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Series breakdown: Flyers (5) vs. Penguins (4)

Oct. 14:Flyers 2 at Penguins 3 (OT)Nov. 13:Flyers 4 at Penguins 5 (SO)Dec. 13:at Flyers 6, Penguins 3Jan. 13:at Flyers 2, Penguins 4Feb. 21:at Flyers 4, Penguins 5Mar. 22:Flyers 3 at Penguins 1

The Skinny: Why is this series being called the most competitive of the eight first-round clashes? Not to be a stats monkey, but have a look at the numbers. Both the Flyers and Penguins scored 264 goals. They allowed a nearly identical number (Philly gave up 238 to Pittsburgh's 239). Both teams finished with 99 points apiece.

If the re-match of last year's Eastern Conference final looks like a pick 'em, well, it could be. But the matter of how each team arrived here could tell the tale.

The Voorheesian late-season revival of the Pens under new coach Dan Bylsma has been well covered. The rookie coach pushed all the right buttons on the way to an 18-3-4 final leg. Of course, it helped that he had a few more buttons to choose from -- including Sergei Gonchar, Bill Guerin and Chris Kunitz -- than did his ill-fated predecessor.

The Flyers, on the other hand, struggled to put together a 60-minute effort over the season's final six weeks, during which they played sub-.500 hockey. Most distressing was the final weekend. All they needed was a single point at home against the Rangers to clinch fourth place. They dropped their final game in regulation despite taking a lead into the third.

Sure, the Flyers are deeper and healthier than when the two teams met last year. But that deeper, healthier team had home ice heading into the final week of the season and blew it. Don't be surprised if that comes back to haunt them.

Spotlight's On:Mike Richards and Jeff Carter. Offensively, this series boils down to Philadelphia's fleet of destroyers against Pittsburgh's pair of aircraft carriers. If the Flyers hope to advance, they'll have to scuttle Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby . . . and they just might have a plan to pull it off. Richards and Carter shadowed the duo in their last meeting and not only held them off the scoreboard, but the shot sheet as well. They're not going to contain the two Pens throughout the series, but even one or two games like that might tilt the balance in Philadelphia's favor. Honestly, they don't have a choice. Malkin and Crosby combined for 16 points in the five other meetings this season.

X-Factor for Flyers:Danny Briere. A series of injuries limited the feisty center to just 29 games, but he still managed to score 25 points while playing mostly on the third line. He's been equally productive in the postseason, putting up quantity and quality. Three of his nine goals last spring were game-winners.

X-Factor for Penguins: Petr Sykora. It's hard to believe that a legitimate NHLer skating alongside Malkin for extended periods would be limited to four goals and two assists in his last 25 games. Kinda gives you a new appreciation for Warren Young, doesn't it? For Malkin to be effective, he'll need his winger to be more than just a sweater-filler.

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