The Penguins come in with two regulation wins and two overtime wins in four games against the Flyers this season. Here’s our Pittsburgh plays Philadelphia 2018 Stanley Cup series pick.
Both team’s biggest questions will be net. In Philly’s crease Brian Elliott will look to overcome the abysmal playoffs that he had last season as a member of the Calgary Flames. Elliott started all four games of the series, but was pulled just over five minutes into game 4 against the Anaheim Ducks, ending his 2016-2017 playoffs with an 0-3 record, a .880 save percentage, and a 3.89 GAA. This regular season, Elliott did not have a great showing either, posting a .909 save percentage and a 2.66 GAA in 43 games played.
Along with this Elliott has seen limited action in the later parts of the season playing only two games since February 10th. In the crease at the opposite end of the rink will be Matt Murray. The 23-year old Murray finished the 2017-2018 season with a .907 save percentage and a 2.92 GAA. This save percentage was the seventh worst in the league among goaltenders with at least 30 games played. In terms of prior playoff performance, Murray has been almost unbeatable, and if he can shine again once more the Pens will have a great chance to win the Stanley Cup for the third year in a row.
In front of Murray, the Penguins’ blueline will also be a question for the team. Only two of the Penguins’ defensemen finished with a positive plus-minus rating this season. Justin Schultz led the team at +22 and Jamie Oleksiak finished at +13. Pittsburgh’s top defenseman Kris Letang (9-42-51) finished at -9.
In contrast the Flyer’s blueline ended the 2017-2018 seasons with only one of their top six defensemen sporting a minus, Travis Sanheim who finished -6 on the year in 49 games played. Led by Shayne Gostisbehere who has turned into an elite defenseman, the Philly D-corps looks deeper than the Penguins’ as Ivan Provorov (17-24-41, +17) has kept maturing defensively in his second season in the NHL, and Andrew MacDonald (+8 on the year) has looked more responsible than in prior seasons.
Offensively Pittsburgh has had little trouble scoring, ending the year with the third most goals scored in the NHL. Led by superstars Evgeni Malkin (42-56-98), who has had an MVP caliber season, Phil Kessel (34-58-92), and Sidney Crosby (29-60-89), The Pen’s scored an average of 3.29 goals per game. The Pens arguably have the deepest group of centers in the playoffs this year, with Crosby, Malkin, Derrick Brassard, and Riley Sheahan stacking the lineup down the middle of the ice, which is consistently one of the most important factors of Stanley Cup winning teams.
The Flyer’s offense this season was led by Claude Giroux who had the highest scoring season of this career at age 30. Giroux finished second in total scoring behind Connor McDavid with 102 points (34 goals, 68 assists) and comes into the playoffs on a 10 game point streak where he put up 19-points since March 17th. Philly has also received sizeable offensive production from Jakub Voracek (20-65-85), Sean Couturier (31-45-76), and Gostisbehere (13-52-65) who finished fourth in points by NHL defensemen. The flyers have been the 8th highest scoring team since the beginning of March, and should Murray not find his footing during this series, look like they will have little trouble scoring.
Pittsburgh Plays Philadelphia 2018 Stanley Cup series Pick
Overall this series is likely to come down to goaltending as its deciding factor. This year both Pennsylvanian teams have been threats offensively, but neither have received the performance in the crease that is needed to win the Stanley Cup. While prior performance in the post-season favors Matt Murray over Brian Elliott in net, should Pittsburgh not get solid goaltending in the first round and Elliott surprises, this series could go either way. With Pittsburgh’s depth down the middle though the Pens look more likely to come out on top. here is our Pittsburgh plays Philadelphia 2018 Stanley Cup series pick.