Season Series: Flyers win 1-0
March 13:Flyers 3, Blackhawks 2
Finals schedule:Game 1: Sat. May 29 at Chicago 8 p.m. ET -- NBC, CBCGame 2: Mon. May 31 at Chicago 8 p.m. ET -- NBC, CBCGame 3: Wed. June 2 at Philadelphia 7:30 p.m. ET -- VERSUS, CBC, RDSGame 4: Fri. June 4 at Philadelphia 7;30 p.m. ET -- VERSUS, CBC, RDS*Game 5: Sun. June 6 at Chicago 8 p.m. ET -- NBC, CBC, RDS*Game 6: Wed. June 9 at Philadelphia 8 p.m. ET -- NBC, CBC, RDS*Game 7: Friday, June 11 at Chicago 8 p.m. ET -- NBC, CBC, RDS
PHILADELPHIA WINS THE CUP IF:
1) Michael Leighton continues to channel the spirit of Bernie Parent. There's absolutely nothing on his resume that suggests he's up to this challenge, but his recent body of work (three shutouts and a .954 save percentage against the Habs) gives hope, right? Maybe...but remember: the Bruins and Canadiens came into the playoffs with the 30th and 26th ranked offenses, respectively. His ability to handle a much deeper and more physical challenge will be the key to Philly's chances.
2) Team physical play. The Flyers have thrived on a tenacious forecheck, a relentless backcheck, and a willingness to sacrifice the body at every opportunity. The Sharks failed to exact a physical toll. That won't be an issue for Philadelphia, but the Flyers have to maintain the same discipline that defined their physical presence in the first three rounds.
3) Scoring depth. The Hawks have found a way to stifle the opposition's top threats in each series, but they haven't yet run into a forward group this deep. Even if the Flyers don't get much offensively out of Mike Richards and/or Jeff Carter, they've got a talented chorus line. If Danny Briere (team-leading nine goals), Claude Giroux (17 points in 17 games) and the surprising Ville Leino (12 points in 13 games) can step into the spotlight, Philly will challenge the depth of Chicago's defense.
CHICAGO WINS THE CUP IF:
1) Patrick Kaneand Jonathan Toews play older than their years. No one questions their skill or their drive, and both have met the challenge in plenty of big games, including last February's Olympic gold medal match. Still, the seven-game format makes this an entirely different stage. Both said they learned a lot about upping their intensity from last year's semifinal loss to the Red Wings and this year's Olympics. They're ready to take the test.
2) They create consistent physical presence in the offensive zone. The Flyers got off easy against Montreal because the smaller Canadiens forwards couldn't generate a cycle down low and rarely had a net presence outside of their Game 3 victory. They'll face a different challenge from the Hawks. Chicago owned the deep ice against San Jose, with Dustin Byfuglien setting the tone. If they win that ground again, they win the Cup.
3) Antti Niemi continues to shine. Leighton may have better numbers, but Niemi has played tougher opponents and been involved in more tight games. That experience might be the one clear advantage Chicago has in what should be a very evenly matched series.
(1) Antti Niemi vs. Michael Leighton: A pair of goalies who started the season on absolutely no one's fantasy team make for the unlikeliest netminding battle in Cup final history. Both have crafted the sort of postseason success stories that should sway the cynics, but it ends here for one of them. Will it be the opposition, or the pressure of the moment that gets to them?
(2) Chris Pronger vs. Dustin Byfuglien: With three game-winners in the San Jose series, Big Buff has to be recognized as a leading Conn-tender heading into the final. Outside of his Game 3 flop against the Habs, Pronger has emerged as perhaps the best and most consistent player coming out of the East. This will be strength on strength, a true clash of the titans. Let's see which one is the Kraken.
(3) Jonathan Toews vs. Mike Richards: Two of Team Canada's most reliable forwards in Vancouver are set to meet in what should be an epic battle. They're 1-2 in the scoring race, but are just as dynamic on the other side of the puck. Each is defined by his ability to create offense out of defense -- keep a close eye on their play on the penalty kill.
(4) Marian Hossa vs. The Final Curse. Will the third time be the charm? Hossa's been to the final the last two seasons with Pittsburgh and Detroit but has yet to be sized for a ring. To break the streak, he has to bring more than his exceptional defensive presence. Some timely secondary scoring could make the difference.
X-Factor for Philadelphia: Matt Carle. His partner Pronger earns all the ink, but Carle has been just as effective in shutting down the opposition's top line. With 10 assists in the playoffs, it's clear his puck skills have been integral to Philly's transition game, but his work in the defensive zone, particularly his one-on-one play and ability to come out of the corner with the puck, will be the key to his success in this series.
X-Factor for Chicago: Scotty Bowman. No one's talking much about the impact the team's senior advisor for hockey operations has had on the young Hawks, but remember this is a guy who earned nine Stanley Cups coaching the Canadiens, Penguins and Red Wings among his 13 trips to finals. Bowman will continue to leave the heavy lifting to the day-to-day staff, but no one knows the pitfalls or can see the angles like Scotty. If he's needed, he can be a significant presence.
Conn Smythe-winner: Toews
Stanley Cup-winner: Chicago in six