I was 100% right for the winners of the last round, but was drastically off for the number of games it would take each team. I thought the Blackhawks (who swept the Sharks) would need 6 games to eliminate the Sharks. I thought the Flyers/Habs series would go to 7 after the road the Flyers and Canadiens had taken to get to that point, but the Flyers (who shut out the Canadiens in 3/5 of their games) figured out how to effectively shut down the Habs and eliminated them in 5 games.
In spite of the fact that the Flyers were ranked 7th in the east and tied in points to the Canadiens as the team with the lowest points to make it to the playoffs and the Blackhawks were only third in the NHL (2nd in the west), I think this year’s Finals will be very interesting. It was hard for me to pick a team to win this one. Though I’m picking the Blackhawks, a lot of this series might depend on which team ends up having the hottest goalie and Michael Leighton of the Flyers, ranked 1st in playoff goaltending save percentage among goalies that have played more than one game and having the most shutouts of the playoffs (3, all in the last round against the Canadiens) is definitely the hottest goalie coming into the Finals. I think the Blackhawks’ scoring will make enough of a difference to neutralize the Flyers’ momentum coming into the Finals.
My prediction is… Blackhawks in 6. The Flyers may have the hottest goalie, but Antti Niemi is still doing very well in goal. The Blackhawks also have the number one scorer in the playoffs (by points and by points per game) and two in the top 10 in points per game. The Flyers’ top scorer is 11th in points per game. The Flyers have the top penalty takers remaining in the competition and with a 22.6% success rate, the Blackhawks have the best power play left (ranked 5th out of the 16 teams in the playoffs). The Flyers (87%) and Blackhawks (86.6%) both have great penalty kills (ranked 2nd & 3rd overall in the playoffs) and defenses, so the Finals this year should be very intense.
The Flyers haven’t been to the Finals since they lost to the Detroit Red Wings in 1997 (the first year of Detroit’s last back-to-back Stanley Cup wins). The Blackhawks lost to the Penguins in 1992 (in their second year of their only back-to-back Stanley Cup wins).
No matter which team wins this year’s Finals, it will be a team that hasn’t won the Cup in quite a while. It will also definitely go to a team who lost the last five times they were in the Finals. Philadelphia last won the Stanley Cup in 1975 – they won back-to-back Cups in 74 & 75. Chicago, who last won the Cup in 1961 is actually the team in the NHL with the longest period without winning the Cup. It’s been almost 40 years and I think it’s time. The Blackhawks and Flyers have each been in the Finals five times since their last wins 49 & 35 years ago.
Both teams have a lot of drive and both have good stories about not having won the Stanley Cup in a long time. Versus and NBC must be thrilled. This year’s Finals includes two teams that have been around for a long time. The Blackhawks are one of the original six teams of the NHL and the Flyers are part of the next six. Both teams have fans all over the country, so this year’s Finals should do well in the United States.