Philadelphia Flyers' Cup Win Would be a Better Story
With all due respect to the Chicago Blackhawks and their fans, the NHL needs the Philadelphia Flyers to win this year’s Stanley Cup.
Let's discuss obvious reasons for this claim as well as some not so clear.
Almost everyone loves an underdog story and the Flyers might just be the biggest one in recent NHL history. Not only are they the Eastern Conference's seventh seed but they also needed an overtime shootout victory over the New York Rangers just to get into the playoffs.
Philadelphia also pulled off one of the best, if not the best comeback in a professional sports playoff series, when down three games to none against the Boston Bruins they stormed back to win four straight.
The Flyers have overcome mind-boggling injuries. In the first round series against New Jersey, star forwards Jeff Carter and Simon Gagne suffered significant foot injuries and Ian Laperriere took a vicious slap shot to the face.
Yet every player has returned to action.
Gagne had two screws put into his right toe and then he put the screws to Boston, culminating with his game-winning goal in game seven.
Laperriere lost seven teeth, broke a bone above his lip, and had 100 stitches after blocking a slap shot with his face in November.
Then, in game four against the Devils, he was hit again and suffered a concussion, a brain bruise, and a broken orbital bone. His return has clearly inspired his teammates that anything is possible.
The Flyers are built with several “no-names.” Philly signed right-winger Arron Asham as an unheralded free agent in July 2008. In the team's clinching finals win over Montreal, Asham took a pass from defensemen Matt Carle and scored on a wrist shot to give the hosts a 2-1 advantage.
Ville Leino was acquired from Detroit in February in a trade that virtually no one paid attention to. Yet the left-winger produced five points in the first four games against Montreal.
No Cinderella stories can compare to the ones of coach Peter Laviolette and goalie Michael Leighton.
Laviolette led the Carolina Hurricanes to a Stanley Cup victory in 2006 only to be unceremoniously dumped early last season. Several coaching vacancies surfaced but Laviolette was passed over for all of them until the Flyers hired him to replace John Stevens on December 4th, 2009.
Laviolette changed the entire style of the team. Philadelphia went from a defensive, opportunity seeking team to an up-tempo aggressive team that puts an emphasis on puck possession.
Leighton's story is the most remarkable. He was claimed off the reentry waiver list on December 15th. During a nine-year career he has played in just 103 games for Nashville, Carolina, Montreal and yes, the Chicago Blackhawks.
Leighton wasn't just a journeyman. He was a career back-up journeyman who had run out of chances. Leighton was 17-9-2 in the regular season for the Flyers but a high ankle sprain suffered on March 16th was supposed to end his season.
What followed next is on its way to becoming sports legend.
After goaltender Brian Boucher suffered a pair of knee injuries early in the second period in game five against Boston, Leighton calmly stopped 14 shots and helped fuel the comeback against the Bruins. Against Montreal, he became the first Philadelphia goalie and the 13th in NHL history to record three shutouts in a playoff series.
I'm sure there are a few reasons to point to the Blackhawks as the team that needs to win the Cup, but given everything that the Flyers have gone through the NHL probably has just about enough material for “Miracle on Ice 2.” If the USA's Olympic run this year was any indication, people and sports fans especially are still up for a good cinderella story and the NHL needs all the followers it can get. That's why the NHL needs the Flyers to win the Stanley Cup.
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