2010 Stanley Cup Finals: Five Stories To Watch
It is now set: the Chicago Blackhawks will face the Philadelphia Flyers in the Stanley Cup Finals. What a matchup!
Back in September, this was a believable pair of teams for the Finals. While the Blackhawks have stayed at or around the top of the Western Conference the entire season, it wasn't until the final day of the regular season in a shootout that the Flyer made the playoffs after a season with more ups and downs than a game of "Candyland."
Seven goaltenders and two head coaches have led the Flyers to where they are now, headed to Chicago.
As different as the paths to the Finals have been for these two teams, they share a lot in common. Let's take a look at some of the themes that tie these two franchises together as they prepare to compete for hockey's ultimate prize.
1. The 2007 Draft
In the summer of 2007, for the first time in the history of the Original Six franchise, the Chicago Blackhawks had the first overall pick in the NHL Draft.
They had a choice to make between a small kid with a magical ability to control the puck from Buffalo and a big, strong kid from New Jersey.
When then-GM Dale Tallon stepped to the podium in Columbus, Ohio, he confidently read the name of the kid from Buffalo, Patrick Kane.
With the second overall pick, the Philadelphia Flyers selected the kid from Jersey, James Van Riemsdyk.
By selecting Van Riemsdyk second, the 2007 Draft marked the first time in the history of the NHL that American-born players were the top two selections in the draft, forever tying the two kids together.
Kane, despite his size, jumped straight to the NHL and had an immediate impact. He won the 2007 Calder Trophy as the league's top rookie and has continued to progress as a player.
He had one of the most productive seasons of any Blackhawks player in the last 20 years in 2009-10, leading the Blackhawks with 88 points (matching his number), 30 goals and 58 assists.
He also ranks second in the 2010 postseason (behind Jonathan Toews) with 20 points (7 G, 13 A).
Van Riemsdyk, meanwhile, did not matriculate to the NHL until this season. He played in 78 games and finished the season with 15 goals and 35 assists. The ceiling appears to be very high for the second pick in the 2007 draft.
2. 2009 Free Agency
In the summer of 2009, there were two marquee free agents that towered above every other name on the market.
One had played in consecutive Stanley Cup Finals and was an elite scorer, while the other was one of the premier defensemen of the last 20 years.
Both would sign long-term contracts that would eventually be reviewed by the NHL because of their length and structure, and both would play a key role for their respective teams this season.
Marian Hossa agreed to terms with the Blackhawks just moments after the opening of the free agency period. He would have shoulder surgery just a couple weeks later, and missed the first month of the season rehabbing from the injury.
Once he entered the Blackhawks' lineup, though, he was dynamite. In 57 games, Hossa had 24 goals, 27 assists and ended the season +24, all while spending most of his time on the Blackhawks' second line.
Chris Pronger, meanwhile, agreed to terms with the Flyers and began the season in the same relative funk as the rest of his teammates.
Lots of blogs questioned if Pronger was the right addition, and the Flyers ultimately made a change behind the bench in an effort to spark a revival.
It worked, and Pronger's play overall this season was exceptional. Indeed, he probably should have been a Norris Trophy finalist. He ended the season among the league leaders in hits and blocked shots.
3. Canadian Olympic Teammates
4. Added Championship Experience
Both teams added veterans to their rosters through free agency last summer with Stanley Cup experience.
For the Blackhawks, adding John Madden as a third/fourth center was an enormous addition.
The Selke Award winner is one of the best penalty-killing centers in the game and, despite his age, has been a key contributor for the Hawks all season.
Madden has two Stanley Cup championship rings from his time with the New Jersey Devils.
Pronger brought jewelry of his own to the Flyers last summer. He was a member of the 2007 Stanley Cup champion Anaheim Ducks and, like Hossa, will be playing in the Finals for a third franchise this year.
For the Blackhawks, Andrew Ladd also has a ring from Carolina.
5. Castaways Looking For Payback
The Battle Begins!
Clearly there are a lot of storylines that will emerge in this series. It will be a hard-nosed, physical series that should stir the echoes of old-time hockey.
Great, elite defensemen on both sides, great young scorers, and two hot young little-known goalies will get their shot at hockey's ultimate prize.
For the record, I'm taking the Blackhawks in five.
Let the games begin! (Well... on Saturday night at 8 PM EST)