Slight edge to Flyers

MIKE ZEISBERGER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 1:08 PM ET


 If visiting teams are not already weary and wounded when they come to the City of Brotherly Love, they often leave that way.

 While the Broad St. Bully days of Dave Schultz, Don Saleski and the Watson brothers are long gone, the modern-day Philadelphia Flyers, led by Whitby native Keith Primeau, know how to administer a physical beating with the best of them.

 And with the banged-up Maple Leafs missing Owen Nolan and, quite possibly Mats Sundin, heading into Game 1 of the best-of-seven Eastern Conference semi-final against Philly tonight at the Wachovia Center, the relatively healthy Flyers appear to have a slight edge.

 "If the Leafs were healthy, boy, what a series this would be," said Toronto Sun playoff analyst Paul Maurice, a former coach who led the Cinderella Carolina Hurricanes to the Stanley Cup final two years ago.

 "But you have to wonder how long they can hold up with the injuries they have.

 "The Flyers play a similar system to the Ottawa Senators, the Hockey Canada-type format. Both employ a 1-2-2 forecheck and both play the neutral-zone trap. Where Toronto will see the difference is physically. The Flyers are a more emotional team than Ottawa, and everyone on Philly hits -- even Mark Recchi.

 "I was amazed at how the Leafs overcame their injuries against Ottawa, but I just don't know how long they can hold up against a gritty Flyers team."

 Here is Maurice's breakdown of the series:

 OFFENCE

 "This is a significantly different Toronto team when Sundin and Nolan are not in the lineup. That's why Philly gets the nod up front. The Flyers are big and can skate well, which is a very effective combination. Expect Keith Primeau to make it more difficult for Joe Nieuwendyk, one of Toronto's first-round heroes, to find open ice."

 Edge: Flyers.

 DEFENCE

 "Toronto's defence accounted itself well as the Ottawa series went on. The Sens had high shot totals, but the Leafs kept them, for the most part, to the outside and let goalie Ed Belfour have a clear view of the puck. The absence of Eric Desjardins hurts Philly. I don't think you'll see the Flyers defencemen pinch as much as Ottawa's did. Meanwhile, I think Brian Leetch will be more effective offensively than he was in the Ottawa series. It's close, but I think the Leafs have a slight advantage here."

 Edge: Leafs

 GOAL

 "Good for Robert Esche. He has quietly been one of the hotter playoff performers and had a great first series. At the other end, Eddie Belfour has put to rest any notions out there that the goaltender is not the most important player on the ice come playoff time. He is fully capable of playing this way for another six weeks."

 Edge: Leafs

 COACHING

 "You have one coach (the Leafs' Pat Quinn) who doesn't care what the media think and another one (the Flyers' Ken Hitchcock) who is better than anyone at working it. But you'd be hard-pressed to find two better guys out there. Pat did a nice job of making adjustments against Ottawa as the series progressed."

 Edge: Even

 SPECIAL TEAMS

 "Both sides have the talent to be excellent when it comes to this part of the game. But the key to special teams is momentum. If a power play gets confidence, watch out. But if it misfires it can lose it just as quickly. You just don't know. Ottawa had a great power play going into the playoffs yet struggled against Toronto. We'll see early on who has the edge here."

 Edge: Even

 INTANGIBLES

 "If Toronto loses the first game, all the Chicken Littles will come out predicting the sky is falling. But after what the Leafs overcame against Ottawa, this is a team that never counts itself out no matter what adversity it faces.They'll also get some time to heal because the first three games are during an eight-day span. On the other hand, the Flyers are relatively healthy and have home-ice advantage."

 Edge: Even

 THE SKINNY

 "Both are talented, gritty, well-coached teams, but does Toronto have enough gas in the tank left? Because of the rest they've had, I think the nod slightly goes to the Flyers. But don't count out the resilient Leafs, who likely will make this a long series."

 Edge: Flyers in six or seven.


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