CHICAGO - Although they have won eight of their last nine playoff games, the Flyers are heavy underdogs against the Chicago Blackhawks in the Stanley Cup Finals.

Big deal, the Flyers say.

They know most oddsmakers had them as underdogs in their previous series against New Jersey, Boston and Montreal.

"That's nothing new. When we came into the playoffs, nobody gave us much of a chance to get past the first round - and here we are, still alive," said the Flyers' leading goal scorer in the playoffs, Danny Briere, as both teams addressed the media Thursday at the United Center.

"To us, it doesn't really matter what people are predicting," Briere said. "We understand and know why people are picking the Blackhawks, but at the same time, we believe in ourselves."

People are picking the Blackhawks, of course, because they had 112 points in the regular season - 24 more than the Flyers' total of 88.

In the playoffs, however, the Flyers have been playing their best hockey of the season, and most players from both teams expect it to be a long, tight series.

Patrick Kane, Chicago's star right winger, said he and his teammates don't pay attention to what the "experts" are saying.

"It doesn't matter at this point," said Kane, 21. "The biggest thing for us is we're here. We feel we have a good team. I'm sure Philly feels the same way. Obviously, they've been playing really good. And for them to get to this position, they would have to be playing really good, especially the positions they've been in."

Those positions? The Flyers needed to win a shoot-out on the final day of the regular season just to qualify for the playoffs. And they overcame a three-games-to-none series deficit - plus a 3-0 first-period deficit in Game 7 - to stun Boston in the conference semifinals.

"They've had a roller-coaster ride of a season, whether it's the changing of a coach or being down 3-0 and then coming back," Kane said. "So they're going to be a tough team. They're really similar to us in a lot of ways. They've got a lot of depth up front. They've got some big shooters back on defense and some guys that can shut you down, too.

"I think it's going to bode really well for a really good series and be really exciting, too."

Chicago will be trying to solve ex-Blackhawk Michael Leighton, who leads all goalies in goals-against average (1.45) and save percentage (.948) in the playoffs.

"We actually had Craig Anderson and Michael Leighton together in [AHL] Norfolk for a number of years," Chicago general manager Stan Bowman said. "They both turned out to be good NHL goaltenders."

The Hawks will try to get lots of traffic in front of Leighton - something Montreal was unable to accomplish much in the conference finals.

"Michael is on quite a run here. He's a big guy, obviously, and he takes up a lot of the net," said Bowman, the son of the legendary Scotty Bowman. "And I think he developed maybe a little bit later, which some of the goaltenders do. I think the key for us right now is we have to recognize that he's really on a hot streak. He's got the size, which I think you have to have in the game today.

"At the end of the day, it's no different than any other goalie: If they can't see the puck, they have a hard time stopping it. We have to keep playing our game."

Both teams have balanced scoring, solid defenses and hot goaltenders. The Hawks have had those ingredients for most of the season; the Flyers, after a regular season in which they won only half of their 82 games, discovered those traits at the perfect time.

"Unfortunately, it took us a long time to come together as a team," Briere said. "We went through a lot of tough times. But looking back, it makes us stronger now.

"Down the stretch, we figured it out, and in the series against Boston we were able to come back and that gave us a special bond," Briere added. "We realized, 'Why not us now?' We're on a roll and we like our team. We realize we can do a lot of great things together."

Regardless of what the oddsmakers are saying.