I admit it, I’m hooked. The Philadelphia Flyers’ amazing run through the 2010 Stanley Cup playoffs has me more sucked in than “Treme,” “Breaking Bad,” and “Friday Night Lights” combined.
And I don’t want it to end any other way than a happy finale. That doesn’t mean emotions are the only thing influencing my pick. With Jeff Carter healthy, the Flyers are now three lines deep at both ends of the rink. Ian Laperriere’s return has made Philly even more dangerous on the penalty kill and given then an added dose of toughness Chicago might have a tough time handling.
This matchup comes down to whether the Flyers can stop the Blackhawks’ speed and whether the Flyers can keep using their size to overwhelm the opposition. The Flyers’ top four defensemen, led by Chris Pronger, have yet to give an inch to any of their opponents’ top lines, so I doubt they’ll start now.
In addition to Carter, I’d expect Mike Richards to be at his two-way best. And Claude Giroux is slowly emerging as the best-kept secret in the game with his speed and puck-protecting abilities.
I’m not discounting all the skill the ‘Hawks have up front, or Dustin Byfuglien’s bulk or the shutdown abilities of Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrooke. But I’m less confident in Chicago’s second pair and think the Flyers’ offense will be able to get in Antti Niemi’s kitchen more than the Hawks will get to Michael Leighton.
The Blackhawks will win if … Byfuglien can take Pronger out of the game, Niemi ups his play from solid to spectacular and Brian Campbell and Niklas Hjalmarsson can help Chicago’s top pair stop the Flyers’ attack.
The Flyers will win if … Richards proves that Jonathan Toews still has a thing or two to learn about being a Selke-worthy star center, Pronger and Matt Carle continue their outstanding defensive play and Giroux and Daniel Briere continue their timely scoring.
My pick: Philadelphia in 6. The Flyers have no pressure on them because everything they’ve done since beating the Bruins has been icing on the cake. After what they’ve overcome, the heavily favored, but still young and inexperienced Blackhawks are not going to intimidate Flyers.