PHILADELPHIA (AP) — When NHL commissioner Gary Bettman hands the Stanley Cup to Chicago captain Jonathan Toews or Philadelphia counterpart Mike Richards, a hockey-crazed city will be satisfied for the first time in decades.
The Stanley Cup finals are set: Blackhawks vs. Flyers.
Chicago hasn't claimed the silver chalice since 1961, when there were only six NHL teams, and Philadelphia wasn't one of them. The Flyers are seeking their first title since hoisting the Cup in 1974 and 1975 when the franchise was less than 10 years old.
Philadelphia rose from the No. 7 seed and earned its title shot Monday night with a 4-2 victory over the Montreal Canadiens in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals — a far cry from its second-round win in Game 7 against Boston that completed a 3-0 series comeback and a 3-0 rally in the decisive contest.
Chicago punched its ticket on Sunday, also at home, when the Blackhawks completed a four-game sweep of San Jose.
When the season started back in October, the Blackhawks were a popular choice to represent the Western Conference and make their first finals appearance since 1992. The Flyers also were considered a favorite in the East.
That title talk ended quickly as Philadelphia dropped to the bottom of the standings and replaced coach John Stevens with Peter Laviolette in December. The Flyers ran the gamut of peaks and valleys on either side of the holiday and Olympic breaks before making a final playoff surge in the dwindling days of the regular season.
It wasn't until Brian Boucher stopped New York Rangers forward Olli Jokinen in the final round of the shootout on the final day of the regular season that the Flyers secured a place in the postseason.
Then they made the most of it.
After getting close a few times in recent years, Philadelphia is playing for the Cup for the first time since being swept by Detroit in 1997.
The Blackhawks took a different path. After reaching the conference finals last year, this young, dynamic group from Chicago gained the requisite experience to learn how to win.
With maturity exceeding their years, the Blackhawks challenged for the top seed in the West, but settled for No. 2 along with their Central Division title over defending West champion Detroit. Despite being an Original Six franchise, Chicago had become a bit of a forgotten hockey city. The Blackhawks hadn't even finished first in their division since 1993.
That has all changed since the arrival of Toews, Patrick Kane, and first-year starting goalie Antti Niemi, and the emergence of power forward Dustin Byfuglien as a postseason force.
You would never believe Chicago was the Second City in the hockey world these days after the club surged into the Cup finals with a sweep over top-seeded San Jose.
Michael Leighton and the Flyers also are riding quite a wave. Philadelphia has won eight of nine overall and seven of eight since Leighton took over in goal for injured starter Boucher during Game 5 against Boston.
Leighton combined with Boucher on a shutout that night, fueling the Flyers' historic comeback, and then blanked the Canadiens in each of Philadelphia's first three wins of the conference finals.