Friday, May 28, 2010

Blackhawks and Flyers ready to battle for Stanley Cup


This article was first published in the May 28th edition of Main Street Week and is reprinted here with permission from the editors. Drop by www.mainstreetweeknews.com to have a look at a great community newspaper or sign up and have Main Street Week delivered right to your inbox every Friday.

It took 82 regular season games and 3 rounds of playoff action to narrow the field down to two teams; the Stanley Cup Final is set to begin Saturday evening. There will be plenty of time throughout the summer to discuss and analyze the Montreal Canadiens season, so this week in MSW, The Voice of Sport takes a look at the Eastern and Western Conference champions that are set to do battle for Lord Stanley's Cup.

For the first time since 1992 and the days of Jeremy Roenick and “Iron” Mike Keenan, the Western Conference champion Chicago Blackhawks will attempt to bring the Stanley Cup home to the windy city. The Eastern champions, the Philadelphia Flyers, having finished off the Montreal Canadiens in five games, have reached the Final for the first time since 1997 and the Eric Lindros era.

While both teams have reached the final round for the first time in years, the drought between victories is even longer. The Flyers have not won it all since Bobby Clarke lifted the Cup in 1975, while Chicago fans and players have waited since 1961 to drink champagne from the Cup. As is always the case after such a long road to the final two, someone is going home heartbroken and empty-handed. Many analysts are predicting a Chicago victory, and while I do not necessarily disagree with that prediction, the series will be closer then many people think.

By defeating the Boston Bruins in the second round, the Philadelphia squad became the third team in hockey history (1942 Maple Leafs, 1975 NY Islanders), and only the fourth in professional sports (the Boston Red Sox in 2004), to come back from an 0-3 deficit in a seven-game series. The Flyers are a confident group as they head to Chicago for Game 1.

Both squads are solid in all departments, with Chicago’s Jonathan Toews (7 goals, 26 points) and Patrick Kane (7 goals, 20 points) leading the team in playoff scoring; they are also number one and three in the entire league. Philadelphia can equal them offensively with Mike Richards (6 goals, 21 points) and Danny Briere (9 goals, 18 points). Chicago has a solid defence led by Canadian Olympians Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook; the Flyers have the leadership and all-star abilities of Keith and Seabrook’s Team Canada teammate Chris Pronger. Besides being a workhorse on the ice, Pronger leads all NHL defencemen with an average of almost 29 minutes of ice-time per game (28:48); he also leads the league in scoring amongst defencemen with 4 goals and 14 points.

Goaltending and special teams could be the deciding factor in the series. The Blackhawks have a slight edge on the power play; Chicago’s power play percentage is 22.6 compared to Philadelphia’s 20.7. On the penalty kill, both teams are almost equal, with the Flyers having the slight edge, 87% to 86.6%.

In goal, the Blackhawks and Flyers are relying on previously untested net minders that have shone in this year’s playoffs. After playing in three NHL games last season, Chicago’s Antti Niemi emerged as the number one goaltender this year. In his first playoff run, he has 12 wins, a 2.33 goals against average and a .921 save percentage. For Philadelphia, Michael Leighton is the “feel-good” story of the year. After bouncing around the minors and several NHL teams during his nine-year career, which included parts of three seasons in Chicago, Leighton stepped in several times in Philadelphia this season when injuries forced other goaltenders out of the lineup. During this year’s playoffs, Leighton is 6-1 with a 1.45 goals against average and a .948 save percentage.

If this year’s playoffs have shown us anything, it is that anything can happen in a seven game series... One thing is for sure, it will be a tremendous Stanley Cup Final, certainly one to watch, even if one of the Canadian teams is not competing for the Cup. TVOS prediction: Chicago in six games... but don’t be surprised to see Philadelphia win in seven. Have a great sports day everyone.

Photo by Shay Haas on Flickr.com

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