Thursday, May 6, 2010 Updated: May 7, 6:35 PM ET
Five things to watch: Bruins-Flyers
By Matt Kalman ESPNBoston.com
PHILADELPHIA -- It's appropriate that the Bruins could, if they were so inclined, bring their brooms to Wachovia Center for Game 4 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series against Philadelphia on Friday.
After all, two weeks ago, most would've thought that the only way Boston would be in the second round with a chance to complete a sweep and advance to the conference finals would've been through witchcraft.
Instead, despite a rash of injuries and in the aftermath of a regular season that had many questioning the direction of the franchise, Boston has gritted its way to the cusp of the Eastern Conference finals on the strength of hard work, solid team defense, phenomenal goaltending and timely scoring. No potions, spells or tricks have been involved.
The Bruins' injury carousel has taken a couple more spins with David Krejci and Adam McQuaid out and Mark Stuart seemingly ready to be in. Trent Whitfield and Brad Marchand are the top two candidates to replace Krejci in the Bruins' forward pool. The lineup juggling should give the Bruins a slightly different look but not diminish their chances of closing out this series and getting some much-needed recuperation time.
Stanley Cup Playoffs
The underdogs face off as the Bruins host the Flyers in an old-school showdown. After knocking off the Nos. 3 and 2 seeds, respectively, only one will earn a spot in the conference finals. Follow the matchup from Day 1 on ESPN.com. Series page
Here are five things to watch for in Game 4 as the Bruins try to sweep the Flyers:
1. Who replaces Krejci?
Assuming Stuart is medically cleared to play Friday, coach Claude Julien's choice of a replacement for McQuaid will be made for him. However, weighing Whitfield versus Marchand is one decision he'll have to make on his own. The odds are more in Whitfield's favor based on experience and age. The 32-year-old has close to 200 games of regular-season NHL experience and 14 games of playoff experience. He's better equipped to handle the big stage than Marchand, a rookie who played in only 20 games this season. Plus, Whitfield won 57.9 percent of his faceoffs in 16 games for Boston this season, and Marchand tends to get goaded into unnecessary extracurricular activity. (The Bruins don't need to wake up the sleeping Flyers.) You have to figure Whitfield will get the nod between Shawn Thornton and Steve Begin on the Bruins' grind line.
Then, Julien could use either Marc Savard or Vladimir Sobotka to center Milan Lucic and Miroslav Satan. Both are left-handed wingers, and Krejci is right-handed, so there will be some adjusting. Neither Savard nor Sobotka is Krejci, but Savard's vision is comparable, and Sobotka's ability to anticipate and throw the body on the forecheck is Krejci-like. Julien can't go wrong either way and might flip them depending on the situation, as he did in Game 3.
2. Stuart stepping in
Julien didn't sound overwhelmingly excited about Stuart's conditioning -- he called him "good enough" -- on the eve of his potential return to the lineup for the first time since April 1. Should Stuart be a tad slow, that could force Julien to keep riding his top five for more minutes than he'd like to under ideal circumstances. Of course, that won't be a factor if the Bruins can close things out and get some rest.
Should Stuart get up to speed quicker, the Bruins will benefit immensely because with Stuart and Andrew Ference as their last defensive pairing, the Bruins won't need to be as concerned about matchups, which are harder to control on the road when a team doesn't have the second change. With McQuaid in the lineup, there was a lot of energy expended to keep him away from Philly's big guns. A healthy and ready Stuart provides the Bruins with a physical presence and a steady puck mover.
3. Philly's getting healthy, too
After skating Thursday, Flyers winger Simon Gagne seemed on the cusp of returning to action for the first time in this series. A 17-goal scorer in 58 games this season for the Flyers, Gagne could be the type of injection of speed and hands the club has lacked in this series. Of course, the Flyers probably are hoping for an emotional boost as much as a tangible one. Much like Buffalo's Thomas Vanek in the first round, a healthy Gagne, even if he's not 100 percent, gives the Flyers a threat at even strength and on the power play whom the Bruins will have to worry about.
4. Special-teams war
After surrendering two power-play goals in Game 1, the Bruins have shut out Philly's power play in the past two games. Should the Bruins find themselves on the wrong end of some calls against a desperate Flyers team, they'll need to get solid penalty-killing performances. By the same token, Boston has to make sure its power play is more of a threat than it has been, at least to create momentum if not goals.
5. Saving face
With the exception of two periods of Game 1, the Bruins have pretty much dominated the faceoff dots. Krejci's absence puts the onus on Savard and Sobotka to keep that going. The Flyers, like most teams, struggle when they're chasing the puck, as we've seen all series. This point also goes back to why Whitfield should get the nod over Marchand, who has mostly played wing since turning pro. Patrice Bergeron has to maintain his dominance of Mike Richards on draws, as well.
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for ESPN Boston and runs TheBruinsBlog.net. His first book, "100 Things Bruins Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die," will be published by Triumph Books in the fall and can be preordered here.