In the preseason, a match-up between the Chicago Blackhawks and the Philadelphia Flyers seemed like a good projection for the Stanley Cup Finals. As the season unfolded, the ‘Hawks performed as expected while the Flyers struggled for most of the year and only made the playoffs on the last day of the season. Here is a look at why each team could win the Cup with one final prediction for the 2009-10 season.
Why The Flyers Could Win The Cup
First up, we will look at the Philadelphia Flyers who have soared through their last nine games, winning all but one. So what are some of the reasons why whey could win the Cup?
Destiny: The team has had a storybook tale ever since clinching a playoff berth in a shootout on the last day of the season. They handled the Devils with little trouble. They won four in a row to come back from an 0-3 deficit against the Bruins for the first time in 35 years. Then they beat a Habs team that had a couple of miracles to their own credit.
Chris Pronger: Whether you like the big guy or not, he comes alive when the playoffs start. His teams have made the playoffs every season since 1996. He has 116 points in 164 playoff games. He won a ring in 2007 with the Ducks and fell one game short with the Oilers the year before.
Goaltending: Since his return, when Brian Boucher went down in the second round, Michael Leighton is 6-1 with a .948 save percentage and a 1.45 goals against average. He had three shutouts in the four wins against the Habs.
Scoring Power: The Flyers have several folks that have been contributing in the playoffs. Mike Richards has 21 points. Danny Briere has four game winning goals. Claude Giroux has really come into his own in the post season. Simon Gagne and a host of others have taken turns scoring key goals and making the big play.
Defense: The Flyers will have one of two of the best D-men in hockey on the ice almost the whole game in Chris Pronger and Kimmo Timonen. In key situations they each have pushed 30 minutes in ice time. Matt Carle and Braydon Coburn have been good line mates for the top two.
Special Teams: In the playoffs, the Flyers have 17 power play goals to lead all teams. They also are second on the penalty kill with a 87% success rate which has been needed since they have been hit with 193 PIMs, the second most in the post season.
Toughness: This year’s version of the Flyers has put the bully back in Broad Street. They aren’t afraid to hit and play with grit through out the entire line up. During the regular season, the Flyers had four players with over 100 PIMs.
Hossa is on the Opponent Although there is nothing to it I’m sure, Marion Hossa is appearing in his third finals in three years and is yet to win the cup.
X-Factor: Both the Flyers and the Hawks are loaded on the top two lines so the difference may come down to secondary scoring on the lower lines and whether an unexpected player comes out of no where to be the hero as we have seen so many times in years past.
Why The Blackhawks Could Win The Cup
Chicago struggled in their first round series against the Nashville Predators but hit their stride in the second round against Vancouver. The conference final series against San Jose was near perfect for the Hawks.
Destiny: After the miracle finish in game five against the Predators when Patrick Kane scored short-handed with seconds left to tie the game and Marion Hossa scored coming out of the penalty box in OT, you knew that the hockey gods were smiling on the Hawks.
Western Conference Style of Play: Granted, the Flyers play tough and have speed of their own, but the Hawks are used to skating hard for 60 minutes along side other speedy teams from the West. I doubt that the Flyers will be able to completely slow them down.
Too Young to Crack: Patrick Kane said the team was too young to be nervous during the playoffs. With Kane being 21 and Captain Jonathan Toews at 22, all they know to do is win.
Pronger vs. Byfuglien: Big Buff has frustrated Roberto Luongo and Evgeni Nabokov so Chris Pronger will have to keep him away from the less experienced Michael Leighton or he will cause problems for the Flyers.
Road Warriors: The Hawks have won their last seven road games going back to game four in the opening series. If they win the first two at home, it will be a short series.
Goaltending: Before the playoffs, goaltending was the Hawks big question mark but Antti Niemi has responded going 12-4 with two shutouts and a 2.33 goals against average. He is playing like a seasoned veteran after three solid rounds.
Explosive Offense: The Hawks have many weapons with Jonathan Toews the odds on favorite for the Conn Smythe Trophy, Dustin Byfuglien scoring dirty goals in front of the net, and Patrick Kane, who I feel is the most dangerous player in the West with the puck on his stick. Toews is on a 13 game point streak and leads all playoff scorers with 26 points. The danger doesn’t stop there as all four lines can put the puck on net.
Defense: The Hawks top two pairings can match up with anyone in the league lead by Olympians Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith. Campbell, Sopel, and Hjalmarsson have also logged big minutes as the Hawks play deeper than the Flyers. No one has shown more heart than Duncan Keith who played after losing seven teeth.
Special Teams: All season long, the Hawks have been excellent on the penalty kill and rarely have to use it as they are a very disciplined team averaging 10.2 PIMs in the playoffs. Their power play has improved in the playoffs as they are scoring at a 22.6% clip.
X-Factor: On the Stanley Cup Finals losing teams the last two years, Marion Hossa may find renewed life against the Flyers. In his career, he has 8 goals and 14 assists in 16 games against Philadelphia. Could it be that he has played the wrong team the last two seasons?
Our Finals Pick
In the preseason, I had the Philadelphia Flyers winning the Stanley Cup. I had Ray Emery with a good shot at the Masterton as they would roll over Anaheim in the finals. Most folks have forgotten Emery is even on the team but the core strength of the Flyers team that I held in high esteem is still present.
In September, I thought that Chicago’s goaltending would be their downfall as Cristobal Huet was not up to the task. I was right about Huet but never saw the emergence of Antti Niemi on the horizon.
On paper, heading into the Finals, the teams appear similar. I do think that Chicago has the edge in speed, defense and depth. If Michael Leighton and Niemi continue to play as they have, they are probably a wash in goal. Philadelphia might have a slight edge in physicality but the Hawks will not be bothered by the Flyers grit.
I will not be totally shocked if Philadelphia wins the series, especially if a “hero” emerges and takes the team on a roll. I fully expect the Hawks to take the cup if they continue to play as they have. I see both teams splitting their first two home games and the Hawks winning game five and six. As for the Hawk’s hero, Marian Hossa is going to put the past two years behind him and have a good series. Blackhawks in six