Why a Flyers, Blackhawks Final is good for the NHL…

Let’s get one thing perfectly clear: If you predicted the Philadelphia Flyers would be in the Stanley Cup Finals before the playoffs began, you were either severely inebriated, medically delusional or Paul Holmgren.

Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way…

28 teams have been eliminated from competition and only two remain. Those two are the surprising Flyers and the talent-laden Chicago Blackhawks.

In other words, two teams that have not been to the Stanley Cup Finals in a long time.

Philadelphia hasn’t been to the Finals since the Legion Of Doom line of Eric Lindros, John LeClair and Mikael Renberg roamed the Wachovia Center and Chicago hasn’t played for the Cup since a guy named Jeremy Roenick was actually on his original team (if you can remember back that far). 1997 and 1992, respectively, were the last times the two clubs have found themselves with a chance to win Lord Stanley’s chalice.

To put it in perspective, Nashville, Columbus, Atlanta and Minnesota didn’t have teams yet and the Winnipeg Jets were fresh off their move to Phoenix.

So yeah… it’s been a while.

But without superstars like Alexander Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby or Pavel Datsyuk playing on the NHL’s biggest stage, is that a good thing for a league who almost exclusively promotes it’s star players as opposed to it’s teams?

Luckily, both clubs boast some star power. The Flyers have Chris Pronger, Simon Gagne, Jeff Carter and Mike Richards. Heck, even Daniel Briere can provide the flashy, exciting play every once in a while. And the Blackhawks… where to start? Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Brian Campbell, Patrick Sharp, yada yada yada. So while there’s no Ovechkin, Crosby or Datsyuk, there are still plenty of stars to market over the next couple weeks.

There’s no shortage of intriguing storylines as well.

On the final game of the regular season, the Flyers played the New York Rangers in a true playoff game. The winner clinched seventh place in the Eastern Conference while the loser locked up ninth place and was forced to watch the postseason from their couches. The game was tied 1-1 at the end of regulation and hockey fans everywhere were treated to a little “playoff” overtime in the regular season. But then the extra session expired with no goal scored and, for the first time in NHL history, a playoff spot hinged on winning a shootout. In the third round of “the gimmick,” Claude Giroux scored and Olli Jokinen didn’t, putting the Flyers into the playoffs. And now that same team, who was literally one puck away from not going dancing at all, is in the Finals.

Another storyline you’ll hear all throughout the series is how all the experts, almost to a man, blasted Chicago for sticking by goaltender Antti Niemi instead of going out and getting an experienced playoff-tested veteran at the trade deadline. All Niemi’s done in his first postseason of any kind is go 12-4 with an outstanding .920 save percentage.

Speaking of goaltenders, the Flyers have suited up five different masked men this season. The much-maligned Ray Emery seemed to be resurrecting his NHL career when, in December, he tore a muscle in his abdomen. Through tests on the injury, it came to light that his career might be over due to avascular necrosis. Then back-up Michael Leighton took over and rattled off 13 wins in his first 17 starts. In late March however, Leighton suffered a high ankle sprain here in Nashville and was slated to miss the rest of the Flyers regular season. Enter NHL journeyman Brian Boucher. Boucher was spotty at best down the stretch for Philadelphia but, when it counted (in the final regular season game and then the playoffs), he played admirably. He disposed of the Cup-favorite New Jersey Devils in the first round and then won game four in the Boston series before two players fell on him in the crease and injured his left knee in game five. Re-enter Leighton. Leighton’s only lost one game since his return and now finds himself the starting goaltender on a club in the Stanley Cup Finals.

And then there’s Marian Hossa.

When the puck drops on Saturday night, Hossa will become the first player in NHL history to play in the Stanley Cup Finals in three consecutive seasons… all on different teams. He was traded from the Atlanta Thrashers to the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2008. Then, in the off-season, Hossa signed a one-year deal with the same Detroit Red Wings who had beaten his Penguins in the Finals just a month earlier. But, in a cruel twist of irony, the Penguins beat Hossa and his Red Wings in the Finals in 2009. Last July, Hossa signed on with the high-flying Blackhawks. So here he is. In his third straight Finals with his third different team.

So, despite the lack of a Detroit or a Pittsburgh or a Washington vying for the Stanley Cup, there are plenty of stars to market and storylines to publicize. And, even if there weren’t, each team’s fanbase deserves this.

The Flyers haven’t hoisted the Cup since 1975 and the Blackhawks haven’t hung a banner since – *gulp* – 1961. Both fanbases have waited way too long, both are very passionate sports towns and they’re both Top 10 markets in the United States which goes a long way for TV ratings.

Plus, a Stanley Cup Final without the Penguins is just two more weeks we don’t have to watch the media drool over Crosby. And I don’t know about you but that’s the best storyline these Finals could ever give me.

— WHAT YOU’RE SAYING VIA TWITTER —
* Tom Begley says “2 solid TV markets will make ratings good and that’s good to attract sponsors.”
* Tara Partyka says “(It’s a) chance to showcase some of the young talent & leadership in Richards & Toews…”
* Chris Burton says “There’s old v. young (Toews/Pronger), there’s great stories (Leighton) and curses (Hossa).”
* Ryan Porth says “2 big markets, 2 fun teams to watch and 2 franchises desperate to win again…”

and then there’s Michelle Neic who says “(It’s good) because I’m a born and raised Flyers fan and my husband of 17 years is a born and raised Blackhawks fan!”

(please, for your own safety, everyone stay away from the Neic household for the remaining two weeks.)

PHOTO CREDITS: Jamie Squire and Michael Heiman (Getty Images)

5 Comments

  1. Buddy Oakes

    May 26, 2010 at 9:31 am

    I actually chose the Flyers to win the Cup in the preseason.

    • Jeremy K. Gover

      May 26, 2010 at 9:33 am

      Buddy – Based on what? What did you see on their roster that made you think they’d have a legitimate shot at the Cup?

  2. Jack

    May 26, 2010 at 9:48 am

    actually Jeremy, I know several as well who picked the Flyers based on depth being at least in the ecf at least if not the sc this year preseason as well (a lot of the national pundits that did, assumed they like the Hawks would make a goaltending move by the deadline that never happened that would put them over the top), but I believe TSN as well as several big american writers picked them the get in.

    That being said as a long time Hawks STH, the Flyers are at least the 3rd best team we’ll see this post season (if not the 4th best), so I’m happy with the draw. That being said that’s why they play the games and I’m getting my ticketss for game 6 in philly just in case.

    But to end with my point, there are people who preseason did pick philly to be where they are (though I don’t rmember any of them picking them to win the cup) in the battle of last years conference finals losers.

  3. Capt4Chris

    May 26, 2010 at 2:44 pm

    If only we had beat Chicago LOL!

  4. Home Workout Stud

    June 1, 2010 at 9:13 pm

    The Blackhawks are probably taking home the cup this year, no hesitation about it. Earlier throughout the 2010 playoffs i reckoned Chicago was basically hopeless merely because of the Hossa curse. 3 different teams, 3 different yrs, all making it to the cup finals but yet certainly not winning. Let us discover if perhaps he can acutally win one this yr. And also besides the actuality, i cannot stand Philly meant for explanations that definitely will go un-named. Phillys time in the spot light is certainly through, down 2-0 they don’t have a shot. Go Hawks!