Beginning Saturday will be the start of what should be once of the most intriguing, physical and most talked about Stanley Cup Finals in years. Philadelphia is a remarkable story and here’s why, barely sneaking into the playoffs via a shootout on the last game of the year and now making it to the Cup finals plus using several goaltenders to get to this point is off the charts as far as I am concerned. Chicago having serious goaltending issues up to the last week of the regular season did not even know who their starting goaltender was and since the Olympic break were not playing solid hockey for the most part.
The Road to The Cup
Chicago finished 2nd overall in the Western Conference only a single point behind the San Jose Sharks and have been solid in every statistical category throughout the season. They defeated a defensive minded Nashville Predator team who gave the Hawks all they can handle, went on to take out the Vancouver Canucks in which many considered a favorite, then swept the San Jose Sharks in 4 extremely close and competitive games that every player on both club will openly admit.
Philadelphia snuck in to the playoffs by the seat of their pants and finished with 88 pts which would be good for 12th position in the much tougher Western Conference. Why do I say much tougher? Well there were 7 teams in the West with over 100 pts and the bottom 4 teams in the East would not have made the playoffs in the West. This is why going back to a top 16 team idea for a playoff structure and realigning conferences and divisions would be the ultimate. (OK, off topic that’s for another day) Moving on, do these regular season standings and stats mean anything at this point? Not a damn thing and it hasn’t since the playoffs began. The Flyers bounced out the favorite New Jersey Devils which was a shock to most, came back being down 3 games to nil against the Boston Bruins and handily took care of the amazing Montreal Canadiens and their unreal playoff run.
Not much more I can say about Antti Niemi thus far that I have not mentioned in previous blogs, the kid is silencing any of his critics and has been the best goaltender in the playoffs so far which is a big reason Chicago is heading to the show this year. Niemi will face a lot and I mean A LOT more traffic in front of the net by the Flyer forwards so we will see how he can overcome that with the biggest test of his short NHL career to date. With the style he plays and cat like reflexes I think he will overcome any issues with traffic and will be successful.
Michael Leighton (ex-blackhawk) has played fantastic shutting out Les Habitants 3 times in the short series that it was. What more can you ask for from a 3rd string goaltender? He truly would love to show the Hawks that they were wrong in letting him go much like Craig Anderson wanted to do now that he is in Colorado but the only difference is that Leighton is getting a chance and Anderson isn’t. Leighton has not faced an offensive team as of yet, heck the Flyers have not either so far in these playoffs so we will see how they do facing 35 +shots a night from a speedy quick moving attack.
Tkon’s edge: Chicago
Brouwer/Sharp/Hossa Van Riemsdyk/Carter/Hartnell
Kopecky, Fraser, Bickell Cote/Powe
Now if you look at the depth of these forward lines for both clubs you will see how deep each club is and they match up extremely tight knit. Although the Flyers have more grinders then skilled players such as guys like Hartnell and Leino they are also capable of filling the net. Philadelphia has 3 solid lines that can contribute offensively with an excellent shut down line with the Laperriere line. There are no weak links up front for the new day broadstreet bullies and this is the main reason I picked Chicago and Philadelphia in the pre-season to be the two teams battling for Lord Stanley’s Cup. Philadelphia had a sub par regular season much to the fact that they had a ton of injuries throughout the year but now that they are healthy they are an extremely dangerous club and have quickly gelled together for this amazing run.
Chicago has the deepest depth up front in the league, no that’s not a biased opinion just look at the forwards above. While the Flyers come a very close second they are a step behind Chicago for one very simple reason. Speed. Chicago and Philadelphia pretty much match up player to player and line to line in skill set but Chicago’s youth and speed is the slight advantage the Hawks have over the Flyers. Another slight advantage the Hawks have is work on the boards and down low, it’s very seldom you will see a Toews, Byfuglien, Brouwer or Hossa get knocked off the puck. However, Philadelphia will try to counter the Hawks speed with their size and physicality on the Hawks to slow them down and punish them for coming into the Philly zone.
It will be interesting to see how these forwards match up to be honest, but if the Hawks can control the puck like they usually do and skate like the wind then the Flyers will not be able catch the Hawks to smash them into the boards.
Tkon’ edge: Even
Johnsson, Boynton Bartulis
It’s hard to argue that Seabs and Keith are not the best 1-2 punch tandem in the league who have successfully shut down the Sedin line and Thornton line respectively. Now the task will be to shut down the Richards line, can they do that? Sure they can…somewhat. Hammer and Soupy managed to do a great job on the 2nd scoring units for Vancouver and San Jose as well and is there a better shot blocker in the league right now then Sopel? What Sopel lacks in speed young Jordan Hendry makes up for, the kid can flat out skate and compliments Sopel very well. Chicago’s defence is second to none this year and can keep any high scoring threats to a minimum so this will be a huge plus for the Blackhawks.
Expect Mr. Pronger to be playing 30 minutes a game night in and night out. He is a phenomenal defenceman with great size and skill and by Prongs playing 30 minutes a night won’t phase him one bit. He is complimented nicely with big minute man Timonen who is good in both ends of the ice much like Pronger and both will have their hands full with the likes of Byfuglien and Brouwer and the quick forwards of Chicago. I worked with Coburn’s step dad down in the Calgary area a few years back and he told me about Braydon and what a player he was going to be, he was right. I have followed Coburn for the last few years and the kid is a definite talent with great size and mobility for a big kid. These 3 will be the getting most of the ice time for the Flyers in this series.
You have to give the edge to Chicago here as they have overall the more talented defence compared to Philadelphia, if the Flyers can some how neutralize the speed and tenacity of the Hawks forwards then they will be successful but that is yet to be seen. Chicago’s issue is stopping not just 2 scoring lines like they have in the previous 2 series but now 3 scoring lines. Having guys like Brier and the ever impressive Giroux on the third line will not be an easy task.
Tkon’s edge: Chicago
Chicago’s powerplay has been decent clipping along at a 22.6 % in 62 powerplay opportunities while the Flyers have had 82 powerplays and a 20.7 %. Not much to make out of these stats other then both teams have the skill set to score on the PP so if given the chance staying out of the box, like in any game, is key. Discipline is a big thing in playoff hockey especially when you look at Vancouver and how they played undisciplined and ultimately that was a huge bearing on what cost them the series in the long run.
Both clubs shorthanded are mere percentage points away from each other with the Flyers having a slight edge but have had to defend against 10 more penalties overall in this playoffs then the Blackhawks. While both are successful in killing penalties they do not want to take chances with the offensive powerplay capabilities on both squads. Many prognosticators feel the Flyers will be in the penalty box a lot and as a blackhawk fan I hope they are right but this is the Stanley Cup final now and I expect both teams to be physical but very disciplined and minimal powerplay chances.
Tkon’s edge: even
I guess I have to make a prediction but you know what I think I will keep it the same as always and say someone wins in 7 if you read the blog you really know what my prediction is.
It will be great to see how the Flyers handle an offensive onslaught that they have not seen this year in the playoffs and on the other side how the Hawks will handle a team who closely matches up with them in skill throughout the four lines. This series could come down to a lucky bounce or two but more then likely it will be which goaltender outplays the other.
Is it time for the Chicago Blackhawks to win their first Stanley Cup since 1961 or are the Philadelphia Flyers going to extinguish that and make Hawks fans wait another year in agony.
This will be quite the show and what better for us Hawk fans and the entire NHL nation to see the Blackhawks battle the Flyers for hockey’s ultimate prize.
Let’s go Hawks !!!
About the Author
Written by Trent Kondo
An all around sports fan and has been a Chicago BlackHawks supporter longer then he can remember. Currently writes for Prosportsblogging.com on the Blackhawks and NHLHotstove.com on the Edmonton Oilers. (If you would like to email feel free to contact Trent at TKONHOCKEY@gmail.com )