|Jonathan Toews Chicago Blackhawks skates against Michael Leighton and Ryan Parent of the Philadelphia Flyers |
Chicago against. Philly for Lord Stanley’s Cup.
Many of you had the Chicago part before the year, but hardly anyone had Philly and why would you? Ray Emery was signed as their goaltender and flamed out due to injury. Injuries to key players were a commonplace to such as Daniel Briere and Simone Gagne. Cap trouble was brewing, rumored strife in the dressing room and the firing of respected coach John Stevens were adding to the chaos.
It all means bunk now that the Flyers are four wins away from the Cup. It’s been an impressive run, fueled by a historic comeback in the second round, and a methodical dismantling of an overmatched Montreal defense.
Chris Pronger, Simon Gagne, and Daniel Briere have been excellent for Philly. Michael Leighton has been surprisingly great between the pipes with three shutouts, a .948 save percentage, and 1.45 GAA.
Granted, it’s been a little easier for him playing with leads, and having a defense core that isn’t letting much get through to him. But perhaps, the most impressive performance has been by captain Mike Richards. His six goals and 15 assists are second in points to Jonathan Toews (captain of the Blackhawks), who has 26.
It’s not the numbers; it’s how he got them. He wasn’t afraid to tangle with Zdeno Chara in the second round, and his effort in Game Five to close out the Habs should be documented in the NHL’s Guide for captains. Any attempt by me to aptly describe the play he made to tie the game at one would be futile. Go to NHL.com and watch the highlights
. Richards also set up Jeff Carter twice en route to the 4-2 win, and he’s the reason the Flyers are in the finals.
For Sabres fans and followers that had to be a tough read, hearing how great the Flyers are. The funny thing (or stomach turner) is, there are better teams in the East sitting at home right now. Guess which one fits that bill?
As for the match-up, it should be an exciting series. You have two goaltenders that are cutting their teeth in the playoffs (granted Leighton in much more traveled than Antti Niemi), scoring that can come from any line on each side, and opposite defense core styles (offense for the Blackhawks, rugged stay at home for the Flyers). Can the Flyers contain Dustin Byfuglien? Can Chicago stay out of the penalty box and keep the Flyers PP off the ice? Can Michael Leighton continue his stellar play? My pick is Chicago in six.
♦ Many people have asked me for a Mike Robitaille update, so here it goes. I met Mike for coffee this week, and it’s the first time I saw him since he made an appearance during the final home game of the season to draw the Sabres Alumni 50/50 raffle ticket. It’s kind of pathetic that two friends and colleagues take that long to get together after the season, but between decompressing from the long season and me trying to catch up with the kids (including a 4 month old), that’s what it takes. Anyway, what a difference from April 6th! He looks good, is progressing well, and looking forward to the 40th anniversary season. It was great to catch up with him, see him laughing and enjoying the nice weather. Forgive me for not giving you more details, but I don’t believe they’re mine to share.
♦ Speaking of hockey analysts, I’ve really enjoyed the work Daryl Reaugh has done this post season on Versus. Reaugh is the analyst for the Dallas Stars telecasts for the regular season. He uses the language well, has created some of his own terms, and is a friendly voice in the chair. He doesn’t over do it, and would probably be solid broadcasting any sport.
♦ Here’s another update on a familiar face; I saw Teppo Numinen two weeks ago and he is doing well. He’s busy being a dad to his three kids, and plans to stay in the area for a while longer.
♦ Re-signing Mike Grier was great to get done early in the off-season and made sense for both parties. Grier doesn’t have to spend the summer wondering where he’ll be, and the Sabres can ink him in on the right side again. Having a well respected veteran like Grier come back after completing a one year deal sends a good message to other free agents in their 30’s that this is a good spot to be. Since he won’t be shopping for a home, he can help other players around the league who are shopping for a team, consider Buffalo.