Flyers vs. Blackhawks Stanley Cup Final Preview and Free Pick ]]> include($base_url . “/includes/header.htm”); ?>
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By Mike Ivcic
It’s a final no one saw coming – including me, as evident by my conference finals preview in which I predicted a Montreal-San Jose final. Of course, it would be Chicago and Philadelphia playing for the Stanley Cup. It’s just the way this season has been for me and my predictions. Still, I have a chance to redeem myself with one more preview and prediction, so let’s see if I can at least nail the Cup winner.
Chicago has been gaining momentum as the postseason has rolled along, particularly on the road. They have absolutely dominant in other teams’ buildings, winning the last seven road games they’ve played, including all three against Vancouver and both against San Jose. Now they get a chance to play in what is – admittedly – one of the most raucous arenas in the country for hockey: the Wachovia Center. But first, they get two home games in the Madhouse on Madison, which has been a spectacular venue in its own right the last two series.
The key for Chicago is the continued success of its top line. Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews were already known quantities coming into the postseason, but the emergence of right wing Dustin Byfuglien (thank God I only have to write it and not say it – kudos to Mike Emrick on that one) has really helped to make it the top line in the sport right now. If they continue to score at the same clip they did against San Jose, this series could be a very short one. Of course, the raised play of goaltender Antti Niemi certainly doesn’t hurt the Hawks chances at all.
Meanwhile Philadelphia is on their ninth different goalie (ok, not really, it just feels like it) and each one is getting better than the previous. Michael Leighton has stood on his head the past seven games, going 6-1 replacing Brian Boucher and earning every accolade he’s been given. There’s only one problem – he hasn’t come close to facing an team as stacked offensively as the Chicago Blackhawks. The Flyers will need Simon Gagne, Mike Richards, and Danny Briere to step up the scoring even more than they did against Montreal.
For this series, the only logical choice is Chicago. Mull on this: heading into the Eastern Conference playoffs, the Flyers were a shootout away from not even making the playoffs. After beating the Rangers on the final day to earn their berth, they were seeded seventh, and drew their division rival New Jersey Devils. Most pundits – myself included – looked at the bracket and figured it was Washington’s conference to lose. If they were indeed going to falter, it would be to either the defending Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins or the Buffalo Sabres with U.S. Olympic hero Ryan Miller. They were considered the favorite and top two challengers, respectively, and how many did the Flyers wind up playing? Zero. All three were eliminated without having to face Philadelphia. Also, remember this was a team that, prior to their historic comeback against Boston in round two, was down 3-0 in the series AND 3-0 in Game 7. Try that against the Blackhawks, and it’ll be lights out for the Flyers.
Philadelphia has had a great run, but this is, on paper, a lopsided final. I’m predicting the paper to win out in real life, as well.
Last round: 0-2
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