Thursday, May 19, 2022
HomeSportsNHLRunaway Train Vs. The Little Engine That Could: Stanley Cup Preview

Runaway Train Vs. The Little Engine That Could: Stanley Cup Preview

Michael LeightonAs I sat a mere 6 rows from the ice staring at the back of Philadelphia Flyers goaltender Michael Leighton, I still could not believe what I had saw. Yes I know I am not supposed to favor one team here but being a life-long Philly guy, it was a moment of beauty to see a team that no one had believed in, make another big step towards history. The comeback kids find themselves four wins from the Stanley Cup.

Meanhwhile across to the Great Midwest where we see the NHL’s next possible “SuperTeam”, the Chicago Blackhawks made very quick work of the top seeded San Jose Sharks to punch their ticket into the Stanley Cup finals. With an amazing record of 55 wins to just 22 losses and the third highest point total in the league this season, Blackhawks are ready to take center stage.

Yes, it is in fact the “runaway train” of Chicago. Young, brash, fast, tough and reckless taking on the “little engine that could” from Philadelphia. A Flyers squad filled with some aged vets, some up-and-comers, and a “who is that guy in net” goalie. No, the Philadelphia Flyers did not have huge regular season numbers and as we all know very well by now, they needed to win a shoot-out on the last day to even be in the playoffs. Despite that, don’t dare tell this team the odds, and please continue to call them the underdogs.

So how did we get here? Well on the Flyers side it stands as quite a story. Beating the ultimate “monkey on their back” team in the New Jersey Devils in the first round in five games and looking like a team with something good to offer. Then accomplishing nothing short of history as they survived a 3-0 series deficit and then a 3-0 deficit in game 7 to take out the Boston Bruins 4-3. Next it was the Montreal Canadiens, yes those Canadiens. The giant killers who came back from 3-1 down to beat Washington, and the team to knock off the defending champs from Pittsburgh. Don’t tell Philly the odds. They dumped the Canadiens like a jilted girlfriend in 5 games.

Meanwhile the Chicago Blackhawks had a small scare from the Nashville Predators before taking them out in six games. They also took out the Vancouver Canucks in six games, but scored plenty on the guy many see as hockey’s best netminder in Roberto Luongo. After that it was a “ho-hum” 4 game sweep of the top seed Sharks and on to the finals.

Yes, it looks to many like a David vs Goliath Stanley Cup Finals match up, but you have to see things like this:

1. The Montreal Canadiens wiped out the two best of the East then got caught by surprise at what Philly had to offer. Perhaps Chicago’s destruction of the Sharks could pose as a similar over confidence boost?

2. Marian Hossa was with the Pittsburgh Penguins 2 season ago when they lost in the finals to Detroit. Then he jumped via Free Agency to the Detroit Red Wings the following season, only to lose in the finals again to the same Penguins team he left behind. Hossa now plays for the Chicago Blackhawks, which begs to ask “is it him, and not the teams that have the jinx label?”

3. Only 4 teams now in the history of sports have comeback from 3-0 playoff deficits. 2 of the previous 3 have gone on to win championships. Is karma on Philly’s side here?

4. The Philadelphia Flyers won round one of the playoffs against a two seed in New Jersey, and have not faced a number-one seed this playoff season. Is beating another two doable?

5. The Philadelphia Flyers, ironically enough won the Eastern Conference Finals on May 24th, which is also the birthday of the late great Flyer goalie Pelle Lindbergh. Coincidence perhaps?

[adinserter block=”1″]Yes, lots of things to think about. Revenge factors (Patrick Sharp, former Philadelphia Flyer), justice served (Patrick Kane getting a Stanley Cup to soften the blow of losing the Olympic gold game), the unsung hero story of injured stars like Gagne and Carter and Laperriere coming back and the journey-man goalie Leighton stepping in and winning this thing in blue collar fashion, for the blue collar city. All well and good, but as you break down things you will see that we really have 2 very similar red-hot hockey clubs. So let’s break it down and get a prediction here.

Offense: One may say that the Blackhawks come into this Stanley Cup more talented then the Penguins did last season as a whole. With the youthful explosiveness of Jonathan Toews (7g,19a), Patrick Kane (7g,13a), Dustin Byfuglien (8g,2a) and guys like Pat Sharp (7g,9a) and the vet Hossa (2g,9a) they have been very hard to keep off the scoreboard. They seem to be able to play however the opponent tries to make them play. You want speed, they got it, you want to crash the net, they are big enough, you want slap-shots they can bring them. This is a young, fast, and opportunistic offense.

The Flyers have found a new sense of confidence in its offense and lately have been seen as a team that likes to break out on the odd rush, gamble, and use stick-handling to its fullest. Mike Richards (6g,15a), Danny Briere (9g,9a), overnight sensation Claude Giroux (8g,9a), Simon Gagne (7g,3a) and the returning Jeff Carter lead what is a Flyers attack with new heroes every game. No they don’t play huge or lightning fast, but they play it patient and smart and have added quick wrist shots and wrap-around goals back into the fold.

Summary: Each team has its own style, but the Blackhawks seem more able to force their will. Philly likes to bank on mistakes and the Hawks have not been making to many. If it’s a track meet from the word go, Philly’s checking game up front may not be enough.
Advantage: Chicago Blackhawks

Defense: Chicago has some good talent on defense and they can contribute on offense as well. The defense is anchored by Brian Campbell, who is one of the best in the game and its bigger hitter is the chippy Ben Eager. Duncan Keith, who has returned after losing 7 teeth and Brent Seabrook are a nice pair of young defenseman as well. The speed of the offense helps these guys play a better game, they can let up shots and can be worked on in a cycle style offense like the one Philly runs. Overall its a good bunch that can bang, and move the puck.

Rarely do you say that one guy is better then six, but when you have Chris Pronger on your defense it sure is a good argument. Pronger has been a beast in this post-season and will have to continue to be as he will be expected to hold back the Hawks big line. Savvy vet Kimmo Timmonen has been quiet, but when you talk defense, that’s what you want. The less you hear a defensemen’s name, the better he is doing his job. Youngsters like Matt Caryle and Ryan Parent have a nice mix of body and puck moving skill. This defense keeps this team in every game.

Summary: Chris Pronger has been here before. He knows this situation and through the playoffs has become a “lead-by-example” type role model for this defense. The Flyers do need to bang more and they can deliver it. The Hawks, when on defense will have to play more to prevent what the Flyers bring then attempt to dictate. In the end, I think Philly has more veteran savvy and sharper puck moving skill to eek out this department
Advantage: Philadelphia Flyers

Goaltending: Antti Niemi was not much more then the guy holding the bench door early in the season as Cristobel Huet was working the pipes for the Hawks. However since coach Quenneville made the change, this kid has been tough. A 12-4 record with a 2.33 GAA and 2 shutouts this post-season so far is excellent and at times he has made saves worthy of acrobats. I have seen plenty of this kid on the Sportscenter top 10 plays to last me awhile. Philly does like to come full charge at goalies, and took out 3 pretty good ones in Martin Brodeur, Tukko Rask, and Jaroslav Halak, so don’t expect them to be intimidated by a name or a reputation.

Michael Leighton has had some ride. Brought in by Philly and jumping right into action after Ray Emery went down for the year, then suffering an injury of his own and giving way to Brian Boucher, only to come back again and be very strong. A 6-1 record with a 1.45 GAA, and 3 shutouts in just 7 games so far has made Leighton look like the rebirth of Pelle Lindbergh to these Flyers. He is a huge presence in net at 6 foot 3 inches, he tosses aside shots at times with mere ease, and is more then nimble to make the tough saves. Leighton has been a pretty cool customer and was thrown right to the fire and has handled it quite well. He will have his hands full with this high-power Hawks offense.

Summary: Call me crazy, but this Philadelphia Flyers team seemed at its best this season with Leighton in net. His play has been far from what anyone had expected and it does not seem to be letting up. Niemi is still a bit of the unknown, and yes he has looked sharp, but as I said, the Flyers have heard this before about upcoming opponents goalies. The X-factor? Leighton has very little to lose here, and plays like he is just that cool.
Advantage: Flyers

Special Teams: Okay let’s not get all geeked out about numbers here. Both of these teams score nicely on power plays and both kill penalties well. What is unique is that 2 of the NHL’s absolute best killers go head to head. Chicago’s John Madden is one of the game’s legendary penalty killers and knows the Flyers well from his days in New Jersey. Meanwhile Mike Richards has scored more short-handed goals then anyone in the NHL over the last 2 seasons. The Hawks just seem to have more skillful and bigger forwards to make it tough on the power play. Philly has good killers up and down the roster, but they are going to need all of that plus.
Advantage: Blackhawks

Coaching: Chicago coach Joel Quenneville certainly has waited a long time for this. Over 1,000 regular season games coached with 535 wins is a nice resume, but this is his first cup appearance. He is a hard-nosed, no nonsense coach that likes the game rough, and his players tough. Last year after losing in the conference finals to Detroit he simply stated that he knew “this team is too good not to be back next year, and possibly win it all”. So far he is on the right track.

[adinserter block=”2″]Peter Laviolette was a guy many in Philly considered lucky to have available. The opposite of Quenneville, Laviolette likes to play sleek, shifty hockey, and likes to use rushes and pinching defensemen to his advantage. No matter what he does here, he is already seen as a Flyer legend after game 7 of the Bruins series when he took what many sports experts call “the greatest time out in sports history”. He looks more like Hollywood then NHL grit, but this guy knows the game. He also has the ace in the hole of already winning one Stanley Cup and already has 272 regular season wins in his coaching career. He also has managed to install a team philosophy and build a matter of trust in his players to feel that each teammate will be exactly where they need to be. The “thinking one step ahead” mentality is something that greats like Gretzky and Lemiuex used through the years, and when a team all gets on that page it is tough to stop.
Advantage: Flyers

Prediction: These two teams have withstood all comers and each have their 12 wins thus far. The Flyers have only lost 5 and the Hawks just 4. The Flyers are truly Cinderella and with every passing series, everyone continues to say how they don’t belong, yet they play very much like they do. The Blackhawks are much more then the Flyers have seen yet and are well skilled and well tooled. If you want a feel good sports story the Flyers are it, and in these tougher times here in America, maybe that is what the fans are looking for, an against all odds, blue collar, blood-sweat-and tears type story. The Blackhawks are not here for storybook endings and if the Flyers want this they sure will earn it. Arenas? No advantage here as each building rocks and make noise unlike many in sports. The team that forces its style is the team that not just wins this thing, but owns it, and as much as many do not believe, I believe, and when you think about it, has that not been the Flyers motto these playoffs, Believe?

I “Believe” it is the Philadelphia Flyers in 7

If you’d like to hear anything else from me on topics or ideas I can be reached at phillyphan1971@yahoo.com

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11 COMMENTS

  1. Im not getting what all the huff is about.Its an article with good opinions and some facts.Im going out and saying the Flyers win in 6.Simple as this team just seems to have more heart and more drive.If you want all crazy,overloaded stats and boring outlooks from stick in the mud writers go to ESPN,and see what those robots have to say,this guys article is fun,i like it!!

  2. Wow….most of this article is good hearted prediction from a Flyers fan.It is one persons prediction and opinion.Its not the "Bible of Hockey" Enjoy the read!! Plus I dont see it as one sided,I see valid points on both ends.

  3. Sorry… just to make my point here are the playoff +/-'s for the Flyers Defensemen

    Pronger: +2

    Timonen: +6

    Coburn: +7

    Carle: +8

    Krajicek: +1

    Parent: -1

    Playoff Avg TOI

    Pronger: 28:48

    Timonen: 26:35

    Coburn: 24:23

    Carle: 25:25

    Krajicek: 10:32

    Parent: 7:53

    My only point is… look up some stats before you start flappin your gums man! I found all that in like 5 minutes with the help of Google…

  4. First of all, let me say that I am a Flyers fan..

    However, I gotta agree with Alex here… You really don't seem to have any idea what you're talking about…

    In addition to your flubs about Chicago, you made a few about the Flyers as well…

    First of all, you spelled Matt Carle's name wrong…

    Secondly, I don't know a single person (regardless of who you are rooting for) that would consider anything about Ryan Parent as a strength. The kid is horrendous, and his ice time reflects that (he barely played 5 minutes over the last two games… he logged 6 shifts for 3:01 in game 5, and 4 shifts for 2:25 in game 4…). No one has faith in that kid, and rightfully so!

    Now, I will still agree with you that the Flyers have the advantage in the Defense department, but by no means because of Ryan Parent… How about the play of Braydon Coburn? He's been putting in some GREAT shifts in this post season, and logging almost 30 minutes of ice time a night (along with Kimmo Timonen and Chris Pronger). I mean, even Lukas Krajicek is having a better post season run than Ryan Parent… I'm not really sure what team you are watching… I really don't know a soul who would call Ryan Parent's puck moving skills "nice". I'm sorry…. I'm not trying to nitpick here… I just don't understand how you are flaunting our biggest defensive liability as one of our strengths, without mentioning the stellar performance of Coburn at all and poo pooing Kimmo Timonen (you spelled that wrong, too) as being "quiet".

    Let's just get this straight… the defense is led by Chris Pronger and Kimmo Timonen as the two best defensemen we have. The first D line being Pronger+Carle and the second being Timonen and Coburn… Krajicek and Parent are really on there to kill a few minutes between the real shifts from the 1 and 2 pairings… Seriously.

    I agree with the tone of your article, I just don't know if you realize or not that you are making yourself sound like you know nothing about the sport… Hell, it looks as if you haven't even been watching the post season… just making it up as you go along.

    Clean it up bro!

    Go Flyers!

  5. If Anyone Thinks The Flyers Have A Chance Your Crazy !! The Hawks Are To Fast For The Old Timers and Leighton Sucked As A Hawk, And Will Blow It Being Underpressure In The Net. The Hawks Are To Smart For This Flyer Team sorry.

  6. just to add to the above, if i had to make a prediction i could NOT do so without bias. there is many similarities and differences between the two teams. first of all, both of them are very good teams obviously. the regular season means NOTHING at this point. momentum and confidence is #1. both teams have good reasons to be confident. to win the cup you need superior offense, defense, goaltending, special teams and coaching to win, not just one of those qualities. but the most important thing is heart. if u got no heart than you got no glory. two me both these teams have heart so its too hard to predict the winner.

  7. theres a few holes in your prediction as i agree with most of the other comments. especially with regards to goaltending. leighton has been incredible since bouchers injury. however, if u look at the shots on net, the canadiens offense was weak and the philly defense was amazing so leighton didn't have to work that hard. on the other hand niemi had double the shots on net each game therefore had to work waaaaay harder. not to mention niemi is far better on the rebounds. this is the way i look at it

    offense: slight advantage to blackhawks because of speed and skill

    defense: slight advantage to flyers because of experience

    goaltending: advantage blackhawks because of rebound handling

    special teams: advantage flyers (their pk and pp have been the best in the league by far)

  8. I believe the Flyers will win in 6, they are stronger after coming back against Boston, they've made the other two teams look easy, yes, that's because the Flyers have been good at adjusting their game very quickly to adapt to the other teams. Chicago would've swept any of them in 4, dream on buddy. Chicago will be tough, but the Flyers are tougher and won't let the Hawks in close as they've been previous series to score as much. They're also getting more healthy instead of injured as the playoffs continue and inspires the team. They've been through a lot of come backs so they won't be as cocky as the Blackhawks coming in which will also be an advantage.

  9. seabrook and keith "a nice pair of young defensemen"? top defense pair for team canada, one of which is norris trophy nominee? I call it a draw at defense. in fact, I call the whole thing a draw with lucky bounces deciding it. Chicago has been lucky this year. Blackhawks in 7

  10. Before you write a very one-sided prediction article, you should maybe know the teams, since that is the purpose of your writing.

    Even people who don't follow hockey know that the 'Hawks defensive leader is not Brian Campbell, especially because he is on LINE 2! Hmm..who could be their premier defenseman? Oh, I don't know, maybe Norris Trophy finalist Duncan Keith? Just a hunch. He happens to play with Brent Seabrook, creating arguably the best defensive pair in the world, not a "nice pair." They were the shutdown pair on the top of the depth chart of Canada's gold medal team.

    Finally, Ben Eager is not the big hitter of the group, considering he's a FOURTH LINE WINGER! NOT a D-man.

    See how I'm not commenting about the Flyers, because I have not followed them all year. I don't pretend to be knowledgeable on a topic I know nothing about – a lesson you apparently have yet to learn.

  11. i dont believe you can make a fair prediction here joel quenville has out coached some of the best coaches in the leauge and as for the goalies who have the flyers faced besides the devils, and you cant say oh but the beat the canadiens yeah so what the entire eastern conference was sooooo weak this year in the playoffs that the hawks couldve swept any one of those teams so please dont be so biased and learn how to predict better

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