The experts who will have some of the best seats in the house for the Stanley Cup Final all agree on at least one thing -- this series will not go away quickly.
That was the consensus among Don Cherry, Mike Emrick, Keith Jones, Pierre McGuire and Mike Milbury, the men who will call the games on television for NBC and Versus in the U.S. and CBC in Canada. Offering their thoughts on the Philadelphia Flyers and Chicago Blackhawks -- teams Jones pointed out were "battling for lottery balls three years ago" -- on a media conference call Thursday, you get the impression they'll pack enough clothes for at least a six-game series.
"This series is going to go on a lot longer than people think," McGuire said. "There hasn't been enough credit being given to the Philadelphia Flyers. The Chicago Blackhawks are a great team; everybody knows that. I think most people before the season started thought Chicago would get to the Final, so they're about where most people thought they would be.
"For Philadelphia, their best players are just starting to round into form. You look at Simon Gagne and the effect he's had on the lineup. The return of Jeff Carter and the effect he's had on the lineup. The return of Ian Laperriere and the effect he's had on the lineup. This is a much better Philadelphia team than people are giving them credit for."
Cherry is also bullish on the Flyers.
"I've never met anybody in the playoffs so far who plays like Philly," he said. "Not that they're afraid or anything like that; (Mike) Richards takes no prisoners. They've never played a guy who hits like that. They're a mean club. Pierre is right, this is going to go on a lot longer than people think because on one side, Philly hasn't played anybody with the speed and the talent (of Chicago), but Chicago has not played anybody that takes no prisoners like Philly. So it going to be interesting to see who survives."
Speaking of survival, the Flyers qualified for the playoffs on the last day of the regular season and not many gave the No. 7 seed a chance of doing much. But after watching the Flyers knock off New Jersey, Boston and Montreal to reach the Final while having several key players get healthy, the broadcasters are not about to sell Philadelphia short despite Chicago's run as the No. 2 seed from the Western Conference.
"You go down the list of players on each roster and there are some pretty interesting matchups," Milbury said. "There's (Antti) Niemi … sort of unknown. (Michael) Leighton … unknown. Will one of them crack? That could make a big difference.
"You see the Chicago Blackhawks' defense with (Duncan) Keith and (Brent) Seabrook and (Brian) Campbell and (Niklas) Hjalmarsson -- they're a quick, puck-moving group, in contrast with a bigger, stronger Philadelphia group that's maybe not as mobile, but still very conservative -- get the puck out of the zone kind of stuff. They match up pretty well, I think.
"Take a look at the forwards; if you say (Jonathan) Toews, I might say Richards. If you say (Patrick) Kane, I might say (Daniel) Briere. If you say (Dustin) Byfuglien, I say Carter. You go down the list like that and start to match things up, this is going to be a longer series, I think, than people realize. I think the one fact that shades it in the favor of Chicago is their team speed. It was outstanding throughout the playoffs. Gave fits to San Jose. They were able to establish the forecheck when they needed to because of their team speed."
McGuire also cited the Hawks' team speed as a key factor.
"I agree with Mike Milbury on this wholeheartedly, the team speed of Chicago is unbelievable," McGuire said. "Where they have a separation point over Philadelphia is -- and it's not much of one, but it's just a little bit of one, and they had this same domination over San Jose -- depth down the middle. Toews, (Patrick) Sharp, (Dave) Bolland, (John) Madden -- that's tough to beat out. It really is."
Milbury also said coaching changes over the past couple of years have benefitted both teams.
"Both of these teams' turnarounds do not stem from flags on the sidewalks or street poles, but from coaching decisions, I think," he said. "The Hawks hired Joel Quenneville, who's been around the block a time or two, and immediately there's a difference in the way the Chicago Blackhawks play and come together. And Philadelphia, John Stevens can't get it right for a while and in comes Peter Laviolette -- and all of a sudden there's a team concept, there's an image and there's a belief they can get it done. I think we'd be remiss if we didn't point out that these are two pretty outstanding coaches that are going to make it interesting for one another as the series progresses."
Jones, a former NHLer who played for the Flyers and now broadcasts their games regularly for Comcast Sportsnet Philadelphia, is excited to see two young captains in Richards and Toews lead their clubs with only four wins to go toward claiming the Cup. He pointed out both players were linemates that helped Canada win the gold medal at the 2010 Olympics. But Jones also feels the Flyers' veteran presence is an intangible that may make a difference when pitted against the youthful Blackhawks.
"I would say that (Philadelphia is) fearful of not getting there again, and that's going to serve them well," Jones said. "Some of those players have had some injury problems over the years, some ups and downs. Briere and Gagne are two of those guys who stand out to me in that department. You've got a couple of A-quality defensemen in Pronger and (Kimmo) Timonen that both are getting a little older. So I think there's a desperation to the Flyers, but at the same time, I think there's something that is driving them. That they are looked upon as the underdog, the better that serves them."
"I get the feeling Chicago is going to be here again, but I'm not sure the Flyers are built the same way," Jones added. "So there's going to be some real desperation from Philadelphia to get the job done right now. And for Chicago, I think we're going to see them in there the next 4-5 years on a number of different occasions."
The consensus, as voiced by Cherry, was that the League has an excellent matchup for its championship series.
"This is a dream for the National Hockey League," Cherry said. "Philly … high-profile. Chicago … they're just jumping for joy for Chicago. So they're happy the way things are right now. Couldn't have been better. The National Hockey League is jumping for joy with this matchup."
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