One more day we have to get through. Two major hockey markets, two loooooong Stanley Cup Droughts. Most experts are picking the ‘Hawks. Most people are picking the ‘Hawks. Of course, Philadelphia now has the “everyone against us” mentality. The fans are psyched, and all this time waiting between series is just torture. So let’s break down the matchups and see what we come up with. As usual, we’ll focus on centers and goalies, and then look at all of the other major factors.
Centers – Toews, Sharp, Bolland, Madden for the Hawks, against Richards, Briere, Giroux, and Betts for the Flyers. Wow, what a matchup. I’m leaving Carter out of this mix because since coming back from injury, he’s played wing. Toews and Richards do everything, are 1-2 in playoff scoring, and are the unquestioned leaders of their teams. Sharp and Briere, both are known a bit more for their sharp shooting than their defense. Sharp is probably a bit more responsible than Briere, but Briere has played a lot better in his own end than we’re used to seeing. It’s that will to win baby! I don’t know much about Bolland, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say Giroux gets the nod here. He’s possibly the most skilled Flyer, and his line isn’t really a third line. Flyers have 2 second lines between his unit and Briere’s. That leaves us with Madden and Betts. Both are defensive specialists and forgotten guys on the main stage. But people that follow each of these teams know how valuable these guys are, how much dirty work they do, and we appreciate them. Madden always played well against the Flyers when he was in Jersey. He was a pretty dangerous penalty killer, so the Flyers gotta watch out for him. His offense makes him a tad bit better than Betts in the long haul. But neither team relies on scoring from these guys, so it’s pretty much a wash. It’s hard to pick which group is better. Flyers have a slight edge in skill, but they are terrible at faceoffs. I honestly don’t know who is better.
Goalies – Both guys are playing out of their minds, and are the best two in the playoffs. Leighton came back from injury and picked up where he left off in the regular season. Niemi has been pretty solid throughout the playoffs and has stolen a few games. Both guys came out of nowhere to get the starting jobs for their teams during the season. Leighton got the nod because everyone else kept getting hurt, while Niemi proved to be better than Huet over the course of the season. Each guy has played solid, and has not been the weak link like many experts expected. Neither guy has a tremendous track record we can look back upon to try to predict how they will be in the Finals. Neither has great experience, and both are new to this stage. I ripped Leighton a lot during the season for going down early and poor rebound control. Both of the flaws are almost completely gone. Niemi I have not observed, so I don’t know his game very well. I hear he’s got a weak high glove, so hopefully we expose that. Once again, things are pretty even at this position.
Well, so far I’ve gotten nowhere. As the cliché goes, defense wins championships. So I guess I might as well look at that next.
Defense – Pronger, Carle, Timonen, Coburn against Keith, Seabrook, Campbell and Sopel. Tons of speed, skill, and toughness to go around. Keith is a Norris candidate, Pronger deserved a bit of consideration as well. Carle has learned a lot and is definitely benefitting from playing with Prongs. Seabrook has flourished too, and makes a solid shutdown partner for Keith to play with. Coburn and Timonen are very familiar with each other, and used to be the Flyers best pair. They too can match up against anybody, while providing some offense too. Campbell is known for his skating and offensive ability, but since rushing back from injury has not contributed as much as he’s capable of. Sopel is the more defensive of the two, so he’ll sit back a bit more. The third unit’s for both teams are almost negligible, as they get very little playing time. I think all 4 top guys for both teams are reliable in every situation. They’re all dangerous in the transition game, and can play against anyone thrown against them. So still, it seems like a wash to me.
Who do we have left?
Wings – Kane, Hossa, Byfuglian, Ladd, Versteeg for the Chicago, and Carter, Gagne, Leino, Hartnell, and JVR for the Flyers. There are other key role players, but I’ll focus on the skill guys. The Flyers can match the ‘Hawks speed, size and skill level at this spot too…unless Hossa wakes up. He’s been dormant in the goal scoring department thus far in the playoffs. If something clicks, I think he’s the most talented guy in this matchup. But for now, that’s not the case. And because of Carter playing on the wing, I give the edge to the Flyers. Both he and Gagne can match Kane’s speed, and will not let him skate around and dominate. Byfuglian is on fire right now, playing like a top notch power forward. But guess what, he’s not Cam Neely. He’s not a superstar, he’s a guy playing a bit over his head right now. Still, you can’t just toss out what he’s been doing lately just because of his regular season production. Giroux didn’t exactly light the league on fire, but he’s the toast of the town for what he’s doing now. Leino is playing extremely well right now too, with all of us asking where this guy was in the regular season. Hartnell and JVR have started playing better as the playoffs have moved on, but neither is a constant threat. Ladd and Versteeg have similar numbers to those two, so we’re stuck once again. I guess to sum up this section, I’ll go with what I began with. If Hossa wakes up, ‘Hawks have a big advantage. If he keeps doing everything but light the lamp, then it’s another wash.
So after going through every position, I’m still not sure. So let’s go to coaching.
Peter Laviolette vs. Joel Quenneville. Lavy is younger, has a Cup, and after taking over for John Steven’s is credited with making a talented line-up play up to its expectations. Quenneville has one of the greatest mustaches of all time, the Q-Stache. He was the boss of a very good St. Louis Blues team for a long time. Unfortunately for him, the Red Wings and Avalanche were dominating the West, and kept him from ever making the finals. A short stint in Colorado didn’t lead anywhere. Since taking over the ‘Hawks last season, he took them to the Western Conference Finals, and now the Stanley Cup Finals. He’s got a ton of experience, but just not at this stage. Lavy’s in game adjustments have already become legendary in Philly, with the most memorable being the time out after Boston took a 3-0 lead in Game 7. Because of how he’s turned this team around and gotten them playing, and because of his past success, I’m going with Laviolette here.
Even that doesn’t make things easier to pick. So far, I’m on the record in 2 places picking the ‘Hawks in 6. I think they had tougher teams to go through to get here. But I can’t discount what Flyers did to Boston. Revisionists are looking back and saying that the Bruins were weak, they were hurt, that it wasn’t that shocking. Really? Because going into the series they were favored, and picked by most. The Flyers dominated them, and earned that comeback by being that much better. In today’s edition of the Philadelphia Metro, and on last night’s Rink Side Rants interview, I picked ‘Hawks in 6. Their solid regular season, their playoff run, it all points to them continuing their roll. But my heart says that these Flyers are special too. And now I’m not so sure that Chicago will have a Stanley Cup Parade.
After last night’s podcast, I went to my parent’s house, and talked about the series with my dad. He’s generally pretty negative. Once, on the way to a soccer championship, he told me we’d probably lose. Thanks for the motivation, pops. Year after year, he always says the Flyers need more, never giving them hope. Last night, he picked the Flyers to win the Cup.
I’m still not sure. I know I picked the Hawks in 6, so I guess I’ll stick to that. It’s depressing to pick against your own team after such an amazing run. My friend says I’m giving Chicago too much credit, overanalyzing, and not giving the Flyers enough credit. So I’ll stick with my prediction, and will pray that I am dead wrong. I know our building is tough to play in, and this team will not die quietly. So my heart is yearning for me to pick the Flyers, and I want to pick the Flyers. And despite what I predict, I will be severely disappointed if they do lose. And at the start of each game I’ll still think we can and should win. I think I’m starting to ramble now, so I’ll end it with this:
LET’S GO FLYERS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Thanks for reading!
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