Think of the names for a second. Stan Mikita, Bobby Hull, Bobby Clarke, Bernie Parent, Bill Clement… think of where those men stand in the annals of folklore of hockey history. The popularity of those faces and their playing style made them who they are and how respected they are today.
We know about the Broad Street Bullies, The Golden Jet… we know about how these two hockey crazy towns embraced them for their style of play, we also know that ever since these men took the ice, that was the last time that the Chicago Blackhawks and the Philadelphia Flyers won the Stanley Cup. Philly in 1972, Chi town in 61’ the longest current drought in the sport.
Since then there has been hope on both sides of the ice. The Blackhawks had the Chris Chellos and Jeremy Roenick combo in the 90’s while the Flyers put faith in The Legion of Doom in the late 90’s.
Both teams made appearances, both teams ran into the steamrollers known as the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Detroit Red Wings respectively, both teams haven’t smelled championship success since then,
The Blackhawks have been in shambles under the ownership of Bill Wirtz, the Flyers couldn’t get over the hump with the conservativism of GM Clarke. The Hawks traded Roenick and Chellos and went into a 15-year slump where the city of Chicago fell out of love with the Hawks. The Flyers saw Mikael Renberg come and go, as did Rod Brind’Amour, the Hatcher twins and watched injuries ravage fan faves like Keith Jones, Keith Primeau and Lindros.
They’ve watched their divisions become controlled by dynasties in the making in Detroit and the New Jersey Devils. In essence, both sets of fans, huge hockey fans, seemed to fade away with the occurrences in their cities and were swayed by their newly minted baseball champions in the White Sox and Phillies (except for the Cubs, their fans are still bitterly holding on for a hope that seems so far away its Katt Williams funny).
Yet here we are, May 29, 2010, two championship starved franchise on the verge of ending their droughts in resurgent markets in a resurgent league.
The teams mirror themselves in so many ways: Young Captains who lead by example with a calm but furious demeanor (The Hawks Jonathan Toews and Philly’s Mike Richards). Playmaking wings who are dreams to watch (Patrick Kane and Jeff Carter) absolutely bruising backliners who are great both offensively and defensively (Duncan Keith and Chris Pronger) and goaltenders, who three months ago you couldn’t pick out of a police lineup (Antti Nieme and Michael Leighton). The similarities are endless.
Their playoff fortunes have been formed by star-making performances by mere role players. Dustin Byfuglien’s breakout has been chronicled over and over, but the Flyers Claude Giroux has been just as big, if not bigger. Giroux was dominant in the Montreal series including a two-goal performance in game 4 which all but sealed the series. As for Byfuglien, well lets just say if not for his two game winning goals in games 3 & 4 against San Jose, or his hat trick against Vancouver in Game 3 or his great work as a defenseman in the Nashville series (he’s a winger just to let you know)… you get the idea.
Then there have been stories of perseverance that have transcended certain individuals. Look at Simon Gagne of the Flyers. Earlier in the decade he was a deadly goal scorer that helped Canada win gold in the 2002 Salt Lake City games. He then suffered a rash of injuries that damaged his career and made him an afterthought in Philly. In this postseason he has returned to form of sorts. He’s scored seven goals including 2 in the historic game 7 clincher versus Boston and he had a great series against Montreal scoring a goal in each of the first three games of the series.
So how can you tell these teams apart this series to decipher a winner? Well you can’t. All you can do is look at certain aspects of each team to see where each side has an advantage:
- The Byfuglien factor. Vancouver couldn’t figure it out, nor could San Jose. Byfuglien as you’ve seen is a monster. He’s 6’4” 260 and has quick hands. His presence around the net gave Evgeni Nabakov fits last week and lead to multiple power plays for The Chi in both series. However, the Flyers have a big monster in Pronger who at 6’6” can help shift Byfuglien out of Leighton’s way.
- The Briere factor. I hate Daniel Briere. I hate his facial hair, his size (5’6”) and his style of play. However, dude’s a baler. His play against the Bruins was the reason the Flyers came back to win that series and why Montreal couldn’t keep up with them. It’ll be interesting to see how the Hawks can maintain what he does when he’s on the ice.
- Who’s going to contain Kane and Toews or Richards and Carter? Both backlines have challenges in containing the high scoring lines that have been killing teams all postseason.
- Who’s got the better x-factors? What are Dave Bolland, Andrew Ladd, Ville Leino and James Van Riemsdyk going to do? Each of those aforementioned men has at one point or another come through with big plays for each teams. Ladd is out with an injury this evening yet the role players for each side could have as much to do with the factoring of the Stanley Cup than the big guns.
- Goaltending. Remember when Chicago’s main issue was between the pipes? Yes it was an ongoing story all season but Antti Niemi has done everything to stop those fears with a 2.33 GAA and a .921 save percentage. The Flyers are no strangers to goaltending problems; they haven’t a steady goaltender since Ron Hextall in the 80’s and early 90’s! Yet no one knew what to expect out of Leighton who has been huge for the Flyers. He’s only allowed 11 goals in 9 games including 4 shutouts. Both men weren’t even on the roster at the start of the season and could have their names on the Cup at the end of next week.
Speaking of the cup, who wins and why? I said Chicago would get there and lose at the start of the season I said they were too young and needed one more year. Yet I didn’t know that they would be playing a Flyers team that just two years ago was the worst team in the league and had no real help in net. Yet I can’t change now, I like Philadelphia in six. Why? I mean they came back from 3-0 down against Boston; they made the playoffs on the last day of the season and have been unstoppable with a backup goalie in net. They’re a team of destiny and there is no stopping right now. I know Chicago has the more well-known and respected team, but you can’t go against the hottest team in the league.
So there you have it. In a match up of two teams that haven’t seen a title in a combined 88 years, the legends of the Broad Street Bullies will come through. Whatever happens it’s going to be a great series and someone will join the legends whose shadows they skate in front of every game.