#7 Philadelphia Flyers
(41-35-6, 88 pts)
#2 Chicago Blackhawks
(52-22-8, 112 pts)
How They Got Here: It’s pretty clear that the Flyers feel like they’re playing the best hockey in the NHL in spite of the fact that they probably haven’t been the superiorly talented team in any round of the playoffs this year. Just mere days after winning the fourth straight Stanley Cup playoff betting affair in a row to put away the Bruins, Philly stormed back with a five game series win against the Montreal Canadiens to win the Eastern Conference for the first time since 1997. They haven’t won the Stanley Cup itself since 1975.
Player To Watch: The captain of the Flyers, C Mike Richards is once again the player that we have our watchful eye on in this series. Richards needs five assists to tie a team record for most assists in a postseason. He enters the Stanley Cup Finals with 15 assists and six goals. In the decisive Game 5 against the Habs, Richards put together a goal and two assists in the 4-2 win.
Goalie Outlook: An interesting decision could have to be made here at some point by HC Peter Laviolette. G Brian Boucher may be ready to play in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals after injuring his knees against the Bruins two rounds ago. However, reserve G Michael Leighton is 6-1 with three shutouts and a 1.45 GAA so far in the postseason, as opposed to the 6-4 record with a 2.33 GAA of Boucher’s.
Key To Victory: The Flyers have 17 power play goals in as many games in these playoffs. The Blackhawks have been a dominating team in terms of special teams in their run to the Stanley Cup as well, but this is going to have to be the facet of the game that Philly has to win to lift the Cup.
How They Got Here: The Blackhawks have gone through a bit of a Murderer’s Row of teams to reach the Stanley Cup Finals this year. They disposed of Nashville Predators without much in the way of struggles, but series against the Vancouver Canucks and San Jose Sharks were supposed to be different challenges. Instead, a very impressive four game sweep against the Sharks, all of which came by either one or two goals, sent this team to its second Stanley Cup Finals in the L/50 years. Chicago does have three Stanley Cups to its name, but you have to go back to 1934, 1938, and 1961 to find those. The 49 years of waiting is currently the longest streak in the NHL without a championship.
Player To Watch: Without dispute, captain and C Jonathan Toews has been the hero for the Blackhawks in these playoffs. Toews has scored seven goals, which ties him for the most on the team, and he has 19 assists to boot, giving him 26 points, the highest total for any player in the league. He was awarded with the Western Conference Finals MVP award after logging a goal and five assists in the four victories. Toews has at least one point scored in each of his L/13 games in the playoffs, logging an assist in all but one of those 13 games.
Goalie Outlook: G Antti Niemi was the other legitimate candidate for the MVP of the Western Conference Finals, as he held one of the most potent offenses in the league to two goals or less in all four encounters. Niemi is now 12-4 with a pair of shutouts in these playoffs, and he has a 2.33 GAA. At times, he has looked shaky, but all things considered, if Niemi can keep his level of play this high, the Hawks are going to be called champions in the weeks to come.
Key To Victory: Chicago knows that it gained such valuable experience last year in its run to the Western Conference Finals, and that experience must now show from a team that is probably too young and too stupid to realize that it is playing for the Stanley Cup. Much like the Penguins last year, who used the trip to the Stanley Cup Finals the year before to setup the title run, this has to be the case for the Blackhawks.
The Final Word: With all due respect to the run that the Flyers have put together, they haven’t seen a team as good as Chicago in these playoffs. Winning eight out of nine games against Boston and Montreal isn’t nearly the same thing as taking four out of seven against the Blackhawks. Chicago is ready, and the Windy City is going to be able to celebrate its first Stanley Cup in almost five full decades just a few years after being named the worst run franchise in professional sports.
Blackhawks in 5