CHICAGO - The Flyers and Chicago Blackhawks finally get the Stanley Cup Finals under way Saturday night at the United Center, and the visitors' Mike Richards expects a long, hard-fought series.
"We'll have to play consistent hockey and play them for 60 minutes, and maybe it takes seven games," Richards said after the Flyers' practice Friday. "But we obviously have confidence in our team and the system we play."
In the playoffs, the Flyers have averaged 3.18 goals per game and allowed 2.12. Chicago has averaged 3.31 per game and surrendered 2.50.
"We're going to have to play extremely well defensively and not try to get into a track meet with them and create chances," said Richards, who leads the Flyers with 21 points in the playoffs. "But if you look on paper, the teams are very evenly matched. Very evenly built."
Both teams have "the same sort of design of players, too, so it's just who is going to play the most consistent for the longest," he said.
Dustin Byfuglien, Chicago's massive winger, said the Hawks were eager to start the Finals.
"They've got a big team over there," he said. "It's definitely going to be a good matchup. It's not going to be an easy battle. . . . But I think we're going to be ready to match up, ready to go."
Chicago is 12-4 in the playoffs; the Flyers are 12-5.
The Flyers' biggest challenge, of course, was overcoming a three-games-to-none series deficit against Boston in the conference semifinals.
The Blackhawks got a scare in Round 1 against Nashville. With the series tied, 2-2, Nashville had a 3-2 lead in Game 5 before the Hawks' Patrick Kane scored a shorthanded goal, leading to an overtime win.
Brian Boucher, who has recovered from sprained ligaments in both knees, said he was "99 percent sure" he would dress as the Flyers' backup goalie Saturday.
"Medically, I'm ready to go," said Boucher, who was injured during Game 5 against Boston.
Boucher took part in Friday's practice; backup goalie Johan Backlund did not.
After Michael Leighton made 39 saves in a riveting 3-2 regular-season win over Chicago on March 13, the Flyers' goalie looked to the future.
"This," he said, "would make a great playoff series."
Told that the only way the teams could meet would be in the Stanley Cup Finals, Leighton smirked.
"I know," he said.
Flyers defenseman Chris Pronger is familiar with Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville, having played for him when he coached in St. Louis.
"He coaches similar to the way he played. He's a very defensive-minded coach," Pronger said. "But with the players he has here, he doesn't take away from their creative abilities and their offensive capabilities. He allows them freedom to make plays."
Asked to compare Quenneville with the Flyers' Peter Laviolette, Pronger said both are "intense behind the bench" and "push their players and get the most" out of them.
Andrew Ladd, a third-line Blackhawks winger who plays on the checking line that could be matched against Richards' unit Saturday, missed practice again Friday because of a shoulder injury. He is day-to-day.
Quenneville said he expected Ladd to play in the series but wasn't sure whether he'd be ready Saturday. The coach hinted that Tomas Kopecky would play instead of Ladd.
Ladd played for Carolina's Cup-winning team when it was coached by Laviolette in 2006.
Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren said he would "be remiss" if he didn't mention that former coach John Stevens helped develop the young players on this year's team. Stevens, in a text message, respectfully declined to comment and said he wanted to "leave the focus on the current team." . . . The Flyers will help open Pittsburgh's new arena, facing the Penguins on Oct. 7 next season. . . . The Flyers were eighth in the league when they averaged 2.83 goals per game in the regular season. They have averaged 3.6 in their last nine playoff games, during which they have eight wins. . . . Chicago hasn't won the Cup since 1961, making it the longest drought among the league's Original Six teams. . . . Laviolette on Flyers winger Claude Giroux: "I think one of Claude's best assets is that he wants to be a game-breaker. He doesn't shy away from big moments and big opportunities. For a young player, that speaks a lot about Claude." . . . During the playoffs, Chicago has won 49.6 percent of its face-offs, while the Flyers have won 48.4 percent. . . . Twelve players - seven from the Flyers, five from the Hawks - played in the AHL during the NHL's lockout season in 2004-05.