We've finally made it to the Finals! The Philadelphia Flyers are the bad boys from the East and the young kids of the West, the Chicago Blackhawks, will go head-to-head for the game's biggest prize starting on Saturday night. This series has the makings of being a brand new classic series.
The Flyers have worked their tail off through these playoffs, especially in the 2nd round of the competition against the Boston Bruins, where they had to make a historic comeback, being down 3-0 in that series. They have been playing the rough & tumble game with their opponents and playing some exceptional defense to let them get this far and there should be no reason why they'd stop. I would have to say that the key to their success will have to be much like what they did with the Canadiens in the Conference Finals, using their good defense to will the speed of the opposition to the outside, along the boards, in order to keep the degree of difficulty down for Michael Leighton in net.
Chicago only managed to play one less game than the Flyers on their quest to the Cup Finals, beating the Predators in 6, the Canucks in 6 and sweeping away the Sharks in 4. The Blackhawks have also been using their good defense to take space away from opposition shooters, allowing Antti Niemi to take away the bottom of the net and making that aspect of the game fairly straight-forward. The Blackhawks can also boast the leading scorer in the NHL playoffs (and the Playoff Pool) in Jonathan Toews, who has been lights out in these playoffs, really lifting himself up as one of the premier captains in the league.
Both teams enjoy crashing the front of the net, so both goalies are going to be inundated with big forwards and possibly some big defensemen on power plays. I wonder what the over/under is for the number of goaltender interference calls there will be in this series, I would gather a lot. Saying that, the special teams for both squads will definitely be important and Chicago will go into the series with the best power play of the two teams, running at a 22.6% clip, while the Flyers have a power play going at 20.7% rate going into Game One.
These two teams did meet in the regular season, with a wild 3rd period filled with five goals, including a late winner from Chris Pronger, scoring with three seconds to go for a 3-2 win for the visiting team. Michael Leighton was in net for the Flyers in that game, but Cristobel Huet was the goalie of record for the Blackhawks, so that may be a bit of a game-changer. For the most part, it looked like the goaltenders had to be sharp in the first two periods, blanking the game going into the final frame, but when the game opened up, it was a helluva finish. Check out the highlights from that game here.
Let's go over our pool contestants vying for the prize money, which is winner take all this year! I believe the final total is coming in at around $400 for the top prize, as we had a number of teams fall down in the free division, but I didn't get around to actually making a different page, but I have payment for our top eight teams, so they are definitely all in it to win it, but as you'll see later on in the preview, there is a small margin of possibility for a winner from last year's numbers.
In 2009's version of the pool, Trevor B. came back from a 5-point deficit going into the Finals to take the crown as the pool's best team, beating Steve W. on tie-breakers, so that's how close it came. In 2010, Scott G. has a 5-point lead on 2nd place and a 3-player advantage on 2nd place Neil B., while Myles D. is only 8 points back and also has six players left, but only three players are different between Scott & Myles' teams. If the series goes seven games, there is a chance that Myles will have enough to make it close, but it really does look like eight points will be a tough deficit to make up.
Let's have a look at the top eight teams in the pool and see how far it goes back.
|Team||Scott G.||Neil B.||Myles D.||Kalenab G.||Derek B.||Leo M.||Stuart G.||Russ D.|
|James Van Riemsdyk||x|
Neil is going in with no Flyers, which should be his downfall, unless the Blackhawks can utterly eliminate the Philadelphia offense and the superstars for the Blackhawks can open it up, there is a shot for Neil to stay in this game, but if the Flyers can score goals, I don't like Neil, Kalenab or Derek's chances of staying around for too much longer. Having six players is the way to go in the Finals and only three teams have that luxury in this top eight.
The bonus points for game-winners are down a bit in 2010 from 2009, where the leader in 2009 had a whopping 20 bonus points going into the Finals, where this year, Russ D. has only 17 and I was thinking that less bonus points were stolen from this year's pool than last year's, but that was just a generalized assumption.
We do have a couple of leaders in the player category game-winning goals, as both Dustin Byfuglien of the Blackhawks and Daniel Briere of the Flyers each have 4 bonus points and they'll now go head-to-head for the title this year. In 2009, Johan Franzen and Evgeni Malkin led the way in the pool with only 3 each, so in that regard, we have some better scorers in 2010. Henrik Zetterberg took the title in 2008 with 4 game-winners.
The Blackhawks have been going through the playoffs without two players, but only one of them is actually injured. Kim Johnsson has been out since April 11th with a severe concussion and hasn't made any sort of improvements (assuming since I've heard nothing that's what it means), which is kind of a piss-off for three teams in the pool, who picked him at the start of the run. Cristobel Huet, the sheet goalie for the Blackhawks, hasn't had to make an appearance for the team this Spring, which has cost some teams upwards of 24 points to this point.
For the Flyers, they will also be without their sheet goalie, so there are no points coming from the crease in this series (assuming both stay healthy). Brian Boucher was lost to the Flyers in the 2nd round against the Bruins, blowing out both of the major tendons in his knees, so there is no chance that he will return from that in time to play any games in the Finals, not that they would actually let him, barring injury to Michael Leighton.
Well, I think that's all you need to know for the hockey pool... now, we wait for it all to get going!