2010 Stanley Cup Finals: Blackhawks and Flyers: Similar Teams, Different Paths

Derrick LightfootContributor IMay 28, 2010

CHICAGO - MAY 28: Ville Leino #22 of the Philadelphia Flyers sports a Stanley Cup Final label on his helmet during practice at the United Center on May 28, 2010 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

When I was making my preseason predictions, I figured I would be edgy. I picked the Blackhawks to meet the Flyers in the Stanley Cup Final.

This "edgy" pick was soon revealed to be nothing special as I watched many analysts pick the same final.

Throughout the year Chicago looked like the real deal, as they were in a tight battle with the Sharks for first in the Western Conference. This was not very surprising, as most had picked the Blackhawks to hold off the Red Wings and take the Central Division.

The Flyers were completely different. They started off well, but couldn't string together wins. Injuries to their net minders hindered their performance slightly, but overall the team was not playing well. Emery went down, and Boucher was in. Boucher didn't fair well as the starter, and goaltender Michael Leighton was claimed on waivers.

I won't talk about the Leighton story, nothing against him but if you watched one game in the Flyers-Habs series, you know everything and anything about his road to the Cup Final.

Long story short, Philly squeaked into the playoffs on the last day of the regular season, winning in a shootout over the New York Rangers.

In the playoffs, you could say the biggest test Chicago faced was in the first round against the Predators. They really had no trouble against the Canucks, and busted out the brooms on the Sharks in the Western Conference Final.

Not many were surprised to see the Blackhawks go the distance to the Stanley Cup Final.

Philadelphia was not the favorite against the Devils. New Jersey went out and acquired Ilya Kovalchuk in hopes of making a lengthy playoff run. The Flyers had different plans, as they surprised the Devils in five, but lost Jeff Carter and Simon Gagne in the process.

This led many to believe the Bruins would make short work of the Flyers, and even more so when Boston had a three-to-nothing series lead.

But of course, the broad street bullies were not done. They rallied to even up the series (even when Brian Boucher went down to injury and the rusty Leighton replaced him in Game Five).

Game Seven, the Bruins led 3-0 at one point, but we learned better than to count out the Flyers. They scored four unanswered to put them in the Eastern Final where they were too much for the Habs, finishing them in five.

Despite the differences in paths to the Final, the Flyers and Blackhawks are very similar teams.

I'll start between the pipes, and both of these teams have relied on solid goaltending to get them here. Niemi and Leighton weren't starting for their respective clubs at the beginning of the year (hell, Leighton was not on the Flyers at the beginning of the year). Niemi won the starting job down the stretch and has played remarkably after some shaky games against Nashville.

Leighton wasn't even starting at the beginning of the playoffs. Yet the rust didn't yield his performance, as he posted three shutouts in the Montreal series. Niemi is probably the more skilled goaltender, but there is no doubting Michael Leighton.

Both have played remarkable in these playoffs, at this point I don't think either team holds the edge in goaltending.

The similarities do not end there. On the blue line both teams have a good mix of two-way defenseman and pure defensive guys. Blackhawk Brian Campbell is the most gifted puck mover on either team, but his two-way game hasn't been too swell this year.

Don't be fooled, though, guys like Keith, Seabrook, Pronger, and Coburn can still move the puck and provide plenty of offense. Their defensive game has been the strong point of both these defensive cores. A big reason the two goaltenders have been able to be so good is the solid defensive play in front of them.

A theme that should emerge is Duncan Keith versus Chris Pronger. At the Olympics this year Keith outplayed Pronger on Canada's blue line by a mile (who didn't though?). Speedy, young guys (like Kane) were blowing by Pronger all tournament and eventually Keith and Doughty were the go-to guys on defense.

Keith was stellar at the Olympics, but really declined after. He wasn't playing half of what he was capable of, but it was a relatively short slump, as Keith has been a stud for Chicago in the playoffs.

Taking a look at the forwards, there are not many differences. With Chicago the offense runs around Captain Toews and Patrick Kane. In Philadelphia the offense runs around Captain Mike Richards and Jeff Carter. Byfuglien from the Blackhawks has stepped up huge on the top line with Toews and Kane. Pronger will most likely get the job of marking up Big Buff in front of the net.

It will be interesting to see who will win that battle.

It's pretty straight forward, each forward core has a mix of snipers, playmakers and grit. Guys like Bolland and Carcillo will provide grit but can also get on the score sheet. Sharp and Giroux will provide vital secondary scoring for their respective teams. Hossa hasn't looked good this playoff and Chicago could use some goals from him.

Time for the prediction. I think people aren't giving the Flyers enough credit, but the Blackhawks will be too good for the Flyers. Chicago's slight edge on defense gives the potential for Niemi to outplay Leighton.

Toews with the Conn Smythe and I got the 'Hawks in six.


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