The week-long hashing and rehashing of matchups for the Stanley Cup final is exactly why the Super Bowl turns me off: Two weeks are needed to hype one game? Really? Thankfully this half-as-long dry spell is as long as we go between playoff series.
By the grace of NBC, we're finally here. We're finally going to see the last hockey of the 2009-10 season, every other night until
God cancels the finals and moves the Cup to Winnipeg to please Canada's top columnists someone wins four. I'm going to be on a walkabout for Game 4, so this series better not be a sweep. I bet I get my wish. (Well, that wish; my bigger wish -- that neither team wins -- would entail other calamities I'd rather not ponder. Alas.)
After the jump: the obligatory prediction, a review of how we voted in the conference finals, and some links and sundry.
Before we get to finals talk:
- Expanded version of Kiril Kabanov's comments on leaving Russia and committing to North America. I'm going to try not to let myself get nervous simply because Islanders draft guru Ryan Jankowski is the first one quoted there.
- At TSN, under the related videos section, you can find decent 1-on-1's with several of the top prospects. I can confirm that Erik Gudbranson is very big and well-spoken. I can also confirm Brett Connolly is likewise big. I can only speculate that the VO2 is a ritualized form of hazing performed by NHL personnel on each year's pledges.
- How to turn a Bettman press conference into as many headlines as possible: 1) No, the Islanders and Kings are not for sale (shock!); 2) Bettman is irked by the IIHF's general snootiness, to the point he hopes participation becomes
another bargaining chipa topic in the next CBA.
- At the end of this Sportsnet notes column, more (of the same) theories on the Islanders' canceled China training camp.
How We Voted
Considering the Habs' ability to stick around despite long odds, and the Flyers' needing seven games and a miracle to get there, it's not surprising most of us had that series going 6 or 7.
The outcome here didn't surprise me: I was pretty sure Chicago was the better team, and I thought the goalie battle was a wash. But the route to that outcome -- a sweep in four pretty close games -- was a big letdown. (I had Hawks in 7, so you know I was expecting some great hockey for two full weeks.) One lonely voter called that one right, though the majority did pick the right winner:.
Here's hoping the finals deliver what the semifinals could not.
I've already bored you with my lament that I historically do not like either team. As a partisan fan, I wish they'd cancel the series via lockout or Black Sox scandal. But as a hockey fan I'm doing my best to grow up and appreciate the story, the greatness at the heart of NHL hockey: At the end of this battle, some group of rabid fans under 40 -- or 60, in Chicago's case -- will see the first Stanley Cup of their lives. That's pretty cool.
What Philadelphia needs to win:
- For Chris Pronger, at age 35, to have the series of his life
- For Michael Leighton to continue to be good enough
- For Antti Niemi to have at least one implosion game
- For the Flyers to get scoring three lines deep, which means staying healthy and lucky
- For the "Young Immature Hawks" to make a return appearance after it looked like they'd put that side to bed
- For Joel Quenneville to be a little slow with adjustments after things go wrong
What Chicago needs to win:
- Just play their game, letting their talent and depth prevail
- Don't let the media's super-focus on Pronger convince them that he's actually playing 60 minutes
- Check Pronger. Repeatedly. (They have the infantry to do it.)...
- ...but don't take stupid penalties in the process.
- Don't let Leighton outplay Niemi by such a margin that it matters.
The Hawks should win this -- I'll say Chicago in 6, while fearing it will take only 5 -- but the teams are close enough that a few good breaks and a few bad performances could turn it for Philadelphia.
The Hawks are still young, but they haven't really looked it during these playoffs. They look like a team that's come together and acquired that calm confidence where they know they're good, and they know they can take all comers. Of course, what if they get off on the wrong foot...?