They probably won't face off directly against each other much in this series but expect plenty of focus to be upon the young captains of the Chicago Blackhawks and Philadelphia Flyers. Chicago's Jonathan Toews (22) entered this series as the playoffs leading scorer with 26 points and his strong two-way play has earned him favorable comparison to Blackhawks legend Stan Mikita. And Philadelphia's Mike Richards (25) is third in playoff scoring and his physical style has folks comparing him to Flyers great Bobby Clarke. Both have been winners at nearly every level of the game and will be relied upon to provide the spark of leadership needed to carry their respective clubs to victory.
The 'Killer Bs' strike again
With the 2010 Stanley Cup Final now underway here’s a look at the notable storylines for this week. --Spector In the Western Conference Final, the Blackhawks were able to count on timely offensive production from checkers Dave Bolland and Troy Brouwer. In Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final, they were the offensive heroes for the 'Hawks. With Chicago's best players shut out in Game 1, Bolland had a goal and an assist with a plus-minus of +3, which included scoring on a short-handed breakaway, while Brouwer scored twice and had three points to finish the night at +2. It's a testament to the Blackhawks depth that they can count on offense from their checkers when their top scorers are being held off the score-sheet, which could become a significant test for the Flyers defense corps going forward.
Top lines will step up
The opening game of the Stanley Cup Final was not a memorable one for the top forward lines of the Chicago Blackhawks and Philadelphia Flyers. Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Dustin Byfuglien of the Blackhawks had no points and a combined plus-minus of -9 in Game 1 while the Flyers' Mike Richards, Jeff Carter and Simon Gagne also had no points and were a combined -7. But don't expect this to be a trend for those players throughout this series. They're all far too talented to have shoddy numbers like this for any significant stretch and the longer this series goes, the more we can expect them to shine.
A heavy burden
Among the key reasons the Philadelphia Flyers advanced to the Stanley Cup Final was their defense, particularly Chris Pronger, Kimmo Timonen, Braydon Coburn and Matt Carle, who regularly log over 25 minutes per game each. It's worked well so far, but there's concern that heavy burden could be a problem against the speed and depth of the Blackhawks. That became apparent in Game 1 in the third period as the Blackhawks dominated the Flyers in their own zone, resulting in the game-winning goal by Tomas Kopecky. Flyers blueliners Lukas Krajicek and Ryan Parent saw little ice time (in the case of the latter, he had only one shift). The longer this series goes, the more the Flyers' reliance on just four defensemen could become a significant issue.
Game 1 of the 2010 Stanley Cup Final was anything but a goaltender's duel due to shaky performances from Chicago's Antti Niemi, who gave up five goals on 32 shots, and Philadelphia's Michael Leighton, who allowed five on 20 shots before being pulled late in the second period in favor of Brian Boucher. Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville opted to stick with Niemi and was rewarded when he shut out the Flyers in the third. Niemi has proven capable of rebounding from a bad game so expect him to be their starter throughout this series. In yanking Leighton for Boucher, however, Flyers coach Peter Laviolette may have inadvertently set up a media-driven goalie controversy.
Flyers feisty forecheck
Much had been made of the strength of the Chicago Blackhawks forechecking game but in Game 1, it was apparent the Blackhawks were having trouble containing the speedy forwards of the Philadelphia Flyers. Too often in Game 1 the Blackhawks were caught flat-footed in their own zone, getting beaten to loose pucks and failing to clear rebounds, which the Flyers happily pounced on for quality scoring chances. The Blackhawks did a better job containing the Flyers in the third period to secure a 6-5 series-opening victory, but they'll need a more consistent effort over the course of this series to contain the Philly forecheck.
Pronger vs. Byfuglien
Heading into this series, the most anticipated physical matchup was that of Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Chris Pronger against Chicago Blackhawks forward Dustin Byfuglien. The 6-6, 215 lb. Pronger has been long renowned as one of the best physical blueliners in the game. The 6-5, 257 lb. Byfuglien has wreaked offensive havoc in front of opposing goaltenders throughout the playoffs. They grappled briefly in Game 1, but it's expected they'll be tangling more often as this series progresses.