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Thursday, June 30

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Blackhawks Thu May 27 2010

File on the Flyers

As detalled briefly on Tuesday, the Flyers walked a fine line to both make the playoffs and to advance as far as they have, however, this is not a Cinderella story. At the beginning of the season, Philadelphia was one of the favorites in the Eastern Conference, and, though they struggled with injuries and consistency through most of the season, their playoff run suggests a team playing at its full potential and peaking at the right time.

Philly's a bit of a hybrid team; their offense has depth and speed, and they can turn it on when needed, as evidenced by their 54 goals, most in the playoffs. On the back end, the Flyers have some big, muscular shut-down D men, and provide smothering coverage in their own end, the 3 shutouts the team posted in beating the Montreal Canadiens a testament to that.

The question mark for the Flyers at the start of the season was in net, and after losing Ray Emery midseason, that question still lingers. Brian Boucher stepped in, and after he was injured in the 2nd round against Boston, journeyman Michael Leighton (a former Blackhawk) has picked up the torch and lead the Flyers to 7 wins in their last 8 games.
Leighton was picked up on waivers midseason and went 16-5-2 for Philly before being injured in March, so his play upon coming back isn't a total shock., Though he's played admirably in posting a goals against average of 1.45 this postseason, he hasn't been tested by an offense as dynamic as the Blackhawks.

On the blue line, the big factor is the looming 6-foot-6 presence of Chris Pronger. Pronger's an MVP and Cup winning d-man who Philly signed in the offseason thanks to his wealth of postseason experience, and he's helped shore up the Flyers defense into a cohesive unit. Pronger's size and shot make him a threat on both sides of the ice, and he'll likely be tasked with clearing Dustin Byfuglien out of the front of the net in what figures to be an epic battle. The rest of the defense includes the 6-5 Braydon Coburn, an equally big body and long reach, though he's not as physically imposing as Pronger, and the shifty Matt Carle and Kimmo Timmonen, who can both threaten offensively while staying sound in their own zone. The Flyers top 4 blueliners is probably the strongest of any the Blackhawks have faced this year, and while the 3rd pairing can be exploited, they will see as little ice time as possible.

Upfront, the Flyers have a mix of speed, grit, and playmaking ability that extends through all 3 lines, but the heart of their attack lies in captain Mike Richards and Simon Gagne. Richards leads the team with 21 points, and is 2nd overall to Jonathon Toews in the postseason, and in fact, is equally as strong on the ice to his Olympic teammate. Gagne, after missing time with a foot injury has reeled off 7 goals in his last 10 games. Behind them, Philly's got multiple threats, with Danny Briere, Claude Giroux both averaging a point a game (and Ville Leino's right behind them, with 12 points in 13 games), and Jeff Carter's return in the Montreal series adds another weapon. The Flyers also have some agitators who can change the momentum, throw opponents off their game, and put the puck in the net in Scott Hartnell, Daniel Carcillo, and Arron Asham. With these forwards spread throughout their lines, the Flyers have the ability to mix up their attack and will force the Hawks defense to be on their toes. The Blackhawks can't afford the defensive mistakes and struggles to clear that were stymieing them in earlier rounds, as the Flyers have the ability to make them pay.

Though Chicago has the bigger names in Toews and Patrick Kane, the Flyers front lines may be a little more solid throughout, at least as long as the Hawks' Marian Hossa remains snakebit and struggles to score. The Hawks have gotten timely goals from throughout their lineup, but the only consistenly producing line has been their top one.

Philadelphia has a tradition going back to the '70s of being the Broad Street Bullies, and while there's still shades of that grit running through the Flyers, the team also has the offense to turn up the tempo for sustained momentun bursts. However, even with that, the Blackhawks speed is something that few teams can match, and if the Hawks can keep their possession game going and put the Flyers on their heels, it will be a big factor in neutralizing the Philly attack.

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