Stanley Cup FinalPhildelphia/Chicago - Blackhawks in 6/7...
Well, we are in for a wail of a series this year in the Final. Philly needed a shootout goal in the final game of the regular season and had to come back from a 3-0 series deficit vs. Boston. You cannot count this Philly hockey club out, however Chicago is playing well. The two goaltenders were not expected to do much, but both have been a key piece to the puzzle for their respective squads. Michael Leighton was put on waivers by Carolina earlier this season, but credit Flyers goaltending coach Jeff Reese with getting him on track. Leighton will stay No. 1 despite the return of Brian Boucher.
On to defenseman, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook were instrumental in Canada winning Gold in Vancouver and should have the same effect on Chicago in the Stanley Cup Final. A quick note on Chris Pronger, keep an eye on the match-up between he and Dustin Byfuglien - two of the biggest players in the NHL. Will Joel Quenneville try to keep "Big Buff" away from Pronger?
I don't think Leighton can stop the top six for Chicago - Kane, Toews, Versteeg, etc. - so the edge goes to the 'Hawks in a long series. Watch out for Richards, Carter and Briere for Philly, this should be a great series.
Stanley Cup Final
Phildelphia/Chicago - Blackhawks in 6/7... No surprise in Chicago being here and some hockey experts predicted Philadelphia would be here last October. The surprise is in goaltending, because no two playoff teams had bigger question marks than these two clubs. Niemi is getting stonger as we move into the Cup Final with a 2.44 GAA and .921 save-percentage and has earned whispers of the Conn Smythe Trophy. Leighton wasn't the started for the goaltender-challenged Flyers at the start of the playoffs but has put up terrific numbers leading the league with a 1.45 and .948 sv% in the postseason.
Both teams are getting big time efforts out of their top six forwards. The bottom six for the 'Hawks is more offense and speed, while the Flyers bottom group is more grit and grind. Marian Hossa is hoping the third time is a charm, after losing in the last two Cup Finals as a Penguin and a Red Wing. The blueline might be the difference in the series. The question for Philly being - can the Flyers D handle the 'Hawks speed up front? For Chicago, the question is - can the 'Hawks handle the Flyers in your face style?
Chris Pronger is one of the best minute eaters in the NHL, logging 30-plus minutes a night in the playoffs. Pronger is in his third Cup Final in five season, going with Edmonton in '06, Anaheim in '07 and this year with the Flyers. How big is his impact? Ask St. Louis, Edmonton and Anaheim, who all missed the playoffs the year after he left. Leading the way for Chicago on D is Keith, who has 1-9-10 and is only getting better. He is a serious Norris Trophy candidate.
Things to keep in mind while watching: both goalies are on the biggest stage of their careers, can the Flyers handle lines one through four for Chicago and Flyers are healthy with Gagne and Carter. The biggest storyline is can Pronger handle Byfuglien and vice versa.
Stanley Cup Final
Phildelphia/Chicago - Blackhawks in 6... This is an interesting matchup between two deserving teams. The one on one battle to watch is Byfuglien against Chris Pronger. Philly will try to get the job done with four D-men, Matt Carle, Pronger, Kimmo Timmonen and Braydon Coburn. Chicago will roll all six defensemen and that could be a difference if the series goes deep as it should. The overall depth of Chicago with their ability to go with all four lines and all three D pairings could wear down the Flyers.
The goaltending is a question mark as to who has the advantage. Niemi has been better than Leighton, who wasn't tested in the series against Montreal or in his three games vs. Boston in round two. Also, watch Patrick Kane vs. Danny Briere and Jonathan Toews vs. Mike Richards. Enjoy the show, this should be a great Final.
Stanley Cup Final
Phildelphia/Chicago - Blackhawks in 6/7... Not many people thought Philly would be here... especially down 3-0 in game 7 at Boston in round two. The Flyers have earned everything. Chicago comes in like a steamroller after dismissing San Jose in four games. In goal, both Antti Niemi and Michael Leighton were minor league goalies last year, but both have proven themselves this postseason. Niemi has proven he can stand up to a lot of shots. Leighton, I watched play in Albany last season, has come in a made a name for himself. He was hurt and supposed to miss the playoffs, but he's done a great job in a tight spot, pitching a couple of shuouts along the way.
Slight edge to Chicago on defense with their ability to jump into the play with Brian Campbell, Seabrook and Keith. They are a very skilled group on the backend, as opposed to Pronger and Co. who will stay at home and hammer you everytime you enter the zone.
Byfuglien has been important with three game-winning goals vs. San Jose and 8-2-10 overall. He stands in front of the net and is a nuisance to the goalie, similar to Tomas Holmstrom in Detroit. Philly won't go away quietly, but they should be outmatched in this series or will it be 0-3 for Hossa?