Doesn't it feel like it's been a month since the Blackhawks last played? OK, so it's only been five days, but the hype surrounding the Stanley Cup finals has been out of control. I'm tired of hearing about these teams and ready to see them start playing.
Finally, the Blackhawks and the Philadelphia Flyers will drop the puck for Game 1 Saturday night at the United Center. It seems like a lot of Hawk fans are certain of victory in this series. I would describe myself as confident, but not overconfident. If the Hawks play up to their capabilities, I like their chances.
But Philadelphia is not to be underestimated. Like the Hawks, the Flyers have three lines that can score. Like the Hawks, the Flyers have seven players with 10 points or more in the postseason. Like the Hawks, the Flyers have a team captain (Mike Richards) who plays his best in big games and makes others around him better.
Hey, it's the Stanley Cup finals. Winning is not supposed to be easy, and it won't be easy for either side. As fans, we should expect a tough, gritty series.
A lot has been made of Philadelphia's vicious No. 1 defenseman, Chris Pronger, matching up with hulking Hawks winger Dustin Byfuglien in front of the net. No doubt the Flyers will try to get Pronger on the ice against Chicago's No. 1 line featuring Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Byfuglien.
But the thing I'll be watching for is whether Hawks' winger Marian Hossa (pictured) can get things going offensively on the second line. Hossa, playing in his third consecutive Cup finals, has played a GREAT all-around game in these playoffs. His defensive play, his backchecking, his penalty-killing -- it's all been outstanding. However, he only has two goals in the entire playoffs. He's getting chances, but the damn puck just won't go in for him.
I figure Hossa is about due, and if he can score some goals, it would be a big boost for the Hawks. The Flyers rely heavily on four defensemen, so getting secondary scoring and wearing down the Philadelphia defense are two keys for the Hawks in this series. Even if Pronger manages to silence Chicago's top line, the Hawks can still win this thing if Hossa and linemates Patrick Sharp and Troy Brouwer are firing on all cylinders.
As per usual, here's all the numbers associated with this series:
Game 1: Saturday at Chicago, 7 p.m. (NBC)
Game 2: Monday at Chicago, 7 p.m. (NBC)
Game 3: Wednesday at Philadelphia, 7 p.m. (Versus)
Game 4: June 4 at Philadelphia, 7 p.m. (Versus)
Game 5: June 6 at Chicago, 7 p.m. (NBC)*
Game 6: June 9 at Philadelphia, 7 p.m. (NBC)*
Game 7: June 11 at Chicago, 7 p.m. (NBC)*
Hawks: Antti Niemi 12-4, 2.33 GAA, .920 save percentage
Philadelphia: Michael Leighton 6-1, 1.45 GAA, .950 save percentage
Hawks: Jonathan Toews 7 goals, 19 assists, 26 points, +4; Patrick Kane 7 goals, 13 assists, 20 points, +2; Patrick Sharp 7 goals, 9 assists, 16 points, +3; Marian Hossa 2 goals, 9 assists, 11 points, +8; Dustin Byfuglien 8 goals, 2 assists, 10 points, -3.
Philadelphia: Mike Richards 6 goals, 15 assists, 21 points, +6; Danny Briere 9 goals, 9 assists, 18 points, +4; Claude Giroux 8 goals, 9 assists, 17 points, +10; Chris Pronger 4 goals, 10 assists, 14 points, +2; Ville Leino 4 goals, 8 assists, 12 points, +4.
Hawks: Duncan Keith 1 goal, 9 assists, 10 points, +3; Brent Seabrook 3 goals, 6 assists, 9 points, +8; Niklas Hjalmarsson 1 goal, 4 assists, 5 points, +6; Brian Campbell 0 goals, 3 assists, 3 points, +6.
Philadelphia: Pronger (see stats above); Matt Carle 0 goals, 10 assists, 10 points, +8; Kimmo Timonen 0 goals, 8 assists, 8 points, +6; Braydon Coburn 1 goal, 2 assists, 3 points, +7.
Hawks: Power play 22.6 percent (5th in playoffs); Penalty killing 86.6 percent (3rd in playoffs).
Philadelphia: Power play 20.7 percent (8th in playoffs); Penalty killing 87.0 percent (2nd in playoffs)
Season series (Philadelphia won 1-0, home team in caps):
March 13: PHILADELPHIA 3, Hawks 2
At last, we're ready for some hockey. Let's enjoy this series!