Friday, May 28, 2010
Cup Preview: Someone Has To Win
Tomorrow night, the Stanley Cup Final finally gets going. It'll be a battle between two Cup starved franchises that haven't sipped from Lord Stanley in quite a while.
On one side, you got the surprising Flyers looking to bring the trophy back to Broad Street for the first time since winning their only two back-to-back in 1974 and 1975. The miraculous comeback from 3-0 down stunning Boston has Peter Laviolette's club looking like a team of destiny. Boosted by the return of Jeff Carter and Ian Laperriere, they finished off Montreal in five. Captain Mike Richards has led the charge with 21 points (6-15-21) playing in every key situation. He's gotten plenty of help from Daniel Briere and Claude Giroux, who've combined for 17 goals. Chris Pronger (4-10-14) has been brilliant anchoring the D while actually making Matt Carle into a viable option.
Without Simon Gagne's amazing return (7 G), Ville Leino's (12 Pts in 13 GP) surprising contributions and the goaltending of tandem Brian Boucher and Michael Leighton, the orange and black aren't here. It all makes for a tremendous story. Something a Ranger blogger and Devil blogger hate to admit. If they pull this off, you have to tip your cap. We're sure the Rangers will be the main source of frustration. Damn Olli Jokinen and silly skill comps. At least Blair Betts is vying for the hardware. Silly Tort.
Standing in their way are the Blackhawks, who are searching for the franchise's first Cup since 1961 when Bobby Hull starred. They've made the Final four times since losing every single one. The last in 1992 to the mighty Pens, who swept them. Nearly two decades later, here are a different batch of Hawks focused on making history. Led by Conn Smythe candidate/captain Jonathan Toews (7-19-26, 3 GW), Joel Queeneville's club has backed up last year's run to the Conference Finals by taking the next step. They'll have home ice and face immense pressure in a city that's still haunted by Steve Bartman. Can a talented squad led by Toews and running mate Patrick Kane (7-13-20) deliver a fourth championship to the Windy City? They'll have to overcome the obstacle of Marian Hossa. The gifted Slovak has made it here three consecutive years losing with Pittsburgh and Detroit the past two years. Is the third time the charm for one of the biggest superstar teases? He'll have to do better than two goals in the first three rounds.
While much of the focus is on him, these Hawks boast incredible depth led by money performer Dustin Byfuglien, who's netted half his eight as deciders including two in sudden death. It should be fun to watch Big Buff battle Pronger in front. Patrick Sharp and Dave Bolland have been instrumental with the latter scoring backbreaking goals on breakaways. Kris Versteeg, Troy Brouwer and Cup proven John Madden should give them an edge. Norris hopeful Duncan Keith (1-9-10) anchors the D along with Brent Seabrook (3-6-9 +8) who'll be severely tested by the Flyer forecheck. Brian Campbell could be a key. Meanwhile, Antti Niemi has silenced critics in net keeping Cristobal Huet as far away from ruining it. Can he ace the final test?
It really shapes up to be a good series. Both these teams boast speed and are very effective on the forecheck. The Flyers looking to control the back boards. The Hawks similar but with more skill. Keep an eye on their pinpoint passing. Both teams are effective on special teams. An area that figures to be a real key to who prevails. Of course, whoever can get to the goalie first should have an edge. Boucher returns if Leighton falters. Huet has only seen three shots the whole Spring. Never discount coaching. Laviolette has been here before guiding Carolina to the Cup in 2006. He usually pushes the right buttons and is a master motivator. Queeneville's a good coach but the edge goes to the Flyer bench.
Two big markets battle for the most prestigious trophy in sports. As long as it isn't onesided, figure the series to fare well. I see it going at least six. My heart says Blackhawks but my gut says Flyers. We'll start getting some answers tomorrow on this Memorial Day weekend.