A Race to Four to Hoist the Cup
May 29, 2010 by Big Tony
Congratulations to the Chicago Blackhawks and the Philadelphia Flyers on winning making it to the 2010 Stanley Cup Finals. An unlikely match-up at the commencement of these playoffs since the Flyers needed a shootout win in the final game of the season to even qualify for the playoffs and then went down 0-3 to the Boston Bruins. But that’s why the play the games on ice and not on paper right?
Chicago’s path was a bit more predictable coming in as the second seed but it was surprising to many how they blew away the San Jose Sharks in the western conference finals. Regardless of the path taken by either team we start again even-steven with a race to four to hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup! So what do we need to watch for and more importantly who is going to win?
At first glance the series seems to very much favor the Blackhawks. They have a team that is equally as physical as the Flyers and they can score goals any way they need to; whether it’s using their speed to create off of the rush or just by putting big bodies in front of the net and bashing away time and time again until the red light comes on. Thus far in the playoffs the Flyers have yet to face an opponent who they couldn’t just rough up and eventually wear them down (the way they did to Boston) or flat out dominate (the way they dominated both New Jersey and Montreal) so it will be interesting to see how the team reacts to a more formidable opponent.
We can start this by saying both teams are in about the same position when it comes to their respective netminders, so these guys are likely to cancel one another out in performance. With that said, there is no doubt that the Flyers will have to somehow neutralize Chicago’s ability to score. That seems obvious of course but a lot of times a team can focus on one or two guys and sort of make role players step up to beat you. However in this case Chicago doesn’t have just one or two guys who are scoring. The Hawks have been incredibly balanced with Dustin Byfuglien leading the way with 8 goals followed by the Toews, Kane, and Sharp trio who each have 7. The easy answer to Byfuglien for the Flyers is throwing Chris Pronger at him. Using Pronger in that role is a great idea but then what about the rest of the Chicago forwards? Even if you can manage to shut down some combination of the four leading scorers that still leaves two other guys who can burn you AND the likes of a Marian Hossa who despite having only 2 goals thus far in the post-season is always a threat to put the puck in the back of the net. Just because he hasn’t been scoring doesn’t mean he necessarily continue to struggle. All the while there is a guy like Chris Versteeg to further consider because he has come up with some big goals for Chicago up to this point. It will certainly be a tall order for the Flyers. One way for the Flyers to take some of Chicago’s players out of their rhythm is to utilize guys like Daniel Carcillo to be a pest to the Hawks. In the past Carcillo has been known to cross lines and cost his team by taking stupid penalties. But in recent games he’s done a nice job of agitating players without going to the box as often as he used to. Keeping Chicago focused on dealing with a pest is a great way to frustrate their game plan while subsequently enforcing your own if you’re the Flyers. Easier said than done of course but it’s not a bad tactic to employ.
In the meantime, the Flyers have some offensive weapons of their own for Chicago to worry about. Mike Richards has had a fantastic post-season thus far and has put up the numbers the Flyers expect him to put up when it really matters. Danny Briere has posted some great numbers as well but more importantly he is staying healthy which has been a grave concern for him his whole career. There have also been a couple of pleasant surprises for the Flyers in Ville Leino (who has been red hot) and the emergence of Claude Giroux. If both guys can manage to continue their high level of play against Chicago there is no doubt that the Flyers will have as good a chance as any to push the Blackhawks to the limit and possibly even be what puts the Flyers over the top in this series. It will also be important for the Flyers role players to really step things up and raise their level of play even moreso than they have so far. Role players are important to winning any Stanley Cup of course but the Flyers will need to use their role players much more than the Blackhawks will likely have to rely on its role players.
In the end, I don’t think the series will be a walk-over for the Blackhawks the way some people seem to think it will be. The Flyers have played some smart hockey and it’s unlikely that they will start to shoot themselves in the foot now. But Chicago just has too many weapons when it comes right down to it. Barring injury of course I think the Flyers will be able to steal a game or two in this series but the Hawks will use their skill, speed, and physical presence to ultimately outclass the Philadelphia Flyers and raise their first Stanley Cup since 1961. I said it at the beginning of the year and I’m saying it now, the Chicago Blackhawks will be your 2010 Stanley Cup Champions.