You could almost hear the NHL offices breath a sigh of relief as both the Blackhawks and Flyers finished off their opponents earlier this week to set up a Chicago versus Philadelphia Stanley Cup finals. We say “sigh of relief” as a Montreal/San Jose final, simply stated, would have been a ratings disaster for the league.
Instead, the NHL gets hockey-mad Chicago against the unlikeliest run to a Cup final the league has seen in quite some time, as the Flyers needed a shootout on the season’s final day just to qualify for the post season. Toss in their amazing comeback against Boston from a 3-0 deficit in the Conference Semifinals and the Flyers are writing one amazing script.
Both clubs are looking to break long Cup droughts as well. For Philadelphia it’s been 35 years since they last hoisted the silver bowl in 1975, while Chicago is in the midst of one the league’s longest Cup-less streaks dating all the way back to 1961.
Should be an entertaining final that we think might go the distance. Here’s a look at what has to happen on both sides of the red line for either club to drink from Lord Stanley’s silver chalice.
Flyers win the Cup if:
Michael Leighton can take his game to another level. That may seem like it’s asking a lot from a kid that just posted three shutouts and a .954 save percentage against the Canadiens in the Conference Finals but remember this: The Devils, Bruins and Habs came into the playoffs with the NHL’s 24th, 30th and 26th ranked offenses, respectively. The Blackhawks are a bit more high octane up front as they had the third best offense overall. Leighton will win or lose this series for Philly.
The Flyers will also need to continue to get the balanced scoring they’ve been getting as their depth up front represents their best chance to stay with the speedy Hawks on offense. As stated earlier, while the Flyers have not faced a team with an offense like the Hawks posses, Chicago has not faced a team with the kind of depth up front the Flyers have. There’s not one line you can key on defensively—they’re all dangerous.
Everyone seems hot for the Flyers right now and Mike Richards, Simon Gagne, Jeff Carter, Daniel Briere, Claude Giroux, Ville Leino and company will need to keep it going for another two weeks.
The Blackhawks win the Cup if:
Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane continue to play like 10-year veterans and not like the third-year pups they actually are. These two kids, 22 and 21 years old respectively, have dazzled for the Hawks this post season, not only in putting up big numbers, but in coming up big in clutch situations.
And while Toews and Kane will try to skate circles around the Flyers defense, the Hawks will also need to bring their bulk. The Flyers got a break defensively against the much smaller Canadiens, so the Hawks size will present a new challenge—but only if they utilize it. The glacial Dustin Byfuglien, Troy Brouwer and Ben Eager will need to be at their bashing best to create some room for the Hawks flashier forwards. It also wouldn’t hurt Chicago’s chances if Marian Hossa brings his “A” game.
In goal, while Leighton’s numbers are superior to Antti Niemi’s, the Finnish netminder has faced tougher opponents offensively and may actually give the Hawks the edge between the pipes. He’ll need to be just as good against Philly.
In what should be a terrific final, we think the clock strikes twelve for the Cinderella Flyers and the Windy City ends its almost 50-year Cup drought in seven.