When the 2009-10 NHL season started, I can say with fair confidence, 1 of the teams in the finals was NOT on my radar. The Philadelphia Flyers.
While the Chicago Blackhawks were my strongest consideration for my Western Conference finalist, the Flyers to me were nothing more than a playoff spot filler. To me, the East ran thru Washington or Pittsburgh. With outside chances to Buffalo, Montreal and Boston.
That is all you really need to know of the Philadelphia Flyers right there. They have proven a lot of people wrong. Including me... 4 times now this season.
They made the playoffs on the last chance they could this season. They got in with a shootout win to eek into a playoff spot that I boldly told my friends in March there was no way they could win. Down the stretch this team, which seemed destined to a solid top 5 or 6 placing in the conference just weeks earlier, had plummeted & on some days, was out of the playoff race as teams like the New York rangers & Atlanta Thrashers kept poking their head into the final playoff spot momentarily. Yet, in the final week they fought back & dragged themselves to a do or die, winner take all affair with the NY Rangers on the very final day of the season. To the loser, a long frustrating off season of what could have been. To the winners, a date with the Atlantic division champs, New Jersey Devils. Hardly a great reward for such a triumph. The Flyers & Rangers played to a shootout. With Claude Giroux scoring on the 3rd shooter for Philly, it was up to unlikely hero Brian Boucher, an after thought to most analysts this season, and probably even that week, to make 1 more save. With the Rangers picking top end scorer Olli Jokinen, the challenge was going to be big. But Boucher did it & the Flyers would be moving on to the playoffs, proving me wrong once.
Playing against the Devils, after narrowly making it. I was confident the Flyers season would end here. They had to have emptied their gas tanks to get here. But the Flyers found a way to not just get by the Devils, they handled them quickly in 5 games. If anything, it seemed Martin Brodeur, and the Devils forwards were the ones who had run the gas tank to empty in the regular season. For a 2nd time, the Flyers proved me wrong.
In round 2 they got the Boston Bruins, a team I was less sure of, but still liked their chances over the Flyers. Where the Devils seemed to be struggling down the stretch behind the suddenly average goaltending of Martin Brodeur, the Bruins had young stud Tuukka Rask in net & he wasnt faltering. The Bruins rushed out to a 3 games ot 0 lead over the hapless Flyers. This series was over. So much for the cinderella Flyers. Then it happened. Something changed. The Flyers came into game 4 with a "we have nothing to lose" attitude, and guess what?? they didnt lose. With an OT winner from Simon Gagne, the Philadelphia Flyers moved from clinically dead, to on life support. But it was impossible to believe they were going to become the 3rd team in NHL history to return from a 3-0 deficit, right??? Game 5, they won as well, 4-0. In that game, their band aid solution starting goalie Brian Boucher (who took the role as #1 when Ray Emery went down 1/2 way thru the yr with a season ending injury) himself went down with an injury, meaning barely known Michael Leighton was thrust into the spotlight. From there on, it was the Leighton show. He would backstop games 6 &7 wins & the Philadelphia Flyers would make the Eastern Conference finals somehow. Proving me wrong for a 3rd time.
In the Eastern Conference Finals they faced another cinderella team, the Montreal Canadiens. While Michael Leighton was becoming a notable name in Philly, and really in tune hockey experts, the Habs had their own goalie of the moment backstopping them. Slovakian Olympian, Jaroslav Halak. With championship knowledge in his resume (he was on the Hamilton Bulldogs Calder Cup championship team a few yrs ago) & already having carried 1 underdog team to near greatness this year (Slovakia finished 4th at the Olympics, despite being on few if anyones radar going into the tourney, as a medal contender)Although the Flyers came in as the statistical "favorites", most people seemed to give Montreal the edge, myself included. With the exception of the game 3 in the series, the first game in Montreal, the Habs seemed dead in the water. Their gas tanks emptied like the Devils in round 1 & the Bruins in the last 1/2 of their series, and the Flyers just ran them over, finishing the series off in 5 games. Proving me wrong for a 4th time.
So here we find the Philadelphia Flyers, a team who driving down the stretch of the playoffs race lost 9 of 11 games thru March & early April, in the Stanley Cup Finals. More amazing is, with the exception of the 3-0 Bruins series lead, this team has won 12 of 14 games to get to this spot. Now, the Flyers face a team from the West that was expected to possibly be in this position, the Chicago Blackhawks.
Once again, goaltending for the visitor is expected to be strong. The Devils had Brodeur, the Bruins had Rask, the Habs had Halak. All have fallen to this sudden power house team. Will the Haws Antti Niemi falter too?
The Flyers are getting great performances from their top guys. The team is offensively being lead by Mike Richards, Daniel Briere, Claude Giroux, Simon Gagne & Chris Pronger. The guys you expect to lead, are. With the addition of Jeff Carter, this looks more like a cup contending team than the 1 that limped into the post-season without Gagne or Carter. The Flyers have been getting good support offense from defenders Kimmo Timonen & Matt Carle, as well as forwards Ville Leino and Scott Hartnell. Tough as nails checking specialist Ian Laperriere is back in the fold, giving other hard nosed players like Dan Carcillo and Arron Asham some back up on the defensive side of the forward unit.
This team really should be proud of everything they accomplish, wiin or lose. This is a team who realistically wasnt on many experts radar for a Cup berth, and certainly werent expected after losing notable names like Gagne, Carter, Emery & Boucher thru the journey. Yet somehow, they are here. They SHOULD be proud, regardless of the outcome. But you look down that roster, with guys like Pronger, Laperriere, Richards and Carter & you realize that this team is full of guys who wont be happy losing. This team will fight right to the bitter end, even if they are down 10-0 in game 4 of a series they are already down 3 games to 0 in. Winning the Prince of Wales Trophy isnt even a consolation prize to this group. With the higly competitive league the NHL has created, where teams rarely have chances to develop a dynasty, this very well could be the 1 and only shot for many of these guys. They wont want to waste it.
I dont think the Philadelphia Flyers will win. I think Chicago is the better team and they want this just as badly. I am picking Chicago in 6 games. But if the Flyers do win, after all they have done this year in proving me wrong...it shouldnt shock anyone, most of all...me.
With every roster, I wont be surprised to have some wrong. But with Canada, I actually wont be shocked if I have a 1/3 of it wrong. There was just too many to choose from for too few open spots.
Team Canada, the host country. Canada will come in with enormous pressure on them to perform, not just by media who often act like a hockey championship should just be anointed to us, but moreso the fans, especially the unknowing fans who dont realize how lethal the other top tier countries really are. You would think 1 gold medal in 57 years would simmer our fans egos, but it doesnt. We expect gold from these guys & anything less will be considered failure. Despite them coming in ranked #2 in the world & only a couple years ago, were as low as 3rd. All that is irrelevant to the minds of Canadian hockey fans. In their minds Canada is here to pick up their Gold medals & the rest are just competing to see who shares the podium with them as silver & bronze medalists.
Reality is, the Canadian team actually looks strong on paper & thus will warrant such Gold medal predictions by the pundits & armchair analysts alike. I have complete confidence in GM Steve Yzerman to pick a strong team. I like the choice of him as a GM. I think he actually has an eye for the game & will be able to do something that his pre-decessors couldnt, put loyalties aside & pick solely on talent for the position.
Even though I know better than to toss aside the Russians, Swedes, Finns, Americans or Czech Republic as after thoughts, I too feel Canada SHOULD be the Gold favorites for 2010.
With only a few days till they announce their roster, here is what I think the team might look like.
Martin Brodeur- NEW JERSEY DEVILS (NHL) All time leader in wins & Shutouts, the backstop of the last Canada Gold Olympic medal, Marty has nothing to prove to anyone to make this team. Only question legitimately is, will be the starter?
Roberto Luongo- VANCOUVER CANUCKS (NHL) The winningest goalie in G.M Place...err Canada Hockey Place history will possibly be the starter in that very building. Great record at home this year helps his chances as well.
Marc Andre Fleury- PITTSBURGH PENGUINS (NHL) With the collapse of Steve Mason, MAF has leaped into the limelight for the 2010 consideration. He will still need a horrible miracle to get into a game, but he will at the very least be on the team.
Dan Boyle- SAN JOSE SHARKS (NHL) The most minutes of any Canadian defenseman means Dan has had all sorts of situations this season in SJ. He can QB a PP, play ES & kill penalties. He is a lock.
Chris Pronger- PHILADELPHIA FLYERS (NHL) He probably has helped Matt carle get a spot on the U.S. roster. Having a strong year in Philly....even if the team itself isnt.
Drew Doughty- LOS ANGELES KINGS (NHL) A month ago I must confess, I foolishly told someone I dont think Doughty will be on Team Canada. I was standing ona street & didnt have the wealth of info I have here infront of me & just foolishly thought there must be more top tier Canadian dmen than him. I was wrong.
Brent Seabrook- CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS (NHL) I revised this spot & took out Mike Green. Seabrook has lots of chemistry with Keith & was a strong consideration & I think in the end his defensive game will bring more than Greens offensive only game. So I have switched out Green for Seabrook in the end.
Duncan Keith- CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS (NHL) An often used dman for Chicago in all situations, Duncan will likely come here with the task of being a shutdown dman & Penalty killer. He has some offensive punch too if its needed.
Shea Weber- NASHVILLE PREDATORS (NHL) The hard hitting Weber will be expected to anchor the 3rd pairing.
Scott Niedermayer- ANAHEIM DUCKS (NHL) Even with the non-Niedermayeresque year he has had, Scott is still a solid lock for this team, if for no other reason than experience. The fact that statistically hes done well enough to warrant consideration helps the cause too.
Dany Heatley- SAN JOSE SHARKS (NHL) Hidden behind the strong start his teammate Joe Thornton is having is Dany. He'll be the top line left winger, regardless if his teammate centres him or not.
Sidney Crosby- PITTSBURGH PENGUINS (NHL) You cant make a Canada roster without Sid. Doing so is clearly a sign of 1 of two things. Either a severe hate for him, or mental instability. In either case the young Stanley Cup winning captain will be the centrepiece of the teams top line.
Jarome Iginla- CALGARY FLAMES (NHL) Probably the most well rounded player for Canada, Jarome will most certainly be on the top line, or 2nd line. Depending what type of forward pairings the coaches have in mind. In any case, he will certainly be a huge piece of any offensive attack Canada has.
Joe Thornton- SAN JOSE SHARKS (NHL) The leagues top scorer will likely take a back seat her e& play 2nd fiddle to Sid the Kid. Expect Joe Thornton to still be the set up man on the PP though. Might be no better passer right now.
Corey Perry- ANAHEIM DUCKS (NHL) A big body who eats up big minutes & is offensively skilled, Corey Perry will be a loc for the team along with his linemate & countryman Ryan Getzlaf.
Brad Richards- DALLAS STARS (NHL) Having another terrific offensive campaign, Brad Richards in my opinion has done all he can to make a case for being on the team. He could be the victim of "too many Centresitis" if they decide to thin the roster out from Centre based players. But he should be here still.
Mike Richards- PHILADELPHIA FLYERS (NHL) A penalty killing specialist by description, Mike also has offensive capabilities as well. He will be out on almost every PK situation Canada may get.
Rick Nash- COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS (NHL) 40 goals last year, on pace for more than that this year. A lock for their top 2 lines & PP units.
Patrick Marleau- SAN JOSE SHARKS (NHL) Great in all sections of the game, Patrick can be used on the PP, ES & PK. He'll likely be logging a lot of minutes. What line, that is still a question.
Mike Fisher- OTTAWA SENATORS (NHL) Yes, Canada needs checkers. So whats even better than a checking forward? One that has offensive flair as well. Mike Fisher will likely get 4th line minutes by the bunchloads, expect him to do a a lot of PK time too.
Dustin Penner- EDMONTON OILERS (NHL) I surprised a lot of people by saying this in conversation. Most of them dont think hes as legit as the point totals suggest. I have been big on him for awhile, and I think hs size is the final straw in adding him to the line up. Great 3rd line pressence & possible big body for the PP.
Ryan Getzlaf- ANAHEIM DUCKS (NHL) You cant pick Perry & leave Getlaf off. They are going to be paired together to see if they can mesh on the world stage as well as they do in the NHL.
Martin St Louis- TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING (NHL) All offense, Martin might get into the line up if some more offensive spark is somehow required. For the mostpart, he is probably watching from the press box though.
maybe- Marty Turco, Chris Mason, Brent Seabrook, Jay Bouwmeester, Stephane Robidas, Mike Cammalleri, Ryan Smyth, Brenden Morrow, Jonathan Toews.
Canadagraphs Hockey Blogs
From time to time I have something to say on hockey. Whether its the Vancouver Canucks, NHL in general, Womens Hockey or International Hockey...if I have something to post, it will be in here.