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Blackhawks Over Flyers in Five Games

On the surface, a number-two seed versus a number-seven seed seems like a classic mismatch, but tell that to the Philadelphia Flyers who upset the New Jersey Devils in the first round under much the same circumstances. You don't have to, mostly because I'm sure the Flyers realize that the Chicago Blackhawks are a much different animal than the Devils. The Flyers, I'm sure, also realize that they have their work cut out for them in trying to do what most believed heading into the playoffs was impossible.

The Flyers have got everyone (or more accurately perhaps almost everyone) believing that they can do it again, starting this Saturday when the Stanley Cup Final begins in the Windy City, that, after coming back from a three-game deficit against the Boston Bruins in the second round, they are a team of destiny. To that I say: which is it? Are you a team of destiny or are you going to beat the Hawks based solely on your own merits? They had better hope that it's the former, because Chicago is a far stronger team than Philadelphia.

Many people point to Philadelphia's depth as one sign of an ability to match up well against the Hawks. The Flyers arguably have two top lines and a third that's not far off in Claude Giroux, James Van Riemsdyk, and Arron Asham. Of those three, however, Giroux is the only capable scorer (Riemsdyk is still very much unproven) and Asham is the only capable checker. In contrast, Chicago's third line of Andrew Ladd (whose status for game one is admittedly questionable), Dave Bolland, and Kris Versteeg is much more complete and provides the opposition with migraine headaches each and every time they step on the ice. A similar story unfolds when comparing the two teams' fourth lines.

In terms of defense, yes, Philly has got a top four of Chris Pronger, Kimmo Timonen, Matt Carle, and Braydon Coburn. To that argument, I ask what's wrong with James Norris Memorial Trophy-nominee Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Brian Campbell, and Niklas Hjalmarsson (apparently pronounced Chalmarsson)?

In net, I will call it a wash, as Michael Leighton for Philly has proven himself not only to be a capable number-one goalie, but a potential star in the future, not only since coming on in relief of Brian Boucher during the Boston series and then posting three shutouts against Montreal, but during the regular season as well, playing admirably behind a struggling team that had yet to peak.

The parallels between him and Antti Niemi are more numerous than most would care to admit. Leighton is 29. Niemi is going to be 27. Before this year, Niemi had only played in three games (all last year). Leighton had played in 76 total games spanning four different teams (other than the Flyers this year). Both were unproven until they were thrust into the fire this year as their respective teams' starters. They have since at least begun to earn names for themselves.

As such, this series is not going to be won based on who is in nets, but how many times the other team can get the puck in behind whoever's in nets. Chicago captain Jonathan Toews and partner-in-crime Patrick Kane lead the Hawks' charge, while Philly captain Mike Richards and Daniel Briere are the two engines that propel the Flyers forward. Maybe a wash as well.

How about further down the depth chart? Patrick Sharp, Marian Hossa, and Dustin Byfuglien versus Jeff Carter, Simon Gagne, and Ville Leino. For Chicago that's two proven scorers and one immovable object against two bodies just off the injured reserve and one not-so-proven playmaker for Philadelphia.

The rest of the story you know. Sometimes a classic mismatch on paper is just that, right up to the quick ending.

Bold prediction: Chicago Blackhawks over Philadelphia Flyers in five games