Flyers to face Blackhawks in Stanley Cup finals
When NHL commissioner Gary Bettman hands the Stanley Cup to
Chicago captain Jonathan Toews or Philadelphia counterpart Mike
Richards, a hockey-crazed city will be satisfied for the first time
The Stanley Cup finals are set: Blackhawks vs. Flyers.
Chicago hasn’t claimed the silver chalice since 1961, when there
were only six NHL teams, and Philadelphia wasn’t one of them. The
Flyers are seeking their first title since hoisting the Cup in 1974
and 1975, when the franchise was less than 10 years old.
Philadelphia rose from the No. 7 seed and earned its title shot
Monday night with a 4-2 victory over the Montreal Canadiens in Game
5 of the Eastern Conference finals – a far cry from its
second-round win in Game 7 against Boston that completed a 3-0
series comeback and a 3-0 rally in the decisive contest.
Chicago punched its ticket on Sunday, also at home, when the
Blackhawks completed a four-game sweep of San Jose.
After benefiting from unlikely home-ice advantage against the
eighth-seeded Canadiens, the Flyers will start the finals Saturday
night in Chicago. Philadelphia is 7-1 at home in the playoffs, 5-4
on the road.
The Blackhawks are 7-1 away from home and 5-3 at raucous United
Center in the postseason.
When the season started in October, the Blackhawks were a
popular choice to represent the Western Conference and make their
first finals appearance since 1992. The Flyers were considered a
favorite in the East.
That title talk ended quickly as Philadelphia dropped to the
bottom of the standings and replaced coach John Stevens with Peter
Laviolette in December. The Flyers ran the gamut of peaks and
valleys on either side of the holiday and Olympic breaks before
making a final playoff surge in the dwindling days of the regular
“It’s been a long year,” said forward Jeff Carter, who
returned from injury in Game 4 and had two goals on Monday. “A lot
of things have happened. You learn from those. It builds character
and you just keep going with it.
“We have a group of guys in that room that no matter what
happens, they never give up. We’ve seen that come to the forefront
in these playoff series. It’s a pretty amazing thing to be a part
It wasn’t until Brian Boucher stopped New York Rangers forward
Olli Jokinen in the final round of the shootout on the final day of
the regular season that the Flyers secured a place in the
Then they made the most of it.
“I think it’s a remarkable story,” Blackhawks coach Joel
Quenneville said. “They’re on life support the last game of the
year, in the Boston series, as well. They found a way to get
themselves where they were playing as well as they played at any
stretch this year. They got healthy.
“They’ve got a lot of ammunition there, but we’ll see what
In their lone meeting this season, the Flyers rallied to beat
the Blackhawks 3-2 on March 13 at home when defenseman Chris
Pronger scored the winning goal with 2.1 seconds remaining.
Chicago won 11 more games than the Flyers during the regular
season and finished 24 points in front of them in the overall NHL
“I don’t think we are underdogs,” said Richards, who had a
goal and two assists in the clinching win over Montreal. “I know
what this team is capable of and how we’re capable of playing. Our
year wasn’t the same as theirs – a whirlwind and the ups and downs
and the roller coaster that we went on this year.”
After getting close a few times in recent years, Philadelphia is
playing for the Cup for the first time since being swept by Detroit
The Blackhawks took a different path. After reaching the
conference finals last year, this young, dynamic group from Chicago
gained the requisite experience to learn how to win.
With maturity exceeding their years, the Blackhawks challenged
for the top seed in the West, but settled for No. 2 along with
their Central Division title over defending conference champion
Detroit. Despite being an Original Six franchise, Chicago had
become a bit of a forgotten hockey city. The Blackhawks hadn’t even
finished first in their division since 1993.
That has all changed since the arrival of Toews, Patrick Kane,
and first-year starting goalie Antti Niemi, and the emergence of
power forward Dustin Byfuglien as a postseason force.
The 257-pound Byfuglien has eight goals in 16 playoff games this
year, and four have been game-winners, including the one that
sealed Sunday’s 4-2 victory.
“I think it started in the Vancouver series. All those fans
were getting on his case. He wasn’t popular in that building,”
Blackhawks forward Patrick Sharp said of the man known as “Big
Buff.” “Seems like he likes the spotlight. He likes being the
hero. He steps up in big-time.”
Niemi is 12-4 in the playoffs with a 2.33 goals-against average
in 16 games.
You would never believe Chicago was the Second City in the
hockey world these days after the club surged into the Cup finals
with a sweep over top-seeded San Jose.
Michael Leighton and the Flyers are also riding quite a wave.
Philadelphia has won eight of nine overall and seven of eight since
Leighton took over in goal for the injured Boucher during Game 5
Leighton combined with Boucher on a shutout that night, fueling
the Flyers’ historic comeback, and then blanked the Canadiens in
each of Philadelphia’s first three wins of the conference
“We just feel comfortable playing in front of whoever is in
net,” Richards said. “All year it’s been pretty much somebody
different from month to month. The playoffs have been no different.
We feel comfortable with Leights in net as he probably feels
comfortable stepping into a situation that probably wasn’t the