Tonight the puck drops on the 2010 Stanley Cup Preview, as the Chicago Blackhawks take on the Philadelphia Flyers.
Both teams took a different path to get here, as the Blackhawks had a few bump’s in the road but had a relatively clear path to the finals. The Flyers on the other hand were one game away from going home in the 2nd round, but miraculously came back from a 3-0 deficit against the Boston Bruins in the Eastern Conference Semi’s. In the Conference Finals both teams made short work of their opponent, as the Hawks swept the Sharks and the Flyers disposed of the Habs in 5 games.
While many Hawks fans think this will be a cupcake of a series, many unbiased fans see it being a back and forth series. This will be the first team that can match the Hawks in depth, and with the Flyers not having to travel much in the Semi-finals, that depth will be rested. The Flyers also have one of the few defense’s that can contain the Hawks potent attack.
As seen in Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals, if a team plays a drop conservative attack and drop players back towards the blue line, the Hawks will struggle. The Hawks do have something going for them, and that’s their ability to adjust on the fly, while that defense had them stumped for a stretch in the game they found their comfort zone and were able to pick apart the Sharks.
In this series the Hawks must be able to adjust quickly and not allow the Flyers to take advantage of their slow start. The Blackhawks have a very keen sense of making the other team play their game, and if the Flyers fall into the trap it could be a short series.
Both teams feature young goalies who are riding a hot streak. There is one big difference between the two though. Antti Niemi has faced considerably two of the best offense’s in the league, in the the San Jose Sharks and Vancouver Canucks. In those two series Niemi stood on his head and made great save after great save. For Michael Leighton it has been a more of bend but dont break type style. Montreal did not feature a damaging offense, and what impact players they did have were neutralized by the Flyers D. It will be interesting to see how he fares when he sees shot after shot, compared to only seeing 17-20 shots per game.
Another matchup to watch will be Dustin Byfuglien against Chris Pronger. Byfuglien has been one of the biggest (in size and game play) stories of this postseason, accounting for 3 Game Winners against San Jose in the Conference Finals. It will be up to Pronger to neutralize Big Buff in front of the net, and tie up his stick so he cant get key deflections.
Probably the biggest matchup in the game is the battle of two young talented centers. Jonathan Toews, 22, has led the playoffs in scoring with 26 points, while Mike Richards, 25, is right behind him with 25 points. The duo were teammates in the Winter Olympics, and are even friendly off the ice. As many of you know though, the friendship goes out the window when immortality is on the line.
Three Keys of the Game:
Energy Level: The Blackhawks must come up with the same fire they had in Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals. Any lapse in concentration or energy could result in a being down early, and that could take away the crowd for the Hawks.
Net Presence: As many of you know, this is always a key in these games. The Blackhawks are at their best when they have bodies in front, and in this series they will need it even more. Get in front of Leighton and block his lanes, make him work to find the puck.
Do not fall into the trap: The Blackhawks can not play into the Flyers hands. If they play a Lock type D, the Hawks can not stretch pass, they must skate it up as a unit and play the dump and chase game. The Hawks can not be stubborn and try to force their way up ice, keep it simple and the chance will eventually open up.