The Philadelphia Flyers have travelled a strange road on their ride to the Stanley Cup Finals. As pre-season favorites to come out of the Eastern Conference the Flyers had some high expectations coming into the 2009-2010 NHL season. However, a bizarre series of events straight out of a Hollywood script sent the team through extreme highs and extreme lows all throughout an eventful regular season and a thus far brilliant postseason.
From a wide array of injuries to key players, to a mid-season head coaching change which saw the firing of John Stevens and the hiring of Peter Laviolette, to a goaltending carousel that eventually lead to third stringer Michael Leighton getting the starting job only to see him go down to injury and then come back in heroic fashion in the playoffs.
Nobody predicted the path the Flyers have taken to get to this point but they are here nonetheless against seemingly all the odds. And on the eve of the Stanley Cup Finals the Flyers hope to write one final chapter in this truly storybook tale to complete a magical 2009-2010 NHL season.
As we look forward to the series to come, the Flyers go in as heavy underdogs against the Chicago Blackhawks who dismantled the San Jose Sharks, a team that had finished the regular season as the #1 seed in the Western Conference.
The Flyers though can boast doing something that only two other teams have done in league history and that is come back from a 3-0 games deficit and win a playoff series. With the Blackhawks young and skilled talent and the Flyers never-say-die attitude this should be one of the better Finals that the NHL has seen in years.
Despite their history making postseason, the Flyers will have to defeat an offensive juggernaut that is the Chicago Blackhawks. Although they are young, the Blackhawks have a lot of postseason experience with their deep runs in the playoffs both last year and this year. They also have an offensive attack that is deeper than any other team the Flyers have faced this postseason.
All that being said about the Blackhawks, the Flyers have a very legitimate shot of winning this series. With history and perhaps destiny on their side the Flyers may be able to ride the momentum they are currently on all the way to hoisting Lord Stanley’s Cup. In order to get there, here are five things the Flyers must do to have success and win their first Stanley Cup since 1975:
Both these young guys have really been key in scoring crucial goals for the Flyers and picking up slack when some important players were out with injuries. Leino is a magician with the puck and his fancy stick-handling have lead to some beautiful goals as well as some timely assists. The ex-Red Wing adds much needed depth to a roster that has been plagued with injuries throughout the course of the year.
In Claude Giroux, Flyers fans are seeing the birth of a superstar for their franchise through the course of this postseason. Putting up 17 points in 17 games in these playoffs, he has been a constant and really been one of the consistent bright spots for the Flyers.
Both Leino and Giroux are skilled hockey players and have really developed into key pieces and important factors in deciding the Flyers’ success in big games. Both will have to play well to compliment the top lines and provide some support in matching up against the Blackhawks’ deep roster.
The star right winger is on his third Finals team in the last three years. Both the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Detroit Red Wings lost each of the past two years when Hossa suited up for each of them respectively. Furthermore he only has 2 goals in 16 playoff games thus far in the Blackhawks playoff run this year.
The Flyers would be wise to put pressure on Hossa to perform and live with the results. Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews are the ones that can possibly make the Flyers lose sleep in the days to come. Until Hossa starts putting the puck in the net expect the Flyers to exert top defensive effort elsewhere on the ice.
The much publicized individual battle between these two big bodies has gained a lot of steam in the past couple of days. Both guys live around the crease and play a physical brand of hockey around the net.
Byfuglien has been one of the biggest surprises of the postseason and played a pivotal role in the Western Conference Finals as he scored 3-game winning goals against the Sharks.
Pronger in the meantime is the leading time-on-ice guy in the league this postseason, averaging close to 30 minutes a game. Don’t expect those minutes to go down against the most skilled team the Flyers will see all postseason.
Look for some epic confrontations between these two powerhouse players on both ends of the ice. Depending on which one of these two will have a bigger impact not only against each other but against the opposing goalie as well will go a long way in determining how the series will play-out.
While the focus all year has been on the Flyers goaltending situation, the series I believe will be determined on the other end. What the Flyers have been able to do against a future hall-of-famer in Martin Brodeur as well as two of the hottest goalies this postseason in Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak has really been overlooked.
The Flyers had Brodeur’s number all year and that trend continued in the postseason as they were able to beat the New Jersey Devils in 5 games in the first round.
Tuukka Rask who had beaten Olympic hero Ryan Miller in the first round was also brought back down to earth by the Flyers who brought a hard-crashing style of play around the net. Of course Rask much like the Bruins was finished off by the Flyers in Game 7 after they came back not only from a 3-0 series deficit but a game 7, 3-0 goals deficit.
Finally, the Flyers dominated Jaroslav Halak, the goalie who was being heralded as the Canadiens’ savior after he stood on his head and helped the Canadiens beat both the Washington Capitals and the Pittsburgh Penguins in back-to-back series.
The Flyers made Halak look average at best as they were able to put in 13 goals against him in just 5 playoff games. The Flyers should be feeling confident in what they’ve been doing around the opposition’s goal crease and the success they’ve had against some of the best goaltenders in the NHL.
Another boost for the Flyers should be knowing that this is Niemi’s first go around as a starting goaltender and although Michael Leighton hasn’t faced the type of pressure that the Blackhawks can bring, Niemi hasn’t faced the type of pressure that the Flyers can bring.
Look for the Flyers to continue to attack the net and for the likes of Chris Pronger, Jeff Carter, and Scott Hartnell to constantly be in front of Niemi and make life miserable for him.
If the Flyers continue to attack the net and push and shove and fight for every rebound and loose puck in front of the goal then they can expect to have the same kind of success that they’ve had against their previous foes.
Needless to say along with the other things I’ve mentioned, the Flyers top guys like Mike Richards, Simon Gagne, and Daniel Briere are going to have to play well and continue to do what they’ve been doing as well. Goalie Michael Leighton will also have to continue his stellar play from the last two series and hope to end what has been a brilliant postseason so far on a positive note.
I have been watching the Flyers for the past 14 years and I don’t think I’ve ever seen a squad as resilient and tough as the one in this year’s campaign. A lot of credit really goes to Peter Laviolette for turning this thing around and instilling a system that the players really buy into and look to execute. His timely timeouts (no pun intended) and aggressive style of play have really made all the difference in the world for a team that during some points in the season didn’t even look like it would be able to make the postseason let alone the Finals.
Win or lose this has been one of the most exciting times to be a Flyers fan since the early 2000s when the Flyers were engaging in epic Conference Finals battles with the likes of John LeClair, Keith Primeau, and Mark Recchi leading them.
Though, this of course is the first time the Flyers have actually made the Finals since the 1997 season when the "Legion of Doom" was terrorizing the league. Unlike their 1997 counterparts though, the 2009-2010 Flyers have more than one brilliant line to throw out there on the ice in what should be a Finals that will be remembered for a long, long time to come.