SAVORING THE sweet taste of victory over a hated rival, Flyers coach Peter Laviolette did not want to get into picking an opponent for the second round on Monday. It's hard to blame him, after his team just dispatched the odds-on favorite to win the Stanley Cup.
Not surprisingly, the Flyers went from a 14-1 shot to win the Eastern Conference to an 8-5 favorite on Monday.
"At some point," Laviolette said, "we'll get an opponent and they'll tell us who and where we are going."
That's fine. We'll take that opportunity to answer three lingering questions for him:
1. What would be the Flyers' best matchup?
Since the possibilities are far and wide, the options are endless. But if the Flyers had their pick of the litter, they'd probably choose the Florida Panthers. Florida still needs to finish off New Jersey in Game 6 on Tuesday night, but it would be the Panthers' first playoff series win since 1996.
Yes, Florida has remolded itself into a veteran team with considerable experience. But it doesn't have the depth to skate with the Flyers. The Panthers have one scoring line - and they already have been shut out twice in the first five games of the series. In fact, Florida scored zero, one or two goals in 21 of its last 33 games of the regular season. The Flyers were 3-1-0 against Florida this season.
The Bank Atlantic Center isn't exactly a tough place to play. Florida's own television rightsholder declined to televise Tuesday's game because the Marlins and Heat are playing regular-season games.
Most important, Kevin Dineen has been using Laviolette's trademarked Goaltending Carousel trick in the playoffs, swapping between Jose Theodore and Scott Clemmensen. That series would have "Flyers in 5" written all over it.
2. What would be the Flyers' worst matchup?
This is an easy and obvious one: the New York Rangers. There is something about the Rangers' dominance over the Flyers, particularly in net with Henrik Lundqvist. They've beaten the Flyers eight straight times now dating back to March 2011.
The Senators could do the Flyers a favor in Game 7 Thursday night: The Rangers are the only team in the East the Flyers did not beat at least once this year. Yikes.
Even if the Flyers were to beat New York, it's tough to imagine that, after two knock-down, drag-out series against hated rivals, they would have much left in the tank for a Cup.
3. Does the long rest help or hurt the Flyers?
With what could be a week off between games, since the second round isn't expected to start until Saturday at the earliest, the long layoff could go one of two ways for the Flyers.
They can either lose their hunger and their feel for the moment, or they can rest up and be an even bigger thorn for their opponent. For the Flyers, who might be more banged up than is publicly known, the rest is a big deal. Defensemen Nick Grossmann and Andrej Meszaros could be back in the lineup for the series. Meszaros has been skating for more than a week by himself without equipment, coming off lower-back surgery.
Danny Briere hinted on Sunday that many players were held together by little more than duct tape by the end of the first round. With such a young and fearless team, it's hard to imagine all that healing will hurt.
As the Penguins began to grapple with the harsh reality of an early spring in Pittsburgh on Monday, we couldn't help but think about a turning point for their season.
Looking back, it was probably the Flyers that began to set Pittsburgh back, with a 3-2, overtime win on March 18. The Flyers rallied from a 2-0, third-period deficit before Scott Hartnell won it with less than 1 second left in overtime.
That game snapped an 11-game winning streak for the Penguins. Their record after that loss? Just 9-8-0, including 3-5-0 against the Flyers.
MALKIN LAUDS 'COOTS'
After being limited to only four even-strength points in six games against the Flyers following a 109-point season, likely Hart Trophy winner Evgeni Malkin was clearly frustrated leaving the Wells Fargo Center on Sunday.
Malkin told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that it was his "most" disappointing loss as a Penguin. He did give kudos to rookie Sean Couturier and the job the Flyers' entire checking line did against him.
"I tried hard," Malkin said. "To play against the checking line all the way was hard. It was a tough series. I tried to play my game. They did a great job. They played unbelievable against us all year . . . offensively, defensively, they did it all."
Malkin did get in one dig, saying he "thought their [Flyers] goalie would be good for us," but cut himself off. Malkin became only the sixth Russian in NHL history to score 50 goals this season. Now, the Penguins will need to restructure their roster, and find a way to keep Malkin, Sidney Crosby and Jordan Staal together. Crosby and Staal will be playing in the final year of their deals next season.
The finalists for General Manager of the Year and Masterton Trophy (perseverance and dedication to the game) will be announced on Tuesday. It would be an absolute crime if Flyers GM Paul Holmgren is not in the mix for the league's top executive honor . . . Florida defenseman Brian Campbell was named a finalist for the Lady Byng Award, meaning he could become only the third defender in 66 years to win the award for gentlemanly conduct and sportsmanship. The Islanders' Matt Moulson and Edmonton's Jordan Eberle are also finalists . . . Centers David Backes (St. Louis), Patrice Bergeron (Boston) and Pavel Datsyuk (Detroit) were named finalists for the Selke Trophy as the top defensive forward.
Most Goals in a Playoff Series
69: Oilers-Blackhawks, 1985*
62: Blackhawks-North Stars, 1985*
61: Kings-Flames, 1993*
61: Sharks-Flames, 1995
* denotes six-game series
The Flyers and Penguins finished with 55 goals between them.
Here is where the other East series stand:
* Boston, the second seed, and Washington are preparing for Game 7 in Boston on Wednesday.
* Ottawa, the eighth seed, failed to eliminate the top-seeded New York Rangers Monday. Game 7 is Thursday at Madison Square Garden.
* Florida, the third seed, leads sixth-seeded New Jersey, 3-2, with Game 6 set for Tuesday in Newark. Game 7 would be Thursday in South Florida.
Here is what each combination of results means for the Flyers:
* If the Rangers, Bruins and Panthers win, the Flyers will be the lowest remaining seed and play the Rangers.
* If the Rangers, Bruins and Devils win, the Flyers play the Bruins, the third consecutive year the teams will have met in the postseason.
* If the Rangers, Capitals and Panthers win, the Flyers play the Panthers. The teams have not met in the playoffs since 1996 and the Panthers are the third only by virtue of winning their division, the weakest in the conference.
* If the Rangers, Capitals and Devils win, the Flyers play the Devils. The Flyers have won their last two postseason meetings against New Jersey.
* If the Senators, Bruins and Panthers win, the Flyers face the Panthers.
* If the Senators, Bruins and Devils win, the Flyers face the Devils.
* If the Senators, Capitals and Panthers win, the Flyers face the Capitals.
* If the Senators, Capitals and Devils win, the Flyers face the Senators and are the top remaining seed in the conference. They would have home-ice advantage through the conference finals.
"It was fast, it was physical, and the environment was great. In Pittsburgh, in Philadelphia, you got a sense of what it was like playing on the road and at home. You get the feel of what a lead like 3-0 is. [You] get to feel what it is like to lose a couple games in a row as the pressure builds. A lot of that is a positive for our group. You can look back and say we learned a lot so we can move forward."