Sorry Flyers’ fans, but the Chicago Blackhawks are about to win their first Stanley Cup since 1961. Oh, it won’t necessarily be a walk in the park. The Flyers are an emotional squad and, if that continues, they’ll be a handful for Chicago. But the Hawks will win the series in five games – if they are able to do these five things.
1. Hawks’ netminder Antti Niemi MUST outplay Flyers’ goalie Michael Leighton. Now, we’re not talking about making 50 saves per game. We’re talking about making two or three “How’d-he-stop-that?” saves per night. Particularly early in the game. Now, Leighton can make those key stops too but, if Niemi doesn’t make them, the Flyers will be in a feeding frenzy of emotion, and that would carry Philadelphia a long way.
2. Joel Quenneville’s no-nonsense coaching approach must be able to overcome Peter Laviolette’s rah-rah style. There’s little doubt that Laviolette’s Flyers will come out hustling. Any team that comes back from a three games-to-none series deficit has something special in its chemistry. But it will be up to Quenneville to counter that by continuing to instil determination and focus in his young Blackhawks. This is the biggest stage in the game. Chicago’s young forwards will have to deal with that well.
3. Blackhawks’ rugged forward Dustin Byfuglien must continue to be a complete pest in front of the net. And that’s gonna be tough with future Hall-of-Famer Chris Pronger in his face. Neither Vancouver nor San Jose could figure out how to neutralize Byfuglien and the overtime winner he put past Evgeni “Watch-me-dance-and-twirl-around-my-pretty-crease” Nabokov was the backbreaker for the Sharks. The Hawks need to hear HNIC play-by-play man Jim Hughson say Byfuglien’s name a lot more than Pronger’s.
4. Twenty-two-year old, Winnipeg-born Jonathan Toews must continue to be Mr. Everything for Chicago. Toews hasn’t been held pointless since G3 v. Nashville. That’s 13 games. The Stanley Cup record for one year is 18, set by the Islanders’ Bryan Trottier in 1981. Toews needs to at least tie that record. That means he’s a factor every night. No games off. He can’t disappear. He must play every shift like it’s his last. Then again, that’s like reminding Superman that he needs to be strong.
5. Blackhawks’ blueline studs Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook must physically pound on Jeff Carter and Mike Richards. Now, we all realize it’s impossible to completely obliterate Carter and Richards, but they have to be under wraps. And that’s going to be a lot tougher at Wachovia Center, where Laviolette has last change. Danny Brière and Claude Giroux may get their points but, without their two top centres being able to freewheel, the Flyers will be crippled. And that’s what the Hawks want.
Their first Stanley Cup in 49 years will look great on Chicago. Rocky Wirtz will get everything his father, Bill, the worst owner in the history of professional sports, never deserved. Parade down the Mag Mile. Red and black water spouting out of Buckingham Fountain. The roof blown right off United Center. Yep, Hawks in five.