It has been nearly five decades since long-suffering Chicago Blackhawks fans have seen their beloved team hoist the Stanley Cup. Not since the playing days of Bobby Hull, Stan Mikita and Pierre Pilote have the Hawks enjoyed a squad with as much talent as this one, and current stars like Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Duncan Keith have willed the team to within one victory of the club’s first Stanley Cup since 1961.
Standing in the way of the Hawks’ Stanley Cup glory is a gritty, determined Philadelphia Flyers squad that has already overcome incredible odds to get to where they are today. Though the Flyers have their backs against the wall, they are far from down and out. Tonight’s game six match-up takes place in Philly’s home building, where they’ve been all but unbeatable all playoffs long. They certainly aren’t going to roll over and hand Lord Stanley’s silver mug to the Hawks. Though they face an uphill climb they faced far longer odds as recently as the quarter-finals against the Boston Bruins. They were down 3-0 in that series and rallied to beat the Bruins in seven games, marking only the third time in NHL history such a comeback has been staged.
Keys to victory for the Blackhawks
Obviously, the number one key for any team in the playoffs is goaltending. First year netminder Antti Niemi has showed flashes of brilliance during Chicago’s playoff run, but he has also had some less than stellar performances, and his numbers so far in the finals have been subpar. He will have to find his A game tonight if the Hawks want to end this series in six.
Jonathan Toews must be a dominant force tonight. The young captain of the Hawks was awesome through the first three rounds of the playoffs, and is arguably the strongest candidate for this year’s Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP. However, he has seen his stock slip during the finals. The Flyers have found a way to neutralize the slick center, and keep him from having a noticeable impact in the series.
Keys to victory for the Flyers
Mike Richards has to be much better. Much like his counterpart on the Blackhawks, the Philly captain has been all but invisible over the first five games of this series. Against Boston and Montreal Richards showed his leadership, dealing out a punishing hit or scoring a timely goal to swing momentum in his team’s favor. He will need to go to that well again tonight and find a way to lift his team up when they need it most.
Chris Pronger will have to bounce back from a horrendous game five. Much has been made of the fact that Pronger was on the ice for six of Chicago’s goals and in the penalty box for a seventh in Philly’s 7-4 loss to the Hawks in game five. The towering defenseman finished the night with a career-worst minus-5 rating. Obviously this is a performance that can’t be repeated if the Flyers are to stave off elimination. Not that he needs it, but Pronger will have extra motivation to be better tonight after the Chicago Tribune ran an unflattering Photoshopped picture of Pronger wearing a figure skating skirt, with the moniker “Chrissy Pronger” assigned to him.
Naturally, both teams will require their respective supporting casts to step up tonight. Though Niemi, Toews, Richards and Pronger will be focal points, in all likelihood it will be an unsung hero that makes the difference in this crucial game six.
Will the Chicago Blackhawks win the Stanley Cup tonight? Will the sun set on the 2009-10 NHL season? Or will the Flyers once again find some magic, and force the Hawks to game seven at the United Center? One thing is for sure: it will be an all out war tonight, and whoever emerges victorious will be bloody and bruised…and smiling.