If momentum is the key factor in playoff success, the National Hockey League might as well begin measuring the Philadelphia Flyers for Stanley Cup rings. If playoff experience is of greater importance, the upcoming competition could be the most interesting in a decade.
The Flyers finished the regular season with 16 victories in 17 games and goaltenders Pelle Lindbergh and Bob Froese permitted only three goals in the last five games.
The playoffs are a different season, however, as the Flyers have learned over the past three years. They have dropped nine straight postseason games, twice being eliminated in the first round by their opponent this year, the New York Rangers.
Not one member of the Flyers has a winning playoff record in a Philadelphia uniform. Only three of them -- Brian Propp, Tim Kerr and Thomas Eriksson -- have played for a Philadelphia team that has won a playoff series.
But the Flyers are unbeaten in their last eight games against Stanley Cup champion Edmonton. And Philadelphia has the home-ice advantage in each of its series except the Prince of Wales Conference championship. Owners of the NHL's best home mark (32-4-4), the Flyers will be tough to beat, and they are the choice here.
Montreal, unbeaten in its last seven games, must be considered the favorite in the Adams Division, where the first-round matchups give Boston and Buffalo the opportunity to avenge last year's upset sweeps at the hands of Montreal and Quebec, respectively.
Winnipeg, unbeaten in its last 13 games, and Calgary, undefeated in its last seven, should match well in the Smythe opener, and the winner has a good chance against Edmonton. Indeed, it would not be a great shock if the stumbling Oilers were derailed by Los Angeles in the first round.
No matter how badly the Smythe survivor is mauled on its way to the Campbell Conference championship, it should waltz past the representative of the no-hope Norris Division. The Norris last won a game in the conference showdown in 1982, when Chicago was humbled by Vancouver, 4-1.
The first round opens with games Wednesday and Thursday at the rink of the team with the most regular-season points. They change sites for games Saturday and, if necessary, Sunday, with the possible windup Tuesday back at the first site. Here is a brief rundown of the pairings: PATRICK DIVISION
New York Rangers vs. Philadelphia
Although the Rangers surprised the Flyers in the first round in 1982 and 1983, nobody seriously expects them to challenge the Flyers this time. New York finished 49 points behind the Flyers, won only four of its last 16 games and dropped all seven regular-season meetings with Philadelphia.
New York Islanders vs. Washington
Only the Calgary-Winnipeg matchup promises more intensity. The aging Islanders ousted the Capitals the last two years, but they posted their worst record (40-34-6) since 1974 and must depend on several players not fully recovered from injuries. Washington won the season series, 4-3. ADAMS DIVISION
Boston vs. Montreal
Last year the Bruins finished first and fell to Montreal in three straight. A turnabout is unlikely, although Harry Sinden has Boston playing its best hockey in a while. The Canadiens took the season series, 4-3-1.
Buffalo vs. Quebec
Once again, the Sabres stumbled down the stretch. Unless Tom Barrasso recovers from his leg infection and plays at his best, Buffalo will be an early loser once again. The Nordiques, who swept the Sabres in the first round last year, had a 4-3-1 edge this season. NORRIS DIVISION
Minnesota vs. St. Louis
It seems impossible for the North Stars to be as bad as their 25-43-12 record indicates. The Blues aren't very good either -- 17-23-8 outside the division -- but they had a 6-1-1 bulge on Minnesota this season.
Detroit vs. Chicago
The teams divided the season series, 3-3-2, and seem even in most respects. The home ice should be the key, since the Red Wings were a shabby 8-27-5 on the road. SMYTHE DIVISION
Los Angeles vs. Edmonton
The Kings shocked the Oilers in the first round in 1982, the last time Los Angeles made the playoffs. Although unlikely, it could happen again. Edmonton has won only six of its last 19 games and is showing frustrations: Normally calm Wayne Gretzky received a game misconduct during Sunday's season-ending loss to Winnipeg.
Calgary vs. Winnipeg
This series should be a classic, matching the hottest teams west of Philadelphia. Although the Flames won the season series, 5-1-2, the teams played a pair of ties in the last eight days of the season. The Jets could be a Cup finalist, but like the Flyers, they lack a history of playoff success, having won only one game in three postseason appearances.