Flyers/Hawks Finals Preview

Nearly every media outlet in North America that covers hockey coming into this season; believed that the Flyers were cup contenders. Mid-way through their 82 game journey, you would have had a hard time finding one Flyers fan that genuinely believed they would even make the playoffs. Inconsistent effort, a coaching change, players with personal turmoil, more injuries than your local emergency room and now sitting here on Memorial Day weekend…not one bit of that matters.

The Philadelphia Flyers over the last 6 weeks have become everything that was expected of them 9 months ago. They are a team forged from the fire; they have avoided being consumed by the flames of elimination 5 times; they never stopped believing in themselves and answered the bell each and every time that they had to.  Their historic comeback in the semifinals against the Boston Bruins is already one of the greatest feats in Philadelphia sports history and if they capture the cup it will go down as the greatest comeback in hockey history.

Their complete and utter domination of the Montreal Canadiens in 5 games has been completely downplayed by critics. 3 shutouts in 5 games; which included an absolutely suffocating defensive performance during game 4 in Montreal. Yet, all of that has been ignored by the pundits…the Flyers are nearly unanimous underdogs. The Vegas odds are stacked against them and apparently they will have  no one who can control the worlds greatest forward Wayne…excuse me, I mean Dustin… Byfuglien. Why bother even showing up to the United Center tomorrow, right?

Well, here’s how I believe your team, your town, your Philadelphia Flyers stack up against the Western Conference Champion Chicago Blackhawks…


Goalies

Michael Leighton’s story sounds like a plot of a Disney flick. I won’t rehash his rise from obscurity; you’ve heard the details, it’s time to stop acting so shocked. Everyone has been waiting for the midnight hour to strike and for Leighton’s shine to wear off. Well the ball has been going on for about 6 months now and his slippers still fit just fine. Since joining the Flyers , Leighton has compiled a sensational record of 22-6-2 with 4 (and a half) shutouts. He currently leads the NHL in GAA (1.45) and save pct. (.948).

For the Hawks they have impressive rookie Antti Niemi. He has started every game in the playoffs for the Hawks and has all 12 of their victories. He is a butterfly goalie with very good size and excellent reflexes. He reminds me of Tuuka Rask to be honest and not just because they are both Finnish. Like a lot of European netminders; Niemi has exceptional agility but may struggle with some shots up high. He is coming off an excellent series against San Jose and has been exceptional on the road.

However, in these playoffs the Flyers have defeated Martin Brodeur; the best goalie of the modern era , Tuuka Rask; the regular season leader in GAA and save pct. and Jaroslav Halak; who was out of this world stealing the series’ from Washington and Pittsburgh. What does Antti Niemi have over these guys you ask? Nothing.

Advantage Flyers.

Forwards

The Blackhawks have a fantastic set of forwards. They have tremendous depth and a very solid mix of veterans and young guns who have really taken the next step after losing in the conference finals last year. They are led by their captain Jonathan Toews. He is a very similar player to Mike Richards with his quiet leadership style and playmaking ability, but Toews has more dazzle in his offensive game with his tremendous hands. Riding shotgun to Toews, is winger Patrick Kane. An enemy to cab drivers (read the story here if you haven’t before) and goaltenders across North America, Kane is an offensive force. He has blazing speed, great vision and a tremendous wrist shot. He was one of the most dangerous players for Team USA at the Olympics in Vancouver. The most painful thing for Flyers fans watching Kane perform on this stage, is that when the Flyers finished with the worst record in their history in 2006 they lost the draft lottery thus losing the rights to pick Patrick and picked James Van Riemsdyk second overall. There are a couple of things you have to check out with Patrick Kane though… his transparent playoff beard for one, his mullet (seriously)oh yeah and this…

How unfortunate...

On Toews’ other wing is power forward Dustin Byfuglien (pronounced Buff-Lin). If you have paid attention to ESPN’s coverage or any of the media day press conferences you may think that Dustin Byfuglien is an all-star. You may also have heard that he has found the cure for cancer and that there are plans to rename the Hart trophy to the Byfuglien. A converted defenseman he’s now a giant (6’4 250) power forward who has scored some big goals for Chicago during their run. He is also a -3 at even strength during the playoffs and tallied only 34 points during the regular season. Not exactly hall of fame numbers here.

The Hawks boast serious secondary scoring threats in the human jinx Marian Hossa, young Kris Versteeg and former Flyer Patrick Sharp. They also have veteran defensive forward John Madden and gritty Dave Bolland heading up their penalty kill.

Do you remember when Ben Eager was in Philly? Well you certainly will after he takes a few reckless runs at the Orange and Black on Saturday. He’s a bowling ball with a big mouth who rarely backs it up with anyone who can actually throw them. He will be public enemy #1 pretty quickly in this series.

With the return of Jeff Carter and Ian Lapperiere the Flyers have restored the depth that was their key to making the playoffs in the first place. The top line of Richards, Gagne and Carter may be the best two-way line in the league. All 3 are great in their own zone and can enable Peter Laviolette to match up with the Toews line without giving up an offensive counter-punch. With Danny Briere and Ville Leino threatening on nearly every shift and the emergence of Claude Giroux on the 3rd line, the Flyers come close to matching the firepower of the Hawks. The 4th line centered by Blair Betts is a fiercely competitive trio which will be a key to locking down the Hawks second line especially on the road when the matchup’s will not always be in order. I also fully believe that Danny Carcillo will be back in the lineup to combat some of Ben Eager’s antics.

Advantage: Hawks…but not by much.

Defense

Two words, Chris Pronger. Seriously, that should be all I have to tell you in describing who I think holds the advantage on the blue line. Chris Pronger has the size, smarts, skills and experience to lead this team to a championship. He’s done it before and just like with the Ducks he’s not working alone. Kimmo Timonen anchors the second pairing and is among the games most underrated defenders. A strong puck mover with offensive skill, where Timonen really shines is  in his own zone; blocking shots  and breaking up scoring chances with his incredible stick work. 4th year blueliners Matt Carle and Braydon Coburn have also had very strong playoff runs. The third pairing of Lukas Krajicek and Ryan Parent will see about 4 minutes a night.

Chicago has some fine defenseman on their end as well; with smooth skating Duncan Keith has all world offensive skill from the backend but he can be prone to turnovers. Keith’s defense partner is the  physical Brent Seabrook; a shut down defender with a booming shot who has had a very solid season. This will be the top pair that the Flyers top line has faced in the playoffs. Young Niklas Hjalmarsson has stepped up as a solid  offensive #3 for the Hawks. Brian Campbell (yeah, the ginger who knocked out RJ Umberger) who sports the leagues worst contract brings his offensive skill but generally inept defensive play to their second pairing. Brent Sopel is a solid 3rd pairing defender, Jordan Hendry is a liability and his ice time will be limited.

Advantage: Pronger.

Overall Prediction

The Chicago Blackhawks are a very talented team with highly skilled forwards and a couple of all world defenseman. They are not however the ’87 Oilers. They are a very young team with rookie goaltending. The Flyers have been through so much already and I genuinely believe that they will not allow the chance to be immortalized pass them by. The veterans on this team know this may be their only shot. Danny Briere, Kimmo Timonen and Simon Gagne have never been here. Ian Lapperiere has sacrificed himself for 15 years, what will he do for a chance at a championship? Mike Richards and Chris Pronger will not let them fail.

Flyers in 6.

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Habs Hooligans Burn Crosby…And Cop Cars

How do you say lolz in French?

So after the Montreal Canadiens defeated the Pittsburgh Penguins in game 7 of the Eastern Conference Semi Finals last night, a couple of young rabble-rousers took to the street in celebration.

Ok, maybe it was more like 21,000 rabble-rousers… but who is really counting. Yeah, well the Police may have been… They made 36 arrests but they really brought the house down when they unleashed  tear gas on the mob, which dispatched the remaining party animals into the night.

You thought Frankford and Cottman was bad? These morons haven’t even won anything yet and they are lighting cop cars on fire.

I do give them full marks for creativity in burning the Crosby cut-out though. Well played Frenchy…well played.

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Eagles First Round Preview

Last years top pick Jeremy Maclin

The Eagles enter tonight’s draft at Radio City Music Hall in a position that they really haven’t found themselves in over a decade. The mass exodus of veterans has left them with numerous holes on both sides of the ball and a lack of depth throughout the roster. Here’s how I think new gm Howie Roseman and the actual gm Andy Reid should handle the first round tonight.

Personally, I think the biggest need on the Birds roster is in the defensive secondary. The team never fully recovered from the loss of Brian Dawkins and now with the departure of Sheldon Brown the depth and leadership is absolutely non-existent. Luckily for the Birds there are two big time players available at the safety spot and another couple of cornerbacks who could really be difference makers in the secondary.

The interior offensive line is another key position of need with the release of Shawn Andrews and the late season loss of Jamaal Jackson the current starters at center are natural guard Nick Cole and free agent disappointment Stacy Andrews. This is a spot that the Eagles will absolutely address early and often through the weekend.

A defensive end to play opposite Trent Cole is also a need but it’s my opinion that there are no ends in this years draft in the Eagles range that are worth the investment.

Eagles Picks

1 (24) Own Pick
2 (37) Acquired from Washington for QB Donovan McNabb
2 (55) Own Pick
3 (70) Acquired from Seattle in 2009 draft day trade
3 (87) Own Pick
4 (105) Acquired from Cleveland along with LB Alex Hall for CB Sheldon Brown and LB Chris Gocong
4 (121) Own Pick
6 (200) Acquired from Indianapolis in 2009 draft day trade
7 (243) Compensatory Pick
7 (244) Compensatory Pick

The Dream Scenario…

Earl Thomas S/CB Texas

Eagles clearly have the ammunition to move up in the first round. They could easily enter into the teens without having to sacrifice too much and even into the top 10 if they were willing to touch picks for next year. The cost of getting into the top 10 is a little to rich for my blood but Eric Berry would be the perfect selection for this secondar, I just don’t believe sacrificing a number of high picks would be worth the difference between Berry and the #2 safety on the board. I would package the #24 along with a 3 and a 4 to get into the teens and secure my chance at selecting safety Earl Thomas from the University of Texas. The 5’10 208lb ball hawk is a certified playmaker with experience at safety and corner. He’s a big hitter and he’s got the smarts to be successful in the Eagles aggressive scheme.

Eric Berry S Tennesee

The less sexy picks that I believe the Eagles could target in the first round are 6’5 330 lb giant guard Mike Iupati from Idaho and versatile center Maurkice Pouncey from the University of Florida.

Here’s how I see it…

If the Eagles trade up: Eric Berry, Earl Thomas, MLB Rolando McClain from Alabama or USF defensive end Jason Pierre Paul (I think he’s got bust written all over him. Purely a physical specimen think Mamula)

If the Eagles stand pat at 24: Mike Iaputi, Maurkice Pouncey, cornerback Kyle Wilson from Boise State or linebacker Sean Witherspoon from Missouri.
My pick: Earl Thomas

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Breaking Bad

The Flyers already weak forward depth just took a monumental hit this afternoon. A bad break (2 to be exact) on a couple of slap shots in last night’s hard-fought victory over the Devils are now the headlines as the O & B will be without Jeff Carter and Simon Gagne for the foreseeable future.

Both will have surgery on their fractured right feet  tomorrow in Philadelphia by orthopedic surgeon Steven Raikin of the Rothman Institute.

With Carter it truly is a case of one foot forward and one foot back as he is only 6 games removed from having his left foot surgically repaired. Carter did not miss a game in two full seasons prior to breaking his left foot just over a month ago. Now to experience a similar injury on the other foot so quickly is just cruel irony. The frustration in his case, considering he appeared to finally regain his scoring touch last night must be immeasurable. His return was characterized as indefinite which would tell me that unless the Flyers advance to the Finals last night was probably the last of Carter in uniform for this season.

For Simon Gagne this will just be another notch on his long list of recent health problems. The concussion, the groin, the ab strain and now a fluke fracture in his foot doing something he’s done hundreds of times in his career. GM Paul Holmgren told reporters that Gagne would have a return target of around 3 weeks, which would put it well into the Eastern Conference finals schedule.

To replace the two the Flyers will call on veteran Ville Leino and one of Phantom forwards Andreas Nodl or David Laliberte.

Another year and it’s the some old story. Remember Desjardins breaking his arm while wrestling his kid in ’04? What about 2 years ago with losing Timonen and Coburn at the same time? You go through all the goalies this year and for once you go in with a fairly healthy skating roster then two of your top guns drop in the matter of 20 minutes.

Sometimes it’s hard not to believe this team is cursed.

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Introducing Lady Pha Pha

At the Phillies home opener this week the fantastic Phillie Phanatic revealed his inner pop star, showing the 45,000+ fans on hand his love for Lady Gaga.

The Gaga approves.

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Flyers Add Russian Goalie Prospect

It’s leaked from some European scouts including Teemu (euroFlyers on twitter) that the Flyers have signed Russian goalie prospect Sergei Bobrovsky to a contract. The terms were undisclosed but it’s been confirmed that Bobrovsky will come over to participate in Flyers training camp, come the fall. I thought his name sounded familiar to me and after a quick google search I remembered why. Oddly enough, I have actually seen the kid play a couple of times on the NHL Network for Team Russia. First  in the Super Series versus Canada and ihen n the World Juniors in 2008, when he was Russia’s best goaltender outperforming Caps goalie Semyon Varlamov to earn a bronze medal.

My fiance thought I was nuts for watching those games “Do the Flyers ever even get anyone who is Russian besides the ugly dude? (referring to Danny Markov who she remembers fondly from 2004)” well I finally got to use some of that useless knowledge I acquired from being just about the only guy in the states watching junior hockey.

Here’s a scouting report from the good people at hockeysfuture.com.

Sergei Bobrovsky is a product of the HC Metallurg (Novokuznetsk) hockey system. He has been the starting goalie for his age groupâ’s club team throughout his career and has really come on strong as a starting goalie for the regional HC Sibir team.

2006-07: While one of hte top Siberian goalies, Bobrvosky really came on the scene as a promising proispect during the 2006-07 season when he made his Super League debut and performed well in the backup role for HC Metallurg (Nk.). This achievement made the national team coaching staff take notice.

2007-08: During the 2007-08 season the young prospect was invited to join Russia’s U20 team that competed in the Super Series against the Canadian teams . There, Bobrovsky was clearly Russiaâ’s best goalie, performing better than Semen Varlamov or Sergei Gaiduchenko. This and his strong play in the Russian Super League further elevated the netminder and similarly to Konstantin Barulin a few years ealrier, he capped off his ascention by earning the starting position for Team Russia at the U20 World Junior Championships. There Bobrovsky, while in some ways not playing as well as he did int he Super Series, still performed quite well, helping Russia earn the bronze medals.

Talent Analysis
Bobrovsky is a hybrid goalie who prefers more of a butterfly down lower style than stand-up. The young netminder has above average reaction time and a slightly above average glove side. He has good lateral quickness in the crease, Bobrovsky has impressive quickness and he needs it since he does not take up as much of a net as even his U20 Team Russia teammate Gaiduchenko. The young goalie also tends to skate out far to challenge opponents, though he didnâ’t do this as much outside of Russian hockey when competing internationally. An average puckhandler, Bobrovsky rarely plays the puck outside the crease and tends to make safer and more conservative decisions with it. Another area that the young netminder does need to work on is his rebounding, as he tends to give up a lot of them and some dangerously close in front of him. It is impressive that he is capable of blocking some very difficult first shots, but he does himself and his team a disservice by leaving the rebound and allowing the opposing team second and third chances at the puck. Still, his competitiveness and ability to stop the first shot have been key to his success thus far in his career and he can learn proper rebound control if given more coaching opportunities. Maturity wise, the young 88 born netminder is probably one of the most mature young netminders currently playing in Russia. He took on a lot of responsibility last year and even though handled it very well, especially when backstopping Russia to the bronze medal at the U20 World Junior Championships. His ability to remain composed in difficult situations and remain competitive has been key to his success.

He is instantly our best goaltending prospect. The only guy who is anywhere near him in terms of potential is our Swedish kid Joacim”Sunshine” Eriksson who I also look forward to seeing in camp.

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Carcillo Called His Shot

In a critical game 3 of the Eastern conference quarterfinals, the Flyers got an overtime game winner by grinder Danny Carcillo. To some, he would be a surprising candidate for a heroic goal but he certainly didn’t surprise himself. In a post game interview veteran winger Ian Lapperiere told reporters that just prior to the start of overtime he went up to Carcillo and told him “It’s time to be a hero.” to which Danny responded…

“I got this.”

Less than 3 minutes later, he scored the biggest goal of his life. It’s not quite “Ruthian” but it sure feels as important this morning.

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