2010 Stanley Cup Finals: Will anyone pick the Flyers to win?

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Leighton.jpgWhen writing the postgame story for the Chicago Blackhawks’ series
win over the San Jose Sharks, I finished the post with this statement:

You
wonder if the Eastern Conference team will even stand a chance.

Now,
obviously that was a bit hyperbolic, and even though the series wasn’t
over yet there was a good chance the Blackhawks would be facing the
Flyers in the Cup finals.

Do I really think the Flyers don’t stand
a chance? Not at all. Yet I do believe that this will be a test that is
much, much harder for the Flyers than they’ve had all postseason long.
No matter what the Flyers have accomplished, the Chicago Blackhawks are
completely different than and a much better team than the Montreal
Canadiens, Boston Bruins and New Jersey Devils

Conversely, the
Blackhawks have dispatched the the Vancouver Canucks and the San Jose
Sharks in ten games combined between the two series.

So you can
understand why the Flyers might be considered underdogs headed into the
finals.

Now, all of the Cup finals predictions haven’t come in
from the media horde (ours will be up tomorrow) but I doubt there will
be many predicting a Flyers win. After all, the Blackhawks are more
talented, have a deeper roster, have a better overall blueline and
despite Leighton’s great series against Montreal, Antti Niemi has been
the better goaltender. They’ve been gearing up for this moment all
season long, playing at an exceptionally high level from the very start
— goaltending issues aside — and have actually found a way to play
even better in the playoffs.

For the Flyers, it’s been a season
of extreme highs and lows, and they made the postseason relying upon a
shootout victory in the final game of the season. Since then, it’s been a
story of destiny and overcoming adversity, including a historic series
win over the Boston Bruins.

But do they have what it takes to beat
the Blackhawks, a team that is seemingly better in every category?

Many
who do the picking and the predictions will see the stats and the
matchups and say that the Flyers have no chance. After all, there’s no
way to measure intangibles, a willingness to win and an overall refusal
to lose when their backs are against the wall.

Odds in Vegas are
considerably in favor of the Blackhawks, and if you decide to bet on the
Blackhawks straight up, you’ll only receive about $60 in return for a
$100 bet.

Everyone is against the Flyers, a place where they’ve
been before. They didn’t have a chance against New Jersey, there was no
way they could come back against Boston and there’s no way they would
dispatch the Canadiens so easily. Yet they did, and inexplicably are
here in the Cup finals.

There will invariably be some that pick
the Flyers, but overall it’s a good bet to say they are considerable
underdogs. I’m guessing the Flyers are perfectly fine with that, and
believe this is exactly where they’d want to be.

The Ducks look pretty mighty right now after six consecutive wins

Anaheim Ducks v Los Angeles Kings
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In what should be a disturbing trend for every other team in the Pacific Division, the Anaheim Ducks have now won six consecutive games, and eight of their last 10.

After dominating the shot clock for pretty much all of Friday’s game against the Arizona Coyotes, the Ducks completely took over on the scoreboard in the third period. It seemed like only a matter of time before a breakthrough would occur.

Just 24 hours after beating the L.A. Kings, the Ducks earned a 5-2 victory over the Coyotes.

Ryan Kesler has eight points in his last six games. Corey Perry has seven points in his last six games. Patrick Maroon, who had only eight points all season prior to Friday, had a three-point night versus Arizona.

Again. Bad news for every other team in the Pacific.

The Ducks now have a three-point lead over the Coyotes for third place in the division. They’re one point back of second-place San Jose and eight back of division-leading L.A.

As for everyone else, more specifically the Canucks, Flames and Oilers, well it might be time to start focusing more on the upcoming trade deadline and, beyond that, the draft.

The Ducks had a terrible start to this season, one that started with so much hype about a team seen as an immediate Stanley Cup contender for 2015-16.

Count Corey Perry as one who believes those early season struggles could pay off at playoff time.

And remember all of that talk in October about Bruce Boudreau perhaps at the end of his days as coach of the Ducks?

At the end of October, GM Bob Murray vowed to be patient despite such a poor start just a few months after being one win away from the Stanley Cup Final last June.

There is still plenty of hockey remaining in the regular season. The Ducks have 32 games remaining on their schedule. But it appears that patience Murray showed in October is paying off.

Jets can’t complete the comeback after miserable start against Hurricanes

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WINNIPEG, Manitoba (AP) Phillip Di Giuseppe, Andrej Nestrasil, Jordan Staal and Justin Faulk scored in the first period, and the Carolina Hurricanes held on for a 5-3 victory over the Winnipeg Jets on Friday night.

The Hurricanes scored four times on their first nine shots, taking a 4-0 lead just 10:04 into the game. Nestrasil added another goal in the third period, and Cam Ward made 33 saves. Staal and Joakim Nordstrom each had a pair of assists.

Alexander Burmistrov, Andrew Ladd and Blake Wheeler scored for Winnipeg.

Jets rookie Connor Hellebuyck allowed three goals while facing only six shots before being replaced by Michael Hutchinson after Staal’s power-play goal just 4:33 in. Hutchinson, who hadn’t played since a 4-1 loss in Anaheim on Jan. 3, finished with 21 saves.

The loss wrapped up Winnipeg’s season-high six-game homestand, which included just one victory.

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Carolina’s first goal came after the Jets turned over the puck and Di Giuseppe scored on a sharp-angled shot at 1:43.

Hellebuyck then kicked out a bad rebound and Nestrasil tallied his 16th goal of the season in his 100th NHL game from almost the same angle at 3:05.

With Byfuglien in the penalty box for delay of game, Staal’s shot beat Hellebuyck, ending the young goalie’s night.

Faulk made it 4-0 when his team’s third shot at Hutchinson went between his pads at 10:04.

The Jets came out at a faster, more aggressive pace to start the second period and it paid off with 1:25 remaining.

Andrew Copp and Chris Thorburn were battling a pair of Hurricanes behind the net when Thorburn poked the puck out front as he was falling and Burmistrov got his sixth goal of the season.

Ladd, who hit the post late in the second period, banged home a rebound with Hurricanes winger Jeff Skinner off for hooking at 9:07 of the third.

Byfuglien one-timed a pass from Nikolaj Ehlers that Wheeler deflected to make it 4-3 with 6:12 remaining.

Nestrasil sealed the win with his second goal at 18:40.

NOTES: Ehlers’ assist extended his point streak to six games, with four goals and four assists. … Winnipeg heads out for a two-game road trip starting in Colorado on Saturday. Carolina visits Montreal on Sunday.

Video: Zatkoff robs Condra with sprawling paddle save

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All Erik Condra had to do was lift the puck off the ice.

He didn’t, and as a result, he was robbed by sprawled out Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Jeff Zatkoff, who made a spectacular desperation save with the paddle of his stick on the Lightning forward.

The save occurred just past the midway point of the third period. That kept the Penguins in the game, down by a goal at the time.

However, the Penguins couldn’t get the equalizer. The result was a 6-3 loss for Pittsburgh, as Tampa Bay scored twice later in the period.

Defending Eastern Conference champion Bolts continue hot streak

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Remember those distractions the Tampa Bay Lightning had to endure?

— The future of captain Steven Stamkos, who is a pending unrestricted free agent and whose contract situation has been an ongoing discussion point for months now.

Jonathan Drouin‘s camp publicly requesting a trade, then having the 20-year-old forward sent to the minors and then suspended by Tampa Bay, etc.

Well, through it all, the defending Eastern Conference champions have emerged and are now one of the hottest teams in the National Hockey League . Since the start of January, the Bolts have lost twice. In 13 games.

They continued their hot streak Friday, defeating the Pittsburgh Penguins — another of those teams on an impressive streak — by a final score of 6-3, with Tyler Johnson leading the way with three points. He was one of six Tampa Bay players to record a multi-point night.

Penguins’ goalie Marc-Andre Fleury was pulled in the second period after allowing four goals on 14 shots.

Tampa Bay is now five points behind the Florida Panthers for first in the Atlantic Division.

For the Penguins, the loss keeps them on the outside of the playoff bubble for now. They remain one point back of New Jersey for the final Wild Card spot in the East.

Sidney Crosby extended his point streak to nine games. He also has goals in five straight and is one point shy of 900 for his career.