By Matt Mastrogiovanni, Sports Talk Philly staff writer
The stage is set. Wednesday night will not only mark the commencement of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs, but also the start of another chapter of the Battle of Pennsylvania between the Flyers and their cross-state rivals, the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Meeting in the postseason for the first time since the fabled 2012 quarterfinal series, both teams have changed immensely. Philadelphia is in the playoffs for the first time in two years, while Pittsburgh has as many Stanley Cup championships in that span.
Taking a look at the Penguins, they've only added to their already deep roster since the last time the teams met in the postseason. Offensive weapons like Phil Kessel, Jake Guentzel, and the recently acquired Derick Brassard are just the tip of the iceberg.
Adding to the list players like Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Patric Hornqvist only bolsters a heavily-armed Pittsburgh offense.
Goaltending for the Penguins has also been resurgent. The young Matt Murray has backstopped the Penguins to their back-to-back championships and can still pose a huge threat to the Flyers' offense.
Overall, as much as many Flyers fans may hate to admit, the Penguins have a very well-rounded squad.
On the other hand, a new-look Philadelphia team may have what it takes to go toe-to-toe with their first-round foes.
Looking at the offense, it's obvious that the Flyers have weapons of their own. Captain Claude Giroux spearheads things with his career year and even being considered for the Hart Trophy with an over 100-point regular season. He's hungry for a championship and the whole league knows it.
Alongside Giroux stands Sean Couturier, Travis Konecny, Nolan Patrick and Jake Voracek who have all contributed more than a decent amount of offense this season. Philadelphia's gritty offense can definitely give Pittsburgh trouble.
Making things more difficult for the Penguins could be the Flyers' defense. Players like Ivan Provorov and Shayne Gostisbehere have both had great years contributing both offensively and defensively when needed most. The young defensemen add another aspect of might to the Flyers' lineup.
Perhaps the biggest worry for the Flyers is their goaltending. Brian Elliott is only just beginning to regain his form with playoff hockey already knocking on the door while Petr Mrazek hasn't played well since his first three games in Philly. If Elliott can weather the storm of the Steel City, then Philadelphia will have that much more of a shot of taking down the reigning champs.
In Mrazek's case, if he sees action during the series then he'll need to up his game.
Coming into this series, each team brings their own dangers to the table. Many factors on each side will determine who gets the upper hand. Aside from what's changed since the last postseason duel, one thing that hasn't is the animosity shared between the two.