2010 NHL Playoffs: Conference Finals Edition

Matt SitkoffCorrespondent IMay 24, 2010

CHICAGO - MAY 23:  Dave Bolland #36 and Duncan Keith #2 of the Chicago Blackhawks celebrate as the Blackhawks defeat the San Jose Sharks 4-2 to advance to the Stanley Cup after winning Game Four of the Western Conference Finals during the 2010 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the United Center on May 23, 2010 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Maxx Wolfson/Getty Images)
Maxx Wolfson/Getty Images

One half of the Stanley Cup Finals have been decided as the Chicago Blackhawks are going to play for the Cup for the first time since 1992 after winning the Western Conference Finals on Sunday.  We will have a full “Pucking Awesome Preview” once the other team is set.  For now let’s look at the top three things to watch for this week in the “Pucking Awesome Hat Trick.”


Flyered Up:

Seven goalies dressed shootout to get into the playoffs, down 3-0 in a series and 3-0 in Game 7—all no problem to these Philadelphia Flyers.  From a town that immortalized the ultimate underdog movie hero, Rocky , this is a run that seems only real in the movies.

One of the biggest attributes needed to win a Stanley Cup is resiliency.  The journey through the Stanley Cup playoffs is usually one with a lot of peaks and valleys.  Players are going in and out of the lineup, series turn on a dime and through it all the team that has mental toughness to work through those ebb and flows are the ones that come out on top.

With that being said the Montreal Canadiens are a team that has also shown some big time resiliency during the playoffs.  Being down 3-1 to the President Trophy Capitals and 3-2 to the defending Stanley Cup Champions, the Pittsburgh Penguins, and winning those series shows some serious intestinal fortitude.  It is almost like they would prefer to be in this position and have experts give them no shot to win.

Regardless, in any series the fourth win is the toughest to get.  That is when desperation takes over and the idea of not playing hockey anymore is so close to a reality for these players that cherish the game.  I will be looking forward to see if the Flyers will survive the first period back to the wall push by the Canadiens. If so, the Flyers have outscored their opponents by a 24-7 margin in the second period.  Those 24 second period goals lead the league.

To put that in perspective, the Blackhawks are 2nd in the league with 18 goals, and the Flyers have 50 goals total so that is almost half occurring in the second period.


Blackhawks Magic:

Although they do not have former Blackhawks superstar Jeremy Roenick on their side, who has come out to say he will root for the Flyers (another of his former teams) over the Blackhawks because they traded him, the Blackhawks have built this team for this moment.  From drafting in consecutive years Jonathan Toews (3rd overall in 2006) and Patrick Kane (1st overall in 2007) the pillars were built to start building this franchise from a place that saw them make the playoffs twice in the last 10 years (2002 and 2009)

Again I will have a lot more about this year’s team in the upcoming “Pucking Awesome Preview,” but this also was a team that surprisingly to some made a run to the Western Conference Finals last season, and obviously has built on that experience.  The biggest proclamation though was made on July 1st when the team forked over a 12-year, $62.8 million deal to winger Marian Hossa.   This move signaled to the hockey world that this young team did not see the 2009 Western Conference Finals appearance as a fluke. 

What I will be watching for this week is how this team deals with the extra media pressure put on a team that is set to contend for sports holy grail, this was expected of them and it will be interesting to see on how they deal with the label of favorite to win Chicago’s first Stanley Cup since 1961.


NHL Combine:

The NHL Combine is being held in Toronto from May 24-29 and it does not have the same appeal as the NFL or NBA combines, but it still is a great event to get a read on this year’s draft eligible talent.  By now we’ve all have heard of the top two prospects; Windsor Spitfires winger Taylor Hall and Plymouth center Tyler Seguin, and they deserve most of the press for this year’s draft.

Let’s not forget the other 98 prospects that will be brought to Toronto for interviews, medical screenings, and fitness tests both on and off the ice.  A couple of hockey bloodlines will be on display as Sault Ste. Marie defenseman Brock Beukeboom, son of four-time Stanley Cup champion Jeff Beukeboom, Oshawa forward Christian Thomas, who is the offspring of Steve Thomas, who played 20 years in the NHL, and Kamloops Blazers forward Brendan Ranford, nephew of former Oiler goaltender Bill Ranford.

Also attending are Russian top prospects Vladimir Tarasenko and Evgeny Kuznetsov.  Both should put on a show. The obvious missing transfer agreement will deflect some teams from drafting these talented kids near the top of the draft.  Kuznetsov put on a show at this year’s World U18 Championships with 5 goals, 12 points and +8 in being named a tournament All-Star.


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