(I don't know what's going on with Hayden Panettiere and the Cup...but I's likes it.)
Well, here it is. We have the last two teams looking to hoist that 30+ pound silver challis which makes every bump, bruise, and broken tooth feel better. With last round, did awesome in the West, took the collar in the East. Maybe it's a sign, maybe Blackhawks fans should keep me around. Either way, there's only one left to go, and here it is.
(2W) CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS vs. (7E) PHILADELPHIA FLYERS
I'll be going about this in a different light-- doing a Nick Bakay gimmick in terms of the "Tale of the Tape" and determining the winner. Of course, if you listened live to this past week's FOHS; you know who I picked and how I picked it-- but for those who don't know that show actually exists....here it be.
If you were to tell me that Antii Niemi and Michael Leighton would be the starting goalies in the Stanley Cup Finals, I would have challenged you to a fight. However, the folk hero-esque rise of these two guys has been a story within itself; but which one will be the actual hero and who will be a footnote in history and maybe lose their gig next season.
Niemi took over for Cristobal Huet and did struggle in the first round. However, once the jitters were eased, Niemi has looked amazing against the likes of the Vancouver Canucks and San Jose Sharks. While he hasn't had a shutout since the first round, Niemi has kept the Hawks in it and with him winning five straight-- he looks very unbeatable. That said, Leighton has came in after an injury that kept him out weeks and he looks like he hasn't missed a beat; especially coming into a situation like he did against the Bruins. Leighton has regained the magic that helped the Flyers get into a playoff situation, plus has been getting plenty of support with the injured forwards coming back at the right time. Leighton's freshness should be a solid factor in terms of the rigors of the Finals, as does his solid 1.45 GAA and three shutouts.
ADVANTAGE: PUSH-- While Leighton is fresh and his numbers do look fantastic, you can question whether he's been really tested or not. The Bruins looked very weak and lacked a killer instinct when it came to getting into the zone; while the Habs just were out of gas. Niemi has looked good, but there are times where he has his lapses. If he suffers a lapse in one game, it could determine the series.
The big thing for the Blackhawks is trying to deal with a grinding team. While Duncan Keith has improved in the Conference Final, there's still a lot of his game (and teeth) needs to be revitalized. The two Brents-- Seabrook and Sopel-- should be solid factors, with Seabrook contributing on both sides of the puck and needs one more goal to match his regular season total. Niklas Hjalmarsson has also been an undercover contributor for the Hawks and really fills out the defense. Oh, and Brian Campbell is there as well and playing decently, though he hasn't been stellar.
While the Flyers blue-line will be Chris Pronger's until he leaves; it seems that some of his old-style play has brushed off on the like of Matt Carle and Braydon Coburn, both whom are logging over 24 minutes a game, which is just behind Pronger and Kimmo Timonen. The defense for the Flyers are a bunch of workhorse, but the question of if they can match-up to the speed of the Hawks will be the true test for them. Timonen and Pronger aren't spring chickens and could be worn down by the speed and physicality the Hawks will bring.
ADVANTAGE: BLACKHAWKS-- The thing that makes me determine this is how the Hawks defense is solid from the top to the bottom. The Flyers depend a lot on their top-four guys, which could come back to bite them with the Hawks offense wearing down their top guys. The Hawks run their lines solidly through, all of them getting almost 20 minutes at a clip and should be able to shutdown the Flyers offense.
Jonathan Toews has came to play in the playoffs like nothing else, while Dustin Byfuglien has rattled cages from here to Timbuktu. Which is amazing because it seems Byfuglien has really hid the play of Patrick Kane, who hasn't been too shabby, but also not as flashy as some would hope-- aside from the mullet. Guys like Marian Hossa, who is trying to break his Cup curse, hasn't been up to snuff; but luckily the depth guys like Dave Bolland, Patrick Sharp, and Kris Versteeg have added enough to be threats if the top guys get stymied.
The Flyers got a huge shot in the arm by the return of Simon Gagne and Jeff Carter up front. They struggled plenty without them, which is really the only slip-up they had in the playoffs-- the first three games against the Bruins. However, even with Gagne and Carter, you can't deny how well Mike Richards has played and how much Daniel Briere has started to earn the paycheck he's supposed to be playing for in the regular season. One guy that could be one to look at is Ville Leino, who has 12 points in 13 games with the Flyers and may be looked at in a bigger role in this series.
ADVANTAGE: BLACKHAWKS-- The Flyers have a lot of tools, but the Hawks combination of speed and roughness; that's going to be tough to keep up with. The defense is also offensive, as well-- which could create much havoc in front of Leighton. Niemi should be able to handle the Flyers offense, especially if the Hawks d-men can keep them from the scoring areas.
You can go on and on about power plays, penalty kill, killer instinct, but the match-ups are what are going to be the factor. The small battles will be the thing that determines how the series goes off. However, it won't be Byfuglien/Pronger, Toews/Richards, or Niemi/Leighton-- it's more than that.
The Hawks sport the likes of Vince Vaughn, Dan Aykroyd, Jim Belushi, and Kevin James in the stands. That kind of B-list start power is a solid display of affection, especially Vaughn; who knows it's not so much him as it is Roenick....he's good. While Kevin James is really a make-shift Hawks guy-- the folks from the Second City Chicago Troupe, like Aykroyd and Belushi; there's a chance we could see a Bill Murray sighting, which would be amazingly fantastic.
Yet, in Philly-- they have some bigger star power, like Will Smith, Tony Danza, Mark Wahlberg, and of course Joey Lawrence. You have a great mix of blockbuster kind of guys (Smith and Wahlberg) and then the random-but-still-remembered stars from the late-80s, early-90s in Danza and Lawrence. You have to love the mix they possess there, but in the end will it be enough to actually get these guys out to the rink??
ADVANTAGE: BLACKHAWKS-- Sure, it's a bit corny to see the celebs in the stands, but you have to give it to them in Chicago for coming out and letting themselves be known-- like Vaughn who has gone all out to be seen in Chi-town. You won't see anyone I mentioned from Philly show up-- which is good or bad depending on how you see it; but the celebs will be the intangibles and the Hawks win out.
Well, aside for the goaltending-- everything seems to lean Chicago's way. They have had a harder way than the Flyers to get to the Finals, but you have to wonder if that's a good thing or not. While the Flyers could be considered easy opponents in comparison, the Flyers are hungry and can overcome a lot of adversity. The Hawks will have to keep to their game plan and keep that killer instinct in order for them to bury the Flyers. And they may want to do it early, mostly due to the fact that if they don't-- it could spell a closer series than they want.
Chicago Blackhawks in Six Games.