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March 13 was a hell of a preview: Blackhawks, Flyers set for Cup Final

By Jeffrey Bartl

Talk amongst Vegas odds makers suggests the Blackhawks stand to be one of the most overwhelming favorites for a championship game/series in major sports history, joining the likes of the ’85 Chicago Bears and ’94 San Francisco 49ers.

Well, forget that shit. To think the Philadelphia Flyers will be pushovers is blatant ignorance. Any team left for dead down 0-3 in a playoff series which comes back to shock the hockey world is a legit contender. And oddly enough, the Flyers have their own comeback story against the Blackhawks.

After two scoreless periods of a March 13 matinee in Philadelphia, Cristobal Huet and the Blackhawks took a 2-1 lead into the final three minutes of the third. After  Simone Gagne opened the scoring at the 1:18 mark,  Kris VERSTEEG! tied the game less than two minutes later on the power play.  Marian Hossa’s goal put the ‘Hawks ahead at the 12:51 mark. Then, all hell broke loose.

With 2:04 remaining,  Scott Hartnell put one past Huet to tie the game as we all prepared for a 4-on-4 overtime period. Unfortunately, the Blackhawks seemed ready for overtime while the Flyers had other plans. Philadelphia prepared a rush and crossed their own blue line.  Troy Brouwer inexplicably attempted to intercept a pass near center ice, taking himself completely out of position in the process and creating a 4-on-2 for Philadelphia.

Claude Giroux skated in and surveyed the ice, finding  Chris Pronger on the doorstep. Just like that, with :02.1 left, the game was a center-ice faceoff from being over. Here’s how it happened:

The victory improved the Flyers to 36-27-4 (76 points) and dropped the ‘Hawks to 44-18-5 (93 points).  Playoff hero  Michael Leighton earned First Star for his 39-save performance. Leighton would start only one more game the rest of the regular season — the next night, a 3-1 loss to the New York Rangers.

While the Blackhawks are the vastly superior team heading into the Stanley Cup Final after sweeping the San Jose Sharks, embarrassing the Vancouver Canucks and getting past Nashville in dramatic fashion, the Flyers have been fighting for their lives since the final day of the regular season. And here they are, just another upset away from hoisting the Cup.

No one gave the Flyers a chance as a No. 7 seed facing  Martin Brodeur and No. 2 New Jersey, yet they dominated the series. Down 0-3 to the Boston Bruins, no one gave a thought to the Flyers advancing — especially having to depend on the little-used Leighton after  Brian Boucher went down with an injury in Game 5. A monumental comeback ensued. Then, with Jaroslav Halak and the Canadians coming off impressive oustings of the Capitals and Penguins, the Flyers were thought to be worn out. Nah.

All of this happened after the Flyers needed to win against the Rangers on the final day of the regular season just to get into the playoffs! This team is ready for anything thrown at them — including the Blackhawks.

The Blackhawks will win the Stanley Cup, in my opinion, but the Flyers are going to give them a fight — one us fans just may be overlooking. Start preparing now for at least five hard-fought games. These guys are no pushovers.

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