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Flyers, Blackhawks Stanley Cup Finals A Matchup Of Similar Teams

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Flyers vs. Blackhawks Preview

(Game 1- Saturday, May 29th in Chicago- 8PM)

If you watch the NHL, you're well aware of Barry Melrose. The suit, the goatee, and of course, the mullet. Before the year got under way,The Philadelphia Flyers will go for Stanley Cup #3. Photo:http://www.latimes.com/media/photo/2010-05/53933099.jpg Melrose picked the Stanley Cup to feature the Philadelphia Flyers against the Chicago Blackhawks. At the time many would have thought it was a logical choice when you looked at the two teams on paper, however midway through the season you might have been scratching your head. But, lo and behold, the 2010 Stanley Cup Finals has the Philadelphia Flyers vs. the Blackhawks from Chicago. So, what can we expect from this series?

First, if you have been following the Flyers post-lockout then you are well aware that their 2006-2007 season was an absolute nightmare. The outcome saw the Flyers land the second overall pick in the 2007 NHL Draft, selecting James van Riemsdyk, while the first overall pick was Patrick Kane of the Chicago Blackhawks. What a difference one pick has been this year. Kane has 20 points this postseason with 7 goals and 13 assists. “JVR” (as van Riemsdyk is often referred to in Philly) only has four points, with two goals and two assists. Still, these two young stars are primary reasons why their teams have been able to turn their organization around from bottom dwellers to cup contenders.

It’s pretty scary how similar these two teams actually are. You look at their captains who are two of the best in the game, they both play the center position, they both were part of the gold medal Canadian Olympic team and they’re two of the youngest captains in hockey, Jonathan Toews (22) and Mike Richards (25). Toews leads the postseason with 26 points and Richards isn’t far off with 18. When you evaluate these two teams, it’s their young stars that stand out. In Chicago you have Kane, Toews, Dustin Byfuglien and Kris Versteeg who carry the Blackhawks offense. In Philly it’s Jeff Carter, Richards, van Riemsdyk and Claude Giroux who generate most of the Flyers scoring.

Then you have the shut down defenders who have helped both these teams man-handle elite names such as Dany Heatley, Henrik Sedin, and Ilya Kovalchuk.

Mike Cammalleri. Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook have held the blue-line for the Blackhawks and their tough, physical play has helped them reach their first Stanley Cup Finals since 1992. This offseason the Flyers gave up several first-round picks to acquire veteran defender Chris Pronger...and it paid off. Pronger has simply been a machine for this team. The 35 year-old averaged 25:56 ice time in the regular season and 28:54 minutes in The Chicago Blackhawks are looking for their first Stanley Cup since 1961. Photo: http://media.silive.com/sportsstories/photo/ap-blackhawks-stanley-cup-2010jpg-c710f03faf3d3413_large.jpgthis postseason. Pronger’s play has elevated the production of the other defenders on the team, like Matt Carle and Braydon Coburn.

Then it’s the battle of the “No Name Goalies”. What a great storyline that these teams have going on between the pipes. A year ago names like Michael Leighton and Antti Niemi were unheard of, now they are common household names for hockey lovers. Niemi played in all of three games last season as the third-stringer for Chicago. Leighton was picked up by the Flyers off of waivers this season after brief stops in Chicago, Philadelphia (yes, Leighton is actually on his second tour in Philly), Nashville and Carolina. Leighton has now set a franchise record for the Flyers with three shutouts in the Eastern Conference Finals and leads all other goalies with a GAA of 1.37 and SVPCT of .951 this postseason. Niemi has had an impressive postseason as well, going 12-4 with a GAA of 2.33 and SVPCT of .921. The two net-minders will certainly be tested this series with the offensive fire power each team is armed with.

This series should certainly be worth the price of admission. The hockey market in both cities is thriving and both teams seem to have a touch of destiny. The Flyers shocked the sports world coming back to beat the Boston Bruins after trailing 0-3 in the conference semi-finals, becoming the third team in NHL history to win a series after trailing 3-0. The Blackhawks just completed a sweep of the number one seeded San Jose Sharks and are red hot. Both teams have lost their last five Stanley Cup series since they last won the cup. The Flyers last won in 1975 and the Blackhawks in 1961.

Flyers coach Peter Laviolette coached the Carolina Hurricanes to their Stanley Cup victory in 2006, so the taste of victory is still somewhat fresh in his mouth. Kane finished ninth in overall points this season with 88, while Carter finished tied for 13th in goals scored with 33. In their only meeting this year back in March, the Flyers pulled off a 3-2 victory when Chris Pronger scored with .02 seconds left in the game. It’s the biggest stage in hockey, featuring some of the youngest and brightest stars in the NHL. These are two hard hitting hockey teams, with solid defenders on both sides of the puck. Will the two goalies in net continue their solid play?

Saturday night will be the first sign of what kind of series we can expect, but it seems to be shaping up to be a real gem.

Contact Jonathan Stewart at js1330@gmail.com