If you are not pumped up for this series as a Flyers fan, you must be dead. Tonight is Game 1 for a team that we’ve followed all year through the good and bad, and now they’re so close to capturing Lord Stanley’s Cup. Once again, history will be made since both teams are about to end a Cup drought. 35 years for the Flyers, and 49 for the Blackhawks. The Flyers go into tonight’s game as the series underdog, with much of the media and hockey faithful picking the Blackhawks to win it. If the Blackhawks actually believe that, they’ve got another thing coming because I don’t know where they got this sense of entitlement. Yes, they’re fast and talented and they have some scoring depth, but since when are the Flyers a one-line team? Here are my keys to a Flyers Stanley Cup win:
In every series, goaltending is a key to the game. They can steal you a game and they can lose you one, but this match-up is pretty interesting. Two relative no-names this season have emerged this postseason as playoff-caliber goalies and have put up outstanding numbers in helping their teams reach this point. The question is, which goalie will remain hot in the final push for the Stanley Cup? Will Michael Leighton pitch some more shutouts like he has all year? Will Niemi weather the storm of the Flyers crashing the crease? The Flyers will need some ugly goals to beat Niemi, and I think they plan on doing it just as they’ve done all playoffs; with grit and skill down low in the offensive zone.
Containing the First Line
It’s no secret that Johnathan Toews line with Patrick Kane and Dustin Byfuglien has been a force this postseason. Toews and Kane are arguably one of the most dynamic duos in hockey at this point, and matching their speed and skill be tough. Luckily, we have a pretty good top-four defensive corps that looks to shut them down. Depending on how the series goes, I’m not sure whether we will see Pronger-Carle on this line or Timonen-Coburn. Timonen would be great at stopping Kane and Toews, but it’s not secret that Byfuglien will be in the crease causing problems and will need a bit body guy like Pronger to move him. If we can contain this first line, we force them to use their 2nd and 3rd, which are pretty good as well. However, the second line with Hossa and Sharp can be pretty good but I believe they can be contained with the other pairing. Versteeg on the third line is a guy that we gotta watch out for, but I think up and down our offense is better throughout.
I’ve surprisingly read a lot of writers saying that the Blackhawks definitely have more forward depth than the Flyers. I’m hard fought to believe that. Really? I understand their top two lines are pretty good, and their third line can hurt you too. Our first two lines boast Mike Richards with Carter and Gagne, and our second line has Danny Briere with Hartnell and Leino. I know these aren’t blockbuster lines, but they’ve been very effective this postseason. If they’re going to match it up that way, I’d say our third line is way better than theirs. Claude Giroux’s line centering Asham and JVR has been great at creating scoring opportunities. Obviously, Claude Giroux has stepped it up this postseason and is a good reason for his line’s success. I think he will be one of the x-factors in this series and take over the game at times. I don’t see their third line matching ours. Our fourth line will be an effective checking line and get our team going, but I expect Madden and Eager to set the tone on their checking line as well.
Who Wants it More?
It’s going to be a tough series and a close one. Both of these teams don’t see each other much at all during the regular season, and the only time they did the Flyers won in dramatic fashion in the waning seconds of the game. If Laviolette can make some adjustments to the Chicago’s speed and style and do what he’s done coaching thus far, the Flyers will be in good position to win. I am a firm believer in my Flyers, and they’ve answered the bell throughout these playoffs. They’ve picked up a lot of fans along the way who left them for dead, and now they just have to execute. I don’t hate Chicago, but I’m sure I will once tonight’s game starts. Our defense is going to have to play stingy, and I think they will. The Flyers are the most physical team Chicago will face in this playoffs, and they’re going to get their bodies banged a lot. Expect some big hits from Mike Richards and such to set the tone. We will wear them down physically, and make this series ours. Shut down their attack, watch their counter-attack, get our forecheck and four lines rolling, and crowd Niemi’s crease. Play like they have all playoffs, we will win.
Prediction: I’ll do it like I’ve done all playoffs… Flyers in 6. They get the split by winning tonight in Chicago, then win their home games and drop Game 5 in Chicago, THEN win it at home and bring the Cup back to the orange-filled Wachovia Center and a parade down Broad Street commences.