05/25/2010 2:42 PM - By Chad Huebner
2010 Stanley Cup Final
2. Chicago Blackhawks (52-22-8) vs. 7. Philadelphia Flyers (43-31-8)
2009-10 Season Series: Flyers won one and only meeting.
Last Playoff Clash: 1971, Conference Quarterfinals, ‘Hawks won 4-0
Let me say first off that I’m going to be picking the Chicago Blackhawks to end nearly 50 years of frustration and losing and pain to win their fourth Stanley Cup. It’s a given. You knew this would happen. I haven’t been calling them “my beloved Blackhawks” these past five years for nothing. If you just wanted to know who I was picking, you can stop reading this column right now.
Of course, if you knew me, then you probably wouldn’t be reading this column in the first place, would you?
Just waiting for those that are not reading this column anymore. . .
(As we wait for those who don’t want to read more, I wanted to reflect on the fact that I’ve been writing The Far Side of the Pond for the last five years, but finally it all means something personal to me. In my last column, I mentioned that even five years ago, I couldn’t see my beloved Blackhawks get this far. In 2005-06, the ‘Hawks, who were not as beloved as they are now, finished another forgettable year at 26-43-13, the second-worst record in the Western Conference. They were coached by Trent Yawney and their captains were Adrian Aucoin and Martin Lapointe. If these names mean nothing to you, you’re not alone, though Yawney was a former player who spent most of his playing days wearing the Indianhead sweater. The ‘Hawks did have the services of both Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook and Patrick Sharp, but all three were still a ways off from the players they are today. Overall, they just sucked and we’ll leave it at that. Five years later, and they’re on the verge of winning a world championship. It still hasn’t all sunk in for me. Okay, time to hop back on the carousel, and I get to ride the zebra.)
. . . and we’re back. Okay, even though I know the Blackhawks have been blessed with the best of all opportunities to win it all (I could see two of the top four Eastern Conference seeds not making it this far, but all four? That’s like winning the state lottery and Powerball and the perfecta in the Kentucky Derby all at the same time.) and even though I know they’re the better team than the Philadelphia Flyers overall, I still think this will be a tough series.
Why? Well, for once, the ‘Hawks are facing a team that has a deep well of defensive talent. Let’s start with Chris Pronger, shall we? Guy goes from team to team, making them immensely better when he’s there, and immensely mediocre when he leaves. I mean, most of us probably forgot the fact the Anaheim Ducks won the Cup in 2007. Or that they changed their color scheme from eggplant and green (hard to take any team seriously with eggplant as their primary color, or any team owned by Disney, for that matter) to black, orange and gold. Anyway, he anchored the defense in Orange County, pummeling the Ottawa Senators into submission. He played for the Ducks for three years, and then was traded to the Flyers for Joffrey Lupul (why? I’m not sure about that either), which was the second time both players were involved in a trade. Now look at where the Flyers are. He’s physical (goes without saying for someone who’s 6’6” and 220 pounds-he’d probably even look at home on a basketball court) but with a pretty good scoring touch, hitting double digits in goals and nearly 50 points over the past six years and has 14 points so far in the playoffs. His linemate, Kimmo Timonen, would be a standout even without Pronger’s presence. Then their second line guys, Matt Carle and Braydon Coburn, remind me of our second line dudes, Brian Campbell and Nicklas Hjarlmasson, but with easier-to-spell names.
Then you have Michael Leighton in goal, who once upon a time was a Blackhawk for parts of two seasons (spent most of his time with the Norfolk Admirals, the ‘Hawks’ AHL affiliate at the time). I’m not so concerned about any ridiculous notion that he’s out to take revenge on the team that drafted him/traded him, I’m more concerned with these numbers: 6-1, with a 1.45 GAA, a .948 save percentage and three shutouts since taking over for an injured Brian Boucher, winning his first start as the Flyers were down to the Boston Bruins 3-0 in that series. You think Niemi is red hot? Leighton is like WASP-12b hot. That’s a planet. It has a surface temperature of over 2800 degrees Fahrenheit. . . sorry, had that surface temp, because it’s been devoured by a star (and not Star Jones). Hellooo? Does anyone ever read Yahoo! News anymore?
Where the ‘Hawks should catch break is in the forwards department. The Flyers had basically three major offensive weapons in the regular season: Mike Richards and Jeff Carter, who were No. 1 and 2 in goals and points for the team; and Daniel Briere, who was the only other Flyer with at least 20 goals. You still have those three along with Pronger producing most of the points and goals in the playoffs, but just like the ‘Hawks, the supporting cast has been pushing for star status in this show. Claude Giroux, who was a minus-9 in the regular season, leads the team with a plus-10, and has the second most goals and third most points on the team. Ville Leino was traded from the Detroit Red Wings to the Flyers at midseason, and between both clubs had a grand total of six goals, five assists for 11 points in 55 games. He has exceeded that point total already in his 13th game this postseason.
Back to Richards, he also has a distinguished international career not as a man of mystery, but one of opportunity. In the gold medal game against the U.S. in this year’s Olympics, Richards was the one who forced the turnover, fired a shot and had the rebound slotted home for the game winner in OT. The man who made that famous shot? Johnny Toews, of course.
And then you have the fan base. Sure, it would’ve been just as strong had the Canadiens made it this far. But just like the Chicago sports’ fans, the Philly fans are a very tortured sports bunch. Well, actually was a tortured sports bunch: they lost that mantle in 2008 when the Philadelphia Phillies won the World Series. But still, Philadelphia is a city that lives and dies with their sports teams. It’s been 35 years since their last Stanley Cup championship (though our drought has been longer at 49 years, so basically our drought was a teenager when their drought was still in diapers), 23 years since their last win in a Stanley Cup Final and 13 years since their last Stanley Cup experience. Since the Flyers didn’t come into existence until the 1967-68 season, we can’t do a full comparison between the Flyers and the ‘Hawks in terms of playoff success, but since the Flyers came into being in 1967, they’ve been to more Stanley Cup Finals (8-4) and slightly have more playoff appearances (34-32) than the ‘Hawks. The Flyers and their fans are seasoned, they are hungry and if their home games this postseason are any indicator, they’ll be in a frenzy when the ‘Hawks visit them in at least two games. (I’ve seen fans decked in white and red for their favorite teams before, but never have I seen a sea of blazing orange as I have whenever the Flyers host a playoff game. It’s blinding and it throws you off a bit, probably what they’re hoping to do to the ‘Hawks as they’ve done to the Devils, Bruins and Canadiens already).
You’ll hear all the comparisons made between the two cities. Sadly, while I love “Doc” Emrick’s calls of the playoff games so far, I’ll bet he’ll come up with something like this for an opener to Game 1: “It’s the Windy City vs. the City of Brotherly Love. It’s the Great Fire vs. the American Revolution. It’s the Deep Dish Pizza vs. The Cheesesteak. It’s two cities who haven’t been to this plateau in a long, long time. It’s Chicago Blackhawks vs. the Philadelphia Flyers in the 2010 Stanley Cup Final, next on NBC!”
So clichéd, and yet so true. This series should go down as a classic, maybe not on par with what we’ve seen between the Penguins and the Red Wings the last two years, but maybe something along the lines of the 2006 Stanley Cup Final between the Hurricanes and the Oilers. Okay, maybe better than that one. But still, it won’t be a cakewalk win for the ‘Hawks, and while it makes me feel uneasy that it’ll be a (slightly) difficult task, I know they’ve fought through as much and maybe even more this postseason, and every time they take a punch they deliver a knockout blow. Sorry, Philly, but it’s my city’s time to shine.Whoa.
And that was the first round.
I mean, I’ve seen some pretty good playoff games, but clearly this year’s quarterfinals were off the chain across the board. Plenty of ragged nerves left on the battlefield, a few of them mine. Keeping up this pace the rest of the playoffs would probably blow apart Don Cherry’s frosted head, so let’s all grab a collective breath, and read some stuff I have about the playoffs and whatnot, and wrap it up with a few playoff picks (satisfaction on those definitely not guaranteed).
The Eastern Conference is very much up for grabs, and I say this in light of the fact that the Pittsburgh Penguins have, possibly, an interrupted run to the Stanley Cup Finals. Apparently, winning your division doesn’
My Prediction: ‘Hawks in five. “Wha?! You just said it was going to be a tough series for the ‘Hawks, how can you pick them to win in only five games?” The ‘Hawks want to win this one at home; they need to win this one at home. I don’t fancy their chances of being up 3-2 this series and have to win it in Philly. The ‘Hawks didn’t want to have to wrap up their series against the Sharks in San Jose, so they dug down and found something extra to pull off the big comeback at home. Call it being scared straight. Call it wanting to win in front of 22,000 fans that have more than enough love and adoration for the ‘Hawks to fill 10 United Centers. It’s five games, but it’ll be a tough five.
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