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Five questions for Hawks, Flyers

by Dan Rosen /
1. Will Hossa find his scoring touch again?
Marian Hossa has been one of the Blackhawks' best forwards in the postseason -- but he gets paid to score and he hasn't
been doing that. He was particularly unlucky against San Jose and wound up with zero goals in the four games despite a plethora of quality chances. Hossa has only 2 goals in the playoffs and admits he's frustrated by that, but it hasn't affected his game because he's still a force with the puck and he's become one of the Hawks' best defensive forwards and penalty-killers. Still, you have to wonder how long the Hawks can go without their $8 million forward producing.
1. Are they really the team of destiny?
We're about to find out, but so far the Flyers appear to be just that. They were a shootout loss away from going home early, but Brian
Boucher came up big against the Rangers' Olli Jokinen on April 11, the final day of the regular season, to get Philadelphia into the playoffs. The Flyers have taken care of the rest with a dramatic run to the Stanley Cup Final that included a blowout of the Devils, a historic comeback against the Bruins and a blowout of the Canadiens. However, Chicago is by far the best team Philadelphia will face in the playoffs.
2. How does Coach Q deploy the checkers?
Chicago's checking line of Dave Bolland, Kris Versteeg and Andrew Ladd blanketed the Sharks' big three of Joe Thornton, Patrick
Marleau and Dany Heatley in the last round. Only Marleau found his way to the net. Thornton and Heatley were shut out largely because of the Hawks' checkers. If Peter Laviolette keeps his top line of Simon Gagne, Mike Richards and Jeff Carter together for Game 1, Quenneville will have the option of using his checking line against those guys. Or, he could prefer power-on-power and go with his No. 1 line of Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Dustin Byfuglien against the Flyers' top trio. With the last change for Games 1 and 2, Quenneville should be able to get the matchup he wants, whatever that may be.
2. Will Leighton be able to keep it up?
Goalie Michael Leighton is without question the biggest surprise of the postseason. He replaced the injured Boucher midway through Game 5 against Boston and led Philadelphia
to its historic comeback in that series. Leighton then had three shutouts against Montreal, becoming just the fourth goalie in the modern era to backstop his team to the Stanley Cup Final after starting the season in another organization. Leighton broke training camp with Carolina and was picked up by the Flyers off the waiver wire in December. But he's about to face a Blackhawks' team that possesses the most skill he has seen in the playoffs. Leighton is going to have to deal with Chicago whipping the puck around the zone and battling for position in front of the blue paint.
3. How healthy is Ladd?
Speaking of the Hawks' checkers, one of them enters this series as a question mark. Ladd injured his shoulder midway through
the first period of Game 4 against San Jose and didn't return. He says he's going to give it a try in Game 1. If he can't play, Tomas Kopecky is the likely candidate to replace him, but will that could force Quenneville to shake up his lines and perhaps move Ben Eager or Adam Burish up to the third line if he doesn't trust Kopecky to play in a checking role. Quenneville could opt to put John Madden, a former Selke Trophy winner, on the wing with Bolland and Versteeg, but that means the fourth line will be without a true center. Ladd's health will dictate what Quenneville eventually does.
3. Can Leino continue to be a force?
He came into the League last season with lots of promise, but Ville Leino didn't produce for the Detroit Red Wings and was cast aside because he
just didn't seem to be an NHL-caliber winger. However, Leino has found his niche in these playoffs. He has 12 points in 13 games, including 2 goals and 3 assists against Montreal as well as 2 goals and 3 assists in the four consecutive wins against Boston. He's found a home on Philadelphia's second line with Danny Briere and Scott Hartnell. The Flyers are now relying on Leino's offense.
4. Can "Big Buff" come up big again?
The big guy has goals in each of the last five games and eight in his last eight games, including four game-winners. Byfuglien scored
the deciding goal in three of the four games against San Jose and also had a hat trick in Game 3 against Vancouver. He's been on a tear largely because the Canucks and Sharks had no answer for him in front of the net. The Flyers do. Chris Pronger will be tasked with battling him, and it will definitely be Byfuglien's biggest challenge to date. Pronger's big enough and has a wide enough wingspan to frustrate even Chicago's 6-foot-4, 257-pound power forward.
4. What does Pronger have up his sleeve?
When Flyers defenseman Chris Pronger was asked to describe what he thinks is the best way to handle Dustin Byfuglien in front of the net, the veteran defenseman
gave a snappy response. "Like I'm going to tell you that," he said. "Come on, you're better than that, bud." If Pronger has the secret to moving earth (Byfuglien) from the area around the blue paint, he's obviously not divulging it. That's OK. We don't expect him to give away any trade secrets at this juncture, but we have to wonder exactly what his plan is because nothing has worked against Byfuglien yet. Then again, Byfuglien hasn't faced anyone with Pronger's size, wingspan and, yes, elbows.
5. Is Niemi a Cup-worthy goalie?
Antti Niemi has proven that he is, indeed, a championship-caliber goaltender so far. A relative unknown coming into the playoffs,
Niemi is 12-4 with a 2.33 goals-against average, .921 save percentage and two shutouts in the playoffs. He gave up only one goal on 45 shots in Game 1 against San Jose and stopped 44 of 46 shots to win Game 3 in overtime. Goaltending was once considered the Hawks' weakest area, but Niemi has made it one of their strongest. He's so cool under pressure that there's no reason to think he will be anything short of spectacular again.
5. How healthy is Jeff Carter?
The Flyers' sniper shockingly returned for Game 5 against Montreal -- missing only four weeks with a fractured right foot. He even scored the
game-winning goal as well as an empty-netter to seal a 4-2 win. But was he playing on sheer adrenaline? Even Carter admitted he wasn't close to 100 percent and that the muscles around his foot had atrophied from lack of use. However, the NHL schedule allowed him four more days of rest before Game 1 on Saturday night. Provided he didn't do any further damage to his foot -- and there's zero suggestion here that he did -- Carter should be skating even faster and with less pain when the Final starts. A healthy and effective Jeff Carter is essential to the Flyers' success. He appears to be OK; we'll find out soon enough.

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