13 years ago I was a 10-year-old. That was the year we cleaned up the East, beating each team 4-1 on our way to the Stanley Cup Finals. Then we ran into the beginning of the Detroit dynasty. We ran into Brendan Shanahan, Steve Yzerman, Sergei Fedorov, Larry Murphy, and Nicklas Lidstrom. The end result was a devastating sweep where we only managed six goals in four games.
We’re a long way from 1997. We’re a long way from our incredible run in 2000 and the legend of 2004. We’re different from 2008. This is 2010, and we may have the best team we’ve iced in decades.
Still, talent doesn’t win you a Cup. Yes, we’re the Eastern Conference Champions, but that means nothing unless we can prove we’re better than the Western Conference Champions.
On the other side is a team that dominated the West and cleaned up by sweeping the San Jose Sharks in the Western Conference Finals. They are young, they are talented, and they want the Cup.
So how do we beat them?
The answer is of course a little tricky. They are basically us. Their team make-up is the same, their talent level is the same, and their desire is the same. How do we beat what basically amounts to ourselves?
We will have to play to the differences. You automatically think of guys like Dustin Byfuglien, who is basically their Hartnell, and Patrick Kane, who is basically their Briere, and Jonathan Toews, who is basically their Richards, and Marian Hossa, who is basically their Gagne. But looking at their depth they have a Patrick Sharp, who is a lesser version of Carter, and Kris Versteeg, who is a lesser version of Giroux. That leaves Dave Bolland, Troy Brouwer, and Andrew Ladd to fill out their top nine. When compared to Ville Leino, James vanRiemsdyk, and Arron Asham, you can see that the Flyers have the slightly deeper offense.
Our fourth line of Powe, Betts, and Laperriere is one of the most defensively responsible and edgy shut-down lines in the game. Their fourth line is John Madden, basically as good if not better than Betts, along with former Flyer Ben Eager and former Red Wing Tomas Kopecky. In a straight match-up, the Flyers’ fourth line is slightly better.
Then looking at the defense, it will be a battle of Duncan Keith, their do-it-all defenseman who is in much the mold of a Timonen despite being slightly better. Their shut-down defenseman, Brent Seabrook, is talented, but he is still no Pronger. Then you have Brian Campbell, who is a better version of Carle, paired with Niklas Hjalmarsson, who is a weaker version of Coburn.
They also have a solid number five defenseman in Brent Sopel who can jump in and log some minutes, but unless the Flyers start feeling comfortable with Parent, the Blackhawks might be able to spread their defensive minutes more evenly.
Then it comes down to rookie goalie Antti Neimi against Michael Leighton. Neimi has the advantage skill-wise, and he also has a very good defense to help him out. He’s also very quick laterally. He can move to side to side, and the best way to beat him is the same way we beat Halak: get involved in the crease to bang home the junk and get involved in the crease.
Strong defensive teams are nothing new to the Flyers having battled through New Jersey with Brodeur (#2 regular season defense), Boston with Rask (#1 regular season defense), and Montreal with Halak. Likewise, strong offensive teams are nothing new to Chicago having dealt with Vancouver (#2 regular season offense) and San Jose (#4 regular season offense). They also met up with some strong defensemen in Nashville named Shea Weber and Ryan Suter.
The Flyers have a slightly better offensive and a stronger defensive top 4, but this is not going to be easy. The Hawks are filled with some tough, two-way forwards and some solid defensemen just like us.
They’re not as physical as Boston, but they have as strong a defense. Their offense is better than any we’ve faced to this date.
But if we come out playing our game, then they can be beaten.
One thing their offense likes to do is work the transition and cross the blueline. They can also dump and chase, but if they try to skate into the zone on their own power, our defense can hold them. If they do start to dump and chase to make the battles in our zone toss-ups, then they will have to win the battles. They have the talent to do so, and we have the talent to stop them from winning the puck. We have to want it more. We have to beat them in those battles and get pucks out on the break-out cleanly and effectively. We can’t turn the pucks over in our own zone. Like Montreal and New Jersey, this is when they’re the most dangerous.
Offensively we’re going to have to pressure them. Their defense is good and deep, but if we knock them backwards and force turnovers with our high-energy forecheck, we can attack from any possible angle.
It’s still not going to be easy. This series will come down to execution and desire more than skill.
Leighton will have to remain hot, our defense will have to continue to clear his rebounds, and our offense will have to make life miserable for their back-end. We have to get in Niemi’s face and crash the net.
Carter, Gagne, and Laperriere have had a little extra time to rest. Our team has looked pretty good. Boucher will be the back-up on the bench as he returns earlier than expected from his injury.
We have a great opportunity to win this. We can’t just let it slip away.
Thirteen years is a long time to wait.
We need 100% determination and 100% execution. We need everyone to play like Alpha-males.