Tuesday, May 25, 2010

There will be (new) blood

Two things we know for sure heading into the Stanley Cup Finals between the Philadelphia Flyers and Chicago Blackhawks, which begin on Saturday: The winners will be ending the longest current active drought in the Cup Finals, while the losers will have that champagne-starved run all to themselves.

Consider the Blackhawks, Flyers and Boston Bruins have all gone five straight trips to the Cup Finals without a victory; Philadelphia hasn't won since the "Broad Street Bullies" lifted the Cup in 1975, and Chicago hasn't hoisted the chalice since 1961.

That's a long, long time since celebrations. How about these fun factoids:

* In each of their last voyages to the Finals, the Blackhawks and Flyers were both swept; Chicago was beaten by Pittsburgh in four straight in 1992, and Philadelphia suffered the same fate at the gloves and skates of Detroit in 1997.

* Flyers captain Mike Richards was 2 years old the last time the Flyers won a game in the Finals (a six-game defeat by Edmonton in 1987).

* Flyers veteran Chris Pronger was seven months old when Philadelphia last hosted a Cup-winning parade in 1975.

* Blackhawks stars Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane were tykes the last time Chicago made it to the Finals in '92 (Toews was 4 and Kane 3), and neither were born yet when the Hawks last won a game in the Finals in 1973 (a seven-game ousting by Montreal).

* John Madden, at 36 the oldest member of the Blackhawks, was four days old on May 8, 1973, when Chicago beat Montreal 8-7 -- the last time the Hawks won a Finals game.

* Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville was 14 on that day in 1973, and was only 2 years old when Chicago raised its last Cup in 1961.

Here's a closer look at how these two teams have sputtered once reaching Lord Stanley's stage:

Chicago Blackhawks' last five appearances in Stanley Cup Finals
Year / Opponent / Result
1992 / Pittsburgh / Lost 4-0
1973 / Montreal / Lost 4-2
1971 / Montreal / Lost 4-3
1965 / Montreal / Lost 4-3
1962 / Toronto / Lost 4-2

Philadelphia Flyers' last five appearances in Stanley Cup Finals
Year / Opponent / Result
1997 / Detroit / Lost 4-0
1987 / Edmonton / Lost 4-3
1985 / Edmonton / Lost 4-1
1980 / NY Islanders / Lost 4-2
1976 / Montreal / Lost 4-0

The Blackhawks and Flyers have met only once in the postseason, when Chicago triumphed in a four-game first-round sweep in 1971. Chicago won easily as it outscored Philadelphia 20-8. Bobby Hull (11 goals in the playoffs) and Jim Pappin (10 goals) led the offense, while Tony Esposito had a 2.19 GAA in net that postseason.

Simon Nolet scored twice, and was the only Flyer to pot more than one goal in the series.

The Blackhawks came close to ending their drought -- only 10 years long at that point -- in the '71 Finals, as they held 2-0 and 3-2 series leads on the Canadiens. But Montreal won a pair of one-goal games, capturing Game 7 3-2 as rookie goaltender Ken Dryden flashed the form in what became a Hall of Fame career.

Similarly, the Flyers had a shot to exorcise their demons in 1987, but had to go up against the Edmonton Oilers, who were on the way to winning their third of five Stanley Cups. Philadelphia fell behind 3-1 in the series and actually won Games 5 and 6 to force a deciding seventh game, but Edmonton was triumphant in Game 7. Wayne Gretzky scored only five goals in the postseason that year, but led all playoff scorers with 29 assists and 34 points. Meanwhile, Mark Messier, Glenn Anderson and Jari Kurri combined for 41 playoff goals to more than pick up the slack.

So no matter what, the Cup Finals will result in new blood enjoying their finest hour. Who am I rooting for? Chicago, for two reasons: When push comes to shove, I'll take the Original Six team every time, and having grown up a Rangers fan, there's no way I can ever cheer for the Flyers (the only time I ever did when when Philly beat up on the Soviets in 1976; check out HBO's excellent documentary, "Broad Street Bullies" for more details).

For a prediction, let's say, Blackhawks in six.

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