Saturday, June 12, 2010

Flyers Fall in OT, Blackhawks Become 2010 Stanley Cup Champions

By: Tim Brennan

It's been 49 years since the Chicago Blackhawks had their name inscribed on the most coveted trophy in hockey. But droughts are bound to be broken and fortunately for fans of the Blackhawks in the time since their last Stanley Cup, they finally get to see a parade in the Windy City.

Patrick Kane's Cup clinching goal in overtime of Game 6 gave Chicago their first Stanley Cup since the days of Stan Mikita and Bobby Hull. Everyone, players and fans alike, had no clue what was going on when Kane went into jubilation and started celebrating when he had just kinda flung the puck towards the net. But how could that have gone in? The replay showed it sneaking past Flyers goaltender Michael Leighton low and getting stuck in the netting. After a slight delay, the Blackhawks were free to celebrate and revel in what they have accomplished this season.

The Flyers, in the meantime, were dejected but proud in what they were able to do this season after a multitude of problems during the first half of the season, resulting in the firing of head coach John Stevens. The team rose to the occasion under the new guidance of Peter Laviolette and were able to secure a playoff spot with a win on the final day of the regular season. The incredible journey continued as they ran over New Jersey in the quarterfinals, battled back and defied odds against Boston in the semifinals and burst Montreal's bubble in the conference finals before taking on Chicago.

Everything was on the line in Philadelphia for Game 6 as the Flyers looked to push the series to a final showdown in a Game 7 in Chicago while the Blackhawks wanted to claim the Cup as soon as humanly possible. Several Flyers were in need of a bounce back, most notably Chris Pronger and Mike Richards, after the previous game ended 7-4 in favor of Chicago. Pronger has been known to be able to shake off a poor performance to help propel his team to victory.

Unfortunately for the Flyers, the same Chris Pronger that showed up in Game 5 also was on the ice in Game 6 as early on, he committed two lazy penalties to give Chicago a chance. And just like that, Pronger's best friend Dustin Byfuglien scored on the second Pronger penalty, giving Chicago the lead and giving it to the Flyers fans by tapping his stick on the glass on the way by. Scott Hartnell countered however with his own powerplay tally shortly before the end of the first period with a backhand effort out in front.

Danny Briere's roof shot gave Philadelphia a 2-1 lead 8 minutes into the second. Defenseman Lukas Krajicek flipped the puck to center ice landing right near Ville Leino and since Briere was unmarked, Leino slid the puck over to Briere, catching Antti Niemi by surprise for a quick strike. However, less than two minutes later, Patrick Sharp tied it up off a quick transition by the Blackhawks. Duncan Keith broke into the zone, centered to Dave Bolland who slid the puck over to Sharp before a Flyers player could touch him and Sharp's shot awkwardly squeezed through Leighton. Andrew Ladd made matters worse for the Flyers scoring a short while before the end of the period. Patrick Kane shuffled along the blueline, taking two Flyers with him before sending it to Niklas Hjalmarsson. Hjalmarsson's point shot was deflected by Ladd and gave Chicago a 3-2 lead heading into the final period.

The team that never says die certainly couldn't pull this one out right? The Flyers, desperately fighting for their lives, needed just one more goal to get some sort of momentum going. Up until the start of period #3, the Flyers were being outplayed, outchanced, outhustled and manhandled by the Blackhawks, with a 13-27 deficit in shots to boot. Yet the Flyers kept pushing and were still in the game, only down a goal.

Philadelphia got the boost they needed so badly when Scott Hartnell scored his second of the contest and his fifth of the series off a tip in near the front of the net. Hartnell has gone into the dirty areas and has provided the Flyers with a player who is willing to charge the net and put pucks in instead of just running into the goalie, which is his M.O. The Flyers pressed late in the period but both teams were going to need extra time to determine a winner.

Early into the extra session, Flyers forward Claude Giroux sent a couple of bouncing pucks towards the net but Niemi was able to scoop those chances up. It was only a matter of time before Chicago ended the game because they were the far superior team during this do or die matchup. Kane was the perfect player to seal Chicago's championship fate as it was he who played far better than any other Blackhawk forward during the series and playoffs.

Once again, the Flyers second line of Danny Briere, Ville Leino and Scott Hartnell were the only offensive players to put points on the board meanwhile the top line of Mike Richards, Simon Gagne and Jeff Carter turned into invisible men and couldn't muster anything worth mentioning. The Hartnell-Briere-Leino combination combined for 30 points in the Stanley Cup Finals, while the first liners Richards, Gagne and Carter only produced 6. The second line made the first line look embarrassing in the plus minus category as well, with a +15 rating for the second line to -21 for the first line.

There's no doubt that the Flyers will love to keep the second line intact after such an incredible performance in the post season. Briere had been under fire the last two years due to a lack of production for such a large salary of 8 million dollars a season. However Briere turned out to be one of the best players on the team, collecting 12 goals and 18 assists for 30 points, tops on his team. Along with Briere, Ville Leino provided a much needed offensive bite from an unlikely source and became a force to be reckoned with, picking up 21 points in 19 games and led the Flyers in plus minus at +10. Hartnell reeked havoc in front of goaltenders all post season and after a slow start, poured on the points in the Finals with 5 goals and 4 assists for 9 points.

The Flyers should be proud of what they accomplished this season, especially after all the injuries, personnel and coaching changes that have occurred. No one could have expected such a tremendous playoff run and an Eastern Conference championship. The team deserves credit for being a team that wouldn't let go and wouldn't succumb to anything, battling through adversity and doing what ever it took to get the job done. Although they fell two games short of a Stanley Cup victory, they certainly proved themselves to be worthy opponents, formed into a strong cohesive unit and gave Chicago a run for their money. There's always next season Flyers fans.

Congratulations to the Chicago Blackhawks for winning the Stanley Cup and becoming the champions for the 2009-10 season.

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