A play-off contest between the Boston Bruins and the Philadelphia Flyers always intrigues.
But never more than this year.
Boston hold a 2-0 lead after Monday night's victory in Philadelphia, but they know all too well that nothing is a sure thing against the Flyers. It was just 12 months ago that Philadelphia shocked Boston by roaring back from a 3-0 series deficit to eliminate the Bruins from the play-offs.
That was just the third time in the 90-year history of the NHL that a team had rallied from three games down to win a series, and the fact the Flyers came back from a three-goal deficit in Game 7 made the story all the more remarkable.
Or, from the Bruins' perspective, all the more tragic. It was the kind of defeat that could ruin a franchise for a decade or more, if the management decided the core pieces were not strong enough and opted to strip down and start over.
The Bruins, however, did not panic. They kept the goalkeeping tandem of Tim Thomas, who struggled with injuries, and Tuukka Rask, the promising youngster. They kept key defenceman Zdeno Chara and most of the forward group, led by Patrice Bergeron, Milan Lucic and David Krejci.
The decision to tinker with the fringes of the line-up rather than make major moves was a good one.
Thomas turned in a great season and could win a second Vezina Trophy in three years. Chara has been nominated for the Norris Trophy as the top defenceman. Bergeron remains a two-way star while Lucic and Krejci had breakout seasons.
The Bruins brought back Mark Recchi, 43, and his veteran leadership - and on-ice performance - speaks for itself. The Bruins won their division and gained the No 3 seed in the East entering the play-offs. (The Flyers, meanwhile, led the conference for most of the season before a late-season swoon dropped them to second place.)
Boston survived a first-round battle with Montreal, finally dispatching the feisty Canadiens in overtime of Game 7. The series was probably tougher than it should have been, but that the Bruins were able to win three games in overtime should add some steel to their play-off mettle. The first round is generally acknowledged as the toughest, and the Bruins passed that test.
Which brings us to Philadelphia. The Flyers, of course, have their own redemption motivation this post-season after losing in the Stanley Cup final to Chicago last year. But to make amends, they will have to get past Boston again. They are already in an 0-2 hole after losing two games at home, and cannot expect the Bruins to be as forgiving as they were a year ago.
NHL play-offs this week
Players of the week
• Dwayne Roloson, Tampa Bay. The goalie sparked the Lightning to three victories over Pittsburgh and two straight wins over Washington.
• Claude Giroux, Philadelphia. The Flyers winger has collected two assists in four consecutive games to take over the play-off scoring lead.
• Vincent Lecavalier, Tampa Bay, below. He has come alive with three goals and seven points in his past five games, including two game winners.
Teams of the week
• Tampa Bay. The Lightning have won five in a row, thanks to a gutsy comeback against the Penguins and early domination of the Caps.
• San Jose. The team that no one is talking about will not be swimming under the radar for much longer.
Duds of the week
• Pittsburgh Penguins. The Pens blew a 3-1 series lead to bow out of the play-offs. That stings.
• Ryan Miller, Buffalo. The Sabres stopper surrendered nine goals in his final five periods of play.
• Scott Gomez, Montreal. The Canadiens centre managed two assists in the final four games against Boston, posting a minus-6 rating.
Games of the week
• Washington v Tampa Bay, today, Saturday and Monday. The Capitals need to win a pair of games in enemy territory to even the series.
• Vancouver v Nashville, tomorrow, Saturday and Monday. It appears that goals will be at a premium in this series after the Canucks won the opener 1-0 and the Preds won 2-1 in overtime in Game 2.