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NHL’s Final Four: Matchups, Predictions, and the Flyers’ Effect

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Nicolas Aube-Kube, Philadelphia Flyersl
Former Flyers right winger Nic Aube-Kubel and the Colorado Avalanche are favored to reach the Stanley Cup Final.

The NHL is down to its Final Four, and only a few former Philadelphia Flyers are playing (minor) roles as their teams try to get to the Stanley Cup Final.

Here’s a look at the matchups:

Western Conference Final: Edmonton vs. Colorado.

It starts Tuesday in Denver (8 p.m., TNT), where the Avalanche will be favored to represent the West.

But the Avs can’t look past the Oilers, who are the NHL’s highest-scoring team (4.33 goals per game) in the playoffs. Colorado is No. 2 in scoring (4.30 per game).

Colorado’s NHL-best power play, which has clicked at a staggering 34.5% in the playoffs, could be the difference.

The Avs had lost in the second round in each of the previous three seasons, but they got past pesky St. Louis in six games this time around. They are in the conference finals for the first time since 2002.

Edmonton, which upset Calgary and South Jersey’s Johnny Gaudreau in Round 2, is in the conference finals for the first time since 2006.

This is a great matchup of offensively skilled teams. Edmonton, of course, revolves around Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, each of whom have 26 points in 12 playoff games this season.

Nathan MacKinnon has 13 points, including eight goals, in just 10 games for Colorado. Defenseman Cale Makar, whom the Philadelphia Flyers bypassed in the 2017 draft, also has a team-high 13 points for the Avalanche

Though he is far from a star, Nic Aube-Kubel has been a contributor for the Avalanche. Claimed off waivers from the Flyers early in the season, the right winger had 11 goals and was one of the Avs’ most physical players in 67 regular season games.

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Not bad for someone in a bottom-six role. He is expected to be on Colorado’s third line Tuesday, along with Andre Burakovsky and J.T. Compher.

Derick Brassard, another former Flyers winger, will probably be scratched in Game 1 for Edmonton.

Prediction: Colorado, which needs Mikko Rantanen (one goal in 10 games) to get going, in six. .

Eastern Conference: Tampa Bay Lightning vs. New York Rangers.

The series starts Wednesday at 8 p.m. on ESPN.

The two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Lightning are on a certified roll. They swept Claude Giroux’s Florida Panthers in Round 2, knocking off the team that had an NHL-leading 122 points in the regular season.

This is a matchup of the league’s best goalies — Tampa’s Andrei Vasilevskiy, who has a 2.22 GAA and .932 save percentage in these playoffs, and the Rangers’ Igor Shesterkin (2.68, .928), who has rebounded from a difficult start to the post-season.

Former Flyer Brian Elliott, who has yet to get into a playoff game this spring, is Tampa’s backup goalie.

The Bolts also have rugged winger Pat Maroon, a former Flyers farmhand who is aiming for his fourth straight Cup — one with St. Louis, and two with Tampa. Maroon scored the winning goal to beat Florida in Game 4.

The Rangers, who have gotten steady play from former Flyer Justin Braun on the third defensive pairing, won draining seven-game series against Pittsburgh and Carolina to reach the conference finals.

Gord Murphy, a former Flyers defenseman and assistant coach, is in his first year as an assistant with the Blueshirts.

Even though the Shesterkin-led Rangers won all three games in the regular season against Tampa, the Lightning are favored. The Bolts’ playoff experience and their drive to become the first team since the early 1980s to win there straight Stanley Cups are hard-to-beat intangibles. The Islanders won four consecutive Cups from 1980-83.

Flyers killer Mika Zibanejad (19 points) and defenseman Adam Fox (18) have led the Rangers in the playoffs, while Nikita Kucherov (15) and defenseman Victor Hedman (10) have paced Tampa. Central Jersey’s Ross Colton has eight points and has been a difference-maker.

Tampa has advanced despite missing the injured Brayden Point, its top-line center. Point was not at practice Tuesday and is not expected to play in Game 1.

Point, a third-round steal in the 2014 draft, has a leg injury and is expected to return at some point in the playoffs, but Tampa has proven it can win even without its star center.

Prediction: Tampa Bay in six.

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