THE FLYERS AND Chicago Blackhawks - unlike each of the Flyers' first three matchups of this 2010 Stanley Cup playoff run - do not have a long and storied rivalry.
Philadelphia and Chicago have squared off just once in the NHL playoffs, way back in the 1971 quarterfinals - before the Bullies came to Broad Street.
These two teams met just once this season and have faced each other just twice in the last 3 years.
Here is how they stack up:
FLYERS: Offense has not been a problem for either of these teams. The Flyers have averaged 3.18 goals per game, slightly above their regular-season average of 2.96. In their last six playoff games, the Flyers have failed to score three or more goals just once. Mike Richards (21 points) and Danny Briere (18 points) have continued to make their case for playoffs MVP. The Flyers' now-healthy top line of Simon Gagne, Richards and Jeff Carter can compete with almost any line in the NHL on a nightly basis. The Flyers could use a little more depth scoring from players like Scott Hartnell and James van Riemsdyk, who both only had one goal during the Eastern Conference finals. The Flyers' fourth line has yet to contribute with the odd goal.
BLACKHAWKS: Few lines have been as good as Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa. Toews is the league's leading playoff scorer with 26 points and Kane has 20. Hossa (11 points) has been to the Stanley Cup finals 3 years in a row - and hasn't won in his first two trips. Perhaps the biggest player to watch might be the biggest forward out there: Dustin Byfuglien (pronounced BUFF-lin). Byfuglien is a massive 6-4, 257 pounds. And he can skate. He has four game-winning goals in the playoffs alone, enough to win a whole series. Former Flyer Patrick Sharp (16 points) and surprise scorer Dave Bolland (5 goals) help a balanced Hawks' attack.
FLYERS: No set of four defensemen has played as much in the playoffs as Chris Pronger, Kimmo Timonen, Braydon Coburn and Matt Carle. Pronger logs 56 seconds more per game of ice-time than Chicago's top defenseman, Duncan Keith. There's a reason for that. Pronger is one of the big reasons why the Flyers have advanced through three rounds. This is his third Stanley Cup final in 5 years - with three different teams (Oilers, Ducks and Flyers) . Timonen and Coburn have combined to form a solid No. 2 pairing that can go against Chicago's top two lines. At some point, Ryan Parent and Lukas Krajicek will have to play. They will unavoidably end up on the ice, at some point, against Toews and Kane, et al. And that's when the Flyers will need to rely on Michael Leighton. Parent and Krajicek both played less than 6 minutes in Game 5 against Montreal.
BLACKHAWKS: Duncan Keith is a world-class defenseman. He is a steady puck-mover and has an on-ice vision many would kill to have. He is also tough. He lost seven teeth in a game against Vancouver and returned in the next period. Brent Seabrook and Brian Campbell are solid defenders. Finn Niklas Hjalmarsson is not battle-tested at the age of 22, Brent Sopel and Jordan Hendry are not all that impressive - much more like Krajicek and Parent than any of the above.
FLYERS: In the first round, Brian Boucher went up against Hall of Famer Martin Brodeur. In the second round, he went up against Tuukka Rask - a player with substantially better numbers. Michael Leighton finished the job and hardly anyone had the gall to take Leighton over Jaroslav Halak, a goalie who had almost single-handedly knocked off Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin in consecutive rounds. Now, in just seven starts, Leighton has proven his 16-5-1 record in the regular season was no fluke. He is 6-1 with three shutouts, a 1.45 goals-against average and an insanely high .948 save percentage.
BLACKHAWKS: Antti Niemi was Chicago's biggest question mark heading into the playoffs. The Blackhawks knew they had the scoring and the defense to go a long way. But Niemi, a rookie, wasn't the starter at the begining of the season. Chicago signed Cristobal Huet to a monster contract a few years back. Huet started 11 more games than Niemi in the regular season and Niemi's numbers were substantially better: 2.25 goals-against average and .912 save percentage. They still weren't money-in-the-bank numbers. In the playoffs, they haven't been awe-inspiring. They aren't Leighton-type numbers.
EDGE: Pick 'em
FLYERS: Peter Laviolette's mastery has been on full display in the first three rounds. He has won the matchup battles with each of the three coaches he has faced: Jacques Martin, Claude Julien and Jacques Lemaire. That isn't exactly hard when you have better talent and a deeper roster. Laviolette seamlessly brought back Jeff Carter and Ian Laperriere without imploding the chemistry his top three lines had created. Really for the first time since he arrived here, Laviolette has a (nearly) healthy squad. He has talked about his experience of winning the Stanley Cup in 2006 with Carolina since the day he arrived last December. That experience cannot be overlooked.
BLACKHAWKS: This is Joel Quenneville's first foray into the finals. He has coached more than 1,000 NHL games but has never made it this far - he won a Stanley Cup as an assistant in Colorado in 1996. But with almost every team he's ever coached, Quenneville has found success. He has missed the playoffs just once in 13 seasons. The interesting matchup here is that Quenneville coached Chris Pronger for eight seasons in St. Louis. Will he attack Pronger and the Flyers' first pair or will he try to exploit the Flyers' third defensive unit?
FLYERS: Very quietly, the Flyers' power play finished the Eastern Conference finals against the Canadiens in an 0-for-12 slump. That came after going 4-for-10 in the first two games, when the Flyers routed Montreal a combined 9-0. It's hard to tell which power play will show up. Overall, the Flyers are 17-for-82 (20.7 percent) with the man advantage, which is a few ticks lower than their regular-season average. They only gave up one power-play goal against Montreal. In the playoffs, the penalty kill has allowed 10 goals on 77 tries (87 percent). The biggest key, though, will be staying out of the box.
BLACKHAWKS: Chicago's playoff power play has improved from the regular season. The Flyers had the third-best power play in the regular season, a full 5 percentage points over 16th-place Chicago. Duncan Keith and Brian Campbell can quarterback the Blackhawks' power play from the blue line like few in the NHL. They have scorers in Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews and the net presence in Dustin Byfuglien. Chicago's penalty kill is slightly lagging behind the Flyers (86.6 percent vs. 87 percent) but it isn't enough to sway the advantage.
FLYERS: After he grabbed the Prince of Wales Trophy at the Wachovia Center on Monday night, Mike Richards said he did not want to use the word "destiny" when describing the Flyers. But it almost feels like this team has advanced with the help of a higher power, given all of the obstacles they've overcome. Both the Wachovia Center and United Center are tough places to play. At the biggest moments, the Flyers' top players have shined. Chris Pronger has won the Stanley Cup before. As much as this run to the Stanley Cup was unexpected, the Flyers were built for now - not the future.
BLACKHAWKS: Chicago has the "Madhouse on Madison," which is one of the loudest buildings in the NHL. The city has not seen the Stanley Cup in 49 years, since the days of Stan Mikita. The Blackhawks, one of the NHL's youngest teams, are a team built from within. Ten of their players came through the draft. They went to the conference finals last year and now the city thinks they're poised to win it all. John Madden is the Blackhawks' only Stanley Cup winner. Chicago has knocked off San Jose, a tough team, but the Blackhawks haven't had to haul the road the Flyers have taken to get here.