Saturday, May 29, 2010

Stanley Cup Finals Preview

Some of you might have noticed that the 2010 Stanley Cup Finals start tonight at 8 p.m. in the United Center. This year's final series will pit two classic franchises with two extensive title droughts, meaning either Philadelphia's 35-year dryspell or Chicago's 49-year stretch will be no more in about two weeks.

Of course, the matchup is a curious one that at the start of the tournament six weeks ago, most would be hard-pressed to have expected. Chicago finished with the second-best record in the West and were widely considered a Championship contender, but the Flyers' road to the Finals was somewhat bumpier and less expected. If you've been following the playoffs at all, you don't need me to recount the improbability of their run, but in case you missed it here we go:

-- The Flyers earned a playoff spot on the final day of the season when journeyman Brian Boucher improbably outdueled Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist in a win-and-you're-in season finale shootout.
-- Philly took out the favored, second-seeded Devils in the first round, though given the Flyers' 5-1 record against New Jersey in the regular season this may have been the least likely step.
-- In a remarkable comeback, the Flyers became the fourth team in professional sports history to rally from a 3-0 series deficit to advance to the conference finals. To boot, Philly rallied from an early 3-0 deficit in Game 7 on the road in Boston. This series also saw Boucher suffer a season ending injury, leaving Michael Leighton, the fifth man to dress for the Flyers in net this year, between the pipes.
-- The Flyers dominated torridly hot Montreal goalie Jaroslav Halak and ousted the Canadiens, themselves on an unlikely run, in five games to make a wholly unexpected Finals appearance.

Of course, if you're a full-fledged Hawks, or a supporter of any stripe like myself, you'll be hoping Philly's dream run ends here. Of course, you might also want that strictly for the integrity of downtown Philadelphia's infrastructure. Either way, my entirely meaningless and uninfluential prediction will give you an only slightly biased idea of where the series is going, but I'll break it down this way.

While the Flyers have potent primary scoring on match with Chicago's the secondary scoring is not there. I'd have to give the Hawks the edge based on their offensive depth. Edge: Hawks.

Chicago's defense has bruisers and puck movers alike, which likely Norris winner Duncan Keith and his pretty new smile in tow. Philly's defense doesn't have the same depth. But it does have Chris Pronger. Edge: Flyers.

Neither goaltender is much to shout about, but I'll give Chicago's Antti Niemi the slight edge because of his tendency to come up big for most of this postseason.

So that leaves us where? Here. Blackhawks in Five. Chicago's secondary scoring puts it over the top. On the regular.

Generally I make a comment here about how I'm certain to be wrong, but, uh, I really hope I'm right this time around. Tune into NBC at 8 to see if I am.

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