The Journey for the Cup
The Philadelphia Flyers will play the Chicago Blackhawks in the Stanley Cup Finals. Wow! I can’t say that I saw this coming with the way the Flyers snuck into the playoffs. They needed a shootout victory over the New York Rangers in the final game of the season just too reach the playoffs. At the start of the playoffs the Flyers were not playing their best hockey. Just like all season they were very inconsistent and weren’t able to put together a good stretch of games.
The first round they faced the New Jersey Devils and easily disposed of the number two seeded team in the Eastern Conference in five games. All of sudden the team was playing their best hockey of the season. Brain Boucher was playing very well after stepping in for the injured Michael Leighton. He was doing everything that he could to help propel this team into the second round. Chris Pronger was also showing Flyer fans why he is so good come playoff time. He and the other defensemen really limited Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk during this series and it was an easy victory for the Flyers.
In round two they faced the sixth seeded Boston Bruins who were able to eliminate the Buffalo Sabres in six games. The Flyers started the series without Simon Gagne, Jeff Carter and Ian Laperriere who were all injured in the first round against the Devils. The Flyers were down in the series 0-3. Goalie Brian Boucher injured his knee during game five and in stepped Michael Leighton. Leighton was just cleared to play and was in his first game as a backup goaltender for Boucher when he was hurt. Leighton went on to play brilliantly for the injured Boucher and help the Flyers make the improbable comeback and take the series in seven games. Simon Gagne also returned early from his foot injury to help propel the Flyers forward.
In the Eastern Conference Finals the Flyers faced the Montreal Canadiens. The Canadiens were flying high just beating the number one Washington Capitals and defending champions the Pittsburgh Penguins. It looked like it was going to be a tough series for the Flyers. The Flyers had home ice for the series and took games one and two in Philly. Michael Leighton recorded two shutouts in the first two games and continued his strong play. Mike Richards demonstrated to us all why he is the captain of the Philadelphia Flyers during game five. He carried the team to victory and showed that he wants the Stanley Cup. Jeff Carter also returned during the end of the series and looked really good. Ian Laperriere also returned as the Flyers were closing out the series in Montreal. The Flyers were able to win the series in five games and advanced to the Stanley Cup Finals.
Now this team will face the Chicago Blackhawks in the Stanley Cup Finals in what will be a very good series. Both teams have extremely deep offensive talent and can put the puck in the net with any of its four lines. They both have extremely good defenses, though I give the edge to Chicago because they can roll three defensive pairings while the Flyers will rely on the top 4 of Pronger, Matt Carle, Braydon Coburn and Kimmo Timonen.
The goalies are evenly matched in that this is their first playoff experience and their first Stanley Cup final. Leighton has shown that he is the real deal with his three shutouts in the Conference Finals vs. the Canadiens. He has posted six wins with a 1.45 GAA and .948 save percentage after taking over for the injured Boucher. Antti Niemi also has played very well for the Blackhawks posting 12 wins with a 2.33 GAA and .921 save percentage.
Leading scorers for both teams are their young captains. Jonathan Toews has 25 points for the Blackhawks, while Mike Richards has 21 for the Flyers.
I look for this to be a very good series. I think the Flyers will win in seven. These teams are both evenly matched, but it’s the way the Flyers are playing right now that really impresses me. They are playing their best hockey at the right time. They finally have a healthy group and I feel as though the Blackhawks won’t be able to focus on just one line. If they try to shut down Carter-Richards-Gagne, Danny Briere or Claude Giroux will step their game up and contribute for the Flyers. It won’t be an easy series by any means, but I still believe the Flyers will win in the end.