THOUGH HIS COACH probably wishes he didn't, Jonathan Toews has thought about what it would be like to lift the Stanley Cup.
He thought about it as a kid. He thought about it while watching Sidney Crosby do it last year. He probably thought about it all last night and will again all day today. Really now, who could blame him?
"Any kid growing up in Canada, or anywhere as a hockey player, that's the dream," said Toews, a Winnipeg native. "That's the one thing you keep telling yourself, in your heart you kind of know you're going to do it some day."
Flyers fans, bless their orange and black hearts, hope that day has not arrived. The Stanley Cup will be in the house tonight for the second time since the Wachovia Center opened in 1996. And for the second time, it will not be awarded to the Flyers' captain.
In 1997, Steve Yzerman and the Red Wings swept out of Philadelphia carrying hockey's greatest prize. Jeff Carter was in elementary school in 1997, but doesn't want the Flyers faithful to witness such an indignity again.
"You never want to see a team come into your building and beat you, let alone win the Stanley Cup on your home ice," said Carter. "So [there's] a lot of motivation there. Obviously, the fans have been behind us since we began this 5 years ago, really. It would be nice to come out and get a big win for them in the last home game."
Flyers coach Peter Laviolette has always told his players that it is OK to strive for the Stanley Cup. He looks at it like a carrot at the end of a stick. A tangible goal, such as winning a championship, might help a player do one more set of weightlifting or one more round of skate sprints.
With his team one win away, Chicago coach Joel Quenneville is the complete opposite.
"I think we look at the short-term picture and try to present our challenges to win one hockey game," said Quenneville, who claimed a Stanley Cup ring as an assistant in Colorado in 1996. "We want to even fine-tune it from shift to shift. I think that's our mind-set. At the end of it, hopefully we accomplish that goal."
Toews, 22, would be in some heady company if Chicago wins tonight. The No. 3 overall pick in 2006, he would become the second-youngest to captain his team to a championship. Toews would sit between Wayne Gretzky (23 in 1984) and Sidney Crosby (21 in 2009).
"It's been flashing in my head since Game 1 of the playoffs," he said. "Every time you win one game, it feels like you're going all the way to the Cup. [But] I've always said when you lose a game it feels like your season is going to be over. It's just been such a crazy ride."
The Blackhawks advanced to the Western Conference finals last year, which only served to crystallize Toews' dream. Winning an Olympic gold medal in February - alongside Crosby, by the way - only strengthened that resolve.
"I think watching the Pittsburgh Penguins come from behind and win that one last year, I think that's when it really first set in . . . this is something that can really become a reality," Toews said. "It's been a long year, but I think we all knew all along that we can make it this far. Hopefully we can find a way to do it."
If not, Flyers captain Mike Richards will revisit his childhood dream as the Cup goes to Chicago and waits for the champion.
You never know what you're going to run into at the Stanley Cup finals. You may hear a detailed description of the left-wing lock. Or you may hear a quote from the New Testament.
Blackhawks forward Tomas Kopecky was a healthy scratch for the five games before the finals, but was reinserted into the lineup when Andrew Ladd got hurt. Kopecky has rewarded Quenneville's decision with disruptive play. He was on Chicago's top line with Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa in the last game.
"I had to work hard [while benched] no matter what and to who much is given much is expected," Kopecky said, citing Luke (12:48). "So I don't take this opportunity lightly. I'm in the lineup. I'm going to do my best to help the team to win."
The Blackhawks have lost their last 10 games at the Wachovia Center. The only time they've won here was Nov. 9, 1996, in the building's inaugural year. You've eaten too many deep-dish pizzas if you knew that Eric Daze scored the game-winning goal that afternoon. Bill McCreary, who is working this series, was the ref that day . . . Joel Quenneville, who also had coaching stops in St. Louis and Colorado, is 2-8 as a coach at the bank building . . . Jonathan Toews needs two points to break Denis Savard's club record of 29 for one playoff year. Toews has seven goals and 21 assists in 21 games. Savard had nine goals and 20 assists in 15 games when the Blackhawks reached the conference finals in 1985.