I think it is time for me to admit that I suck at making predictions about the playoffs. For the Conference Finals I went 1 for 2 in my predictions, bringing me up to 6 for 14 over the course of the playoffs – meaning even if I get this last one right, I still will be below 50%. However, I’ll leave it to you to decide if I predicted Montreal in the Conference Finals in an effort to jinx my most hated team.
Anyway, the Stanley Cup Finals are set – The Chicago Blackhawks and the Philidelphia Flyers. At the beginning of the year, this wouldn’t have seen very far fetched – but the way the Flyers played in the regular season, needing a shootout victory on the last day to even make the Playoffs, I doubt anyone thought it would happen when the Playoffs began.
The Flyers were an underachieving team all season, plagued by inconsistent goaltending, in part because of injuries (7 different goalies suited up for the Flyers this season). But they got hot at the right time, rolling over the New Jersey Devils in Round 1, making their historic comeback from 3-0 in Round 2 against the Bruins in Round 2, then Roling over the giant killers – the Montreal Canadians – in Round 3. They have depth up front – with four strong lines of forwards, all of whom seem to be healthy now. Mike Richards has had a great playoffs, but so has Daniel Briere, Ville Lieno, Scott Hartnell and Claude Giroux. Now that Jeff Carter is back, that makes for one of the strongest line-ups of forward of any team in the league. On defense, they have a solid core of four – led by Chris Pronger, and including Timmonen, Carle and Coburn, their other two defensemen barely play – which could hurt the Flyers in the finals if these guys begin to wear down. In net, Michael Leighton has got to be seen as one of the best stories in the league this year, being claimed off waivers, and only getting into the Playoffs when Brian Boucher got hurt – at which point he has stepped up huge – including 3 shutouts in the series against the Canadians.
However, the other side is the Chicago Blackhawks, and they are better then any team the Flyers have faced this year in the playoffs. Jonathan Toews has been the best forward in the playoffs, and coming off his performance at the Olympics, where he won the Best Forward Award, he has become one of the best players in the entire league. He has been unstoppable all playoffs. His line mates Patrick Kane and Dustin Byufflin (I’m sure I’m misspelling that one) have also been great. When you add in Sharp, Hossa, Bowland, Madden et al, you have one of the only teams who are as deep up front as the Flyers are. On defense, the Blackhawks are even stronger. Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook are undoubtedly the best defense pairing in the NHL – and although they get all the attention, Brian Campbell, Brent Sopel and Hlamerston (again, misspelling is assured) are not slotches either. They have a distinct advantage in that area. In net, Antti Niemi has stepped up big in the playoffs – seemingly getting better and better with each passing round. Unlike the Flyers though, they do have a more reliable backup in Huet if Niemi goes down with injury.
In short, I think this is going to be a great series. Yes, Chicago ranked Second in the West – which was far and away the stronger conference this season – and were actually only a point away from claiming first. The Flyers were ranked seventh in the weak Eastern conference – with their point total, they wouldn’t have even been close had they been a Western Conference team. Yet, both teams have shown determination and talent to get to this point in the playoffs. Both teams have big forward who are going to punish the defense, and get in the goalies face. Both teams have strong defensemen who will make it harder for the Forwards, and can make long, accurate breakout passes. Both teams have previously untested goalies who have proven themselves to be capable of greatness. Both teams are healthy, and both will have adequate rest to prepare for the finals.
I have to give the edge to the Blackhawks though. They faced tougher opponents in the Nashville Predators, Vancouver Canucks and San Jose Sharks that Philly did with the Devils, Bruins and Canadians. In a way, Philly got lucky that there were so many upsets in the East. Could they have beaten Washington and Pittsburgh like the Canadians did? I don’t know. The Blackhawks however beat the best of the best, and looked convincing doing so. That’s why I give them a slight edge.
Prediction: Chicago in 7.