Leafs or Sens? Flyers ready

TERRY KOSHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 3:21 PM ET


 Here's a sobering thought for the Maple Leafs or the Ottawa Senators: The lucky winner of Game 7 tonight gets to square off in the second round with the snarling Philadelphia Flyers, who have been idle since Saturday after polishing off the New Jersey Devils in five games.

 Either the Leafs or Senators will be a tired and beaten-up bunch for Philly. Ottawa has finished the Flyers season in each of the past two springs, but Philadelphia coach Ken Hitchcock has his club performing like a well-oiled machine and doesn't really mind who emerges tonight.

 "I don't really have a preference," Hitchcock said of playing either the Senators or the Leafs. "Your only preference is that at this stage, you would really like to have as many home games as you can. As the playoffs move along, you really start to see the unbelievable value of home games."

 Look no further than Game 7 of the first round against the Leafs last spring, when the Flyers dominated and trounced Toronto 6-1 to win the series. Fans at the Wachovia Center are among the nastiest in the NHL -- unlike those in the platinum seats at the Air Canada Centre, who often respond as though they're at their first NHL game -- and can be a significant factor. There may not be a louder building in the league.

 "You knew the people in the stands wanted it as badly as our players did," Hitchcock said of the series-clinching win in Game 5 against the Devils. "You could feel the apprehension in the crowd in the third period, like they were thinking something bad could happen again. And when (Sami Kapanen) scored (in an open net), there was this huge sigh of relief that went from the crowd right down to the players. This crowd is playing a huge part in the playoffs."

 In the past, opponents have had to worry about people such as Jeremy Roenick and Keith Primeau when facing the Flyers, and they still do. But Alexei Zhamnov, acquired from the Chicago Blackhawks this season was great against New Jersey and led Philly with eight points. Young goalie Robert Esche is riding a wave of confidence after going up against Martin Brodeur and coming out on top.


Videos

Photos