HISTORY ALREADY has been made, but the final chapter of the Flyers' relentless storybook pursuit of Lord Stanley's cup has yet to be written.
Four wins from ending the franchise's 35-year championship drought and achieving immortality, the only team standing in the Flyers' way of capturing the Stanley Cup, spraying expensive champagne in the locker room and having a surreal parade in front of millions in the City of Brotherly Love is the Chicago Blackhawks.
Like the Flyers, the Blackhawks come from a city rich in sports tradition and are longing to end a similar title drought, dating all the way back to 1961.
Of course, the postseason failures of past teams will become irrelevant when the 2009-10 version of the Broad Street Bullies invades the Madhouse on Madison on Saturday when the puck drops for Game 1 (8 p.m., NBC). In the meantime, here are 20 things to ponder about the Blackhawks:
1 Chicago's title drought - the Blackhawks have gone 49 years without hoisting the coolest trophy in sports - is the longest in the NHL.
2 Center Jonathan Toews is only 22. However, he already has been named Blackhawks captain - and with good reason. Toews, a candidate for the Conn Smythe Trophy that goes to the playoff MVP, leads all postseason scorers in assists (19) and points (26) through the first three rounds.
3 In rolling through the first three rounds (12-4), the Blackhawks have outscored their opposition, 53-40, while featuring a prolific power play (22.6 percent) and a solid penalty kill (86.6).
4 The Blackhawks are appearing in the finals for the first time since 1992, when they were swept by the Pittsburgh Penguins.
5 Patrick Kane should be wearing orange and black. But the Flyers, who finished the 2006-07 season with a league-worst 56 points, ended up losing the draft lottery to the Blackhawks. Chicago, which had only an 8.1 percent chance of getting the top pick, took Kane No. 1 overall and he has blossomed into a star. The 21-year-old right winger followed up an 88-point regular season with 20 points so far in the playoffs. By the way, the Flyers took James van Riemsdyk with the second pick.
6 Toews said it wasn't superstition, but after the second-seeded Blackhawks finished off their sweep of the top-seeded San Jose Sharks in the Western Conference finals, Toews didn't touch or even look at the Campbell Bowl trophy - unlike Flyers captain Mike Richards with the Prince of Wales Trophy.
7 With all the hype surrounding Toews and Kane, it's easy to forget about their linemate, "Big Buff," 6-4 left winger Dustin Byfuglien (pronounced Bufflin). Byfuglien, 25, the Blackhawks' leading postseason scorer (eight goals) has a goal in each of his last five games, including consecutive game-winners against the Sharks in Games 3 and 4 of the Western Conference finals. Hard to believe he was an eighth-round draft pick in 2003.
8 Rookie netminder Antti Niemi is to the Blackhawks what journeyman goalie Michael Leighton is to the Flyers. Niemi, who was undrafted and played only three games before this season, came out of nowhere to solidify Chicago's shaky situation between the pipes. His regular-season numbers were fantastic (26-7-4, 2.25 goals-against average, .912 save percentage). And during the postseason, it has been more of the same (12-4, 2.33, .921).
9 The two teams have only met once during the playoffs before this year. The Blackhawks swept the Flyers in the 1970-71 quarterfinals.
10 Here's a tidbit that bodes well for the Flyers. Chicago's $62.8 million sniper Marian Hossa has been on the losing end of the past two Stanley Cups; if only he had just stuck with the same team. Hossa played for the Penguins when they fell to the Red Wings in the '08 finals. Then, he joined Detroit last year, only to be a runner-up once again - to Pittsburgh. He is the first player in history to play in three consecutive finals with three different teams.
11 The Blackhawks boast two former Flyers on their roster in forward Patrick Sharp (2002-05) and enforcer Ben Eager (2004-07). Defenseman Kim Johnsson is another former Flyer (2001-2006), but he has been out with a concussion suffered in the March 13 game between the Flyers and Blackhawks.
12 Chicago established franchise records for wins (52) and points (112) during the regular season.
13 Despite being considered a rookie, Niemi couldn't be a candidate for the Calder Trophy because he turned 26 before Sept. 15.
14 In arguably their most exciting game of the season - Game 82 aside, of course - the Flyers edged the Blackhawks, 3-2, on March 13 at Wachovia Center when Chris Pronger scored with 2.1 seconds left.
15 Last season, Chicago advanced to the Western Conference finals for the first time since 1996, but was eliminated by the Red Wings in five games.
16 Brian Campbell, 31, makes top-defenseman money ($7.1 million per season). However, Norris Trophy candidate Duncan Keith has anchored Chicago's blue line. The 26-year-old, who won the gold medal as a member of Team Canada, notched 69 points in the regular season and has 10 points in the playoffs. He signed a 13-year, $72 million contract extension in the offseason.
17 If Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman's name sounds familiar, it is. Stan's father, Scotty Bowman, who currently serves as a senior adviser for Chicago, is the winningest coach in league history (1,244 regular-season wins).
18 Chicago coach Joel Quenneville's teams have made the playoffs 11 times during his 13 seasons. However, this is his first trip to the finals.
19 Toews will head into the finals riding a Blackhawks record 13-game playoff point streak.
20 Blackhawks free-agent acquisition John Madden, 37, has been a winner throughout his 11-year NHL career. The undrafted penalty-killer extraordinaire has captured two Stanley Cup titles as a pro, with the Devils in 2000 and '03, and won a Frozen Four championship with Michigan in 1995-96. *