Hawk Talk: Blackhawks-Flyers head-to-head

Hawk Talk: Blackhawks-Flyers head-to-head

Monday, May 24, 2010
11:15 PM
By Brett Ballantini
CSNChicago.com

Just a shootout shot from tee times, the Philadelphia Flyers snuck into the postseason as a No. 7 seed and have proceeded to set the NHL on its ear (in addition to validating the faith of the esteemed pucks bible The Hockey News, who in preseason tabbed the Flyers as the 2010 Stanley Cup winner, somewhere along the way issued a full retraction in some form or fashion, and doubtlessly now has popped a few Molsons to celebrate its foresight). Foremost in the ear-setting was Philadelphias extraordinary double-3-0 comeback on the Boston Bruins in the semis, rallying from both a 3-0 deficit in the series and a 3-0 score in the deciding Game 7.

But the bad news for the Cinderella Flyers is that an awfully large pumpkin awaits them in the Stanley Cup Finals: the Chicago Blackhawks. And this pumpkin wont be for carving or bakingit will be smashing. The Blackhawks enter the Finals as overwhelming favorites, and there is little evidence anyone can unearth that wont involve pixie dust, fairy tales and moonbeams to support a Philadelphia upset. But with Game 1 still five days away and for the sake of evenhandedness at the outset, here are three key ways to beat the Flyersand the Blackhawks.
How to Beat the Flyers

Speed Kills: The last two Blackhawks playoff opponents, the Vancouver Canucks and San Jose Sharks, have been fair matches for the blinding speed Chicago brings to the ice. What will happen, then, to the fair Flyers who are charged with slowing this locomotive down? The Blackhawks boast better depth on both ends of the rink than almost any other NHL team, and that advantage is in play vs. Philadelphia as well. Worse for the Flyers, Chicago has played one less postseason game and enters the Finals with one more day of rest, minor advantages to be sure, but likely guardians against the underdogs jumping up and popping the Blackhawks in the mouth for a Game 1, smash-and-dash upset.

The Buffer: Who among you brave Philadelphians bearing sweaters lorange dare face up to ascendant playoff star Dustin Byfuglien? The manchild has run wild playing deep for Chicago, to the tune of a team-high eight playoff goals attained in just his past eight games and an NHL postseason-leading four game-winning goals, which includes three in the San Jose series alone. This story of a low depth-chart forward bumped back to defense due to late-season injuries whos now flourishing on Chicagos top line alongside minty fresh superstars Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews is nothing short of extraordinary. And the bad news for Philadelphia is that its a story due to continue, as the Flyers are ill-equipped to corral Big Buffs combination of size and quickness. Byfuglien has foiled both Roberto Luongo and Evgeni Nabokovto what form of rubble will he reduce Michael Leighton?
Possess the Puck: There is no greater key to Chicagos domination of the 2009-10 regular season than its ability on both ends of the ice to simply strong-arm and suffocate the game by never letting go of the puck. Chicagos shot differential of plus-9.0, the third-biggest of any team in the post-lockout era, is a distinct measure of playoff success. Against Nashville, Chicago stumbled, drawn into some sloggy play and were missing their ace in the hole for puck possession, Brian Campbell. Chicagos shot differential for the series was a mere plus-2.3, but with Campbell back on the ice, the discrepancy between the Hawks and Preds was marked. The Blackhawks boasted good enough balance on both ends to have gone Globetrotter on the Vancouver Canucks, and was the single-most important aspect of their relatively easy semis win. And against San Jose, the Blackhawks let through an uncommonly high number of shotsforcing Antti Niemi to stop a career-best 44 attempts in Game 1, then forcing him to duplicate the feat in Game 3yet mostly controlled the tone and tenor of all four games. When Chicago puts itself in position to play keepaway until daylight to the goaltender breaks, teams fold. Its a crucial aspect of not only the Blackhawks offense, but its defense. Puck possession on Chicagos level is nothing short of a neck-snapper, and will be a key determinant in how easy the Cup drops into the mitts of the Hometown Heroes.
How to Beat the Blackhawks

Visit Smashville: Philadelphia, and its confident coach Peter Laviolette, is notorious for not ceding strategy in favor of matchups or going against its strengths. But the Flyers would be smart to not attempt to keep pace with the high-flying, deep Hawks, instead opting for a strategy played to some success by the Predators, and, briefly, the Canucks. Philadelphia has the veteran presence to button-down the game, nullifying Chicagos puck-possession advantage. The Flyers might not boast the defensive depth of the Blackhawks, but the underdogs can determine the tone of the series with blueline leadership from Chris Pronger and smart, physical play from Phillys crop of feisty forwards, who are capable of taking the game right to tender Chicagos jawline. Based on how the Blackhawks wilted in the face of some of Nashvilles physical pressure, a bit of slog-it-out brawling could go a long way in the Finals.

Rowdy Guests: While the Blackhawks won Games 3 and 4 of the Western Conference finals at home, raising their postseason slate to 5-3 in the United Center, Chicago is clearly playing better on the road. The Flyers are 5-4 on the road in the playoffs and have acquitted themselves very well in road openers, shocking the New Jersey Devils 2-1 in the quarters opener and pushing the Bruins to overtime before falling 5-4 in the first game of the semis. Philadelphia is flying into the belly of the beast with Saturdays United Center opener, but the game would have been considerably more imposing in January, when the Blackhawks were en route to an NHL third-best 29 home wins. As winter has been thawed by May, some cracks have formed.

Soar Quickly: While this is not applicable to the San Jose series, as in all four games the Sharks packed the strongest initial punch and the Blackhawks still winnowed out wins, the possibility exists to quickly pounce on Chicago and seize the momentum of the series. One of the few openings the confident Hawks left the Predators and Canucks earlier in the playoffs was a mild and brief tendency to become discombobulated under duressand perhaps skating into the Finals as heavy favorites will aggravate this annoying tendency in Chicago once more. An immediate Philadelphia win in the series is probably not integral to an overall Stanley Cup win, but a split in Chicago is, as any mucking up of the Redshirts game plan could yield emotional riches down the road. As impossible as it is to imagine with the roll theyre on now, early in the playoffs the Blackhawks admitted being ill-prepared and perhaps undermotivated. If theres one area the Flyers can clearly outpace Chicago, theyve proven its with the so-called compete levelrallying from down 3-0 to win a series earns you an advantage there for the full postseason. Philadelphia absolutely must out-compete the Hawksand quickly.

Hawks Talk Podcast: Blackhawks' bottom six steps up in Colorado

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AP

Hawks Talk Podcast: Blackhawks' bottom six steps up in Colorado

On the latest Hawks Talk Podcast, Pat Boyle and Jamal Mayers discuss the bottom six carrying the Blackhawks to a come-from-behind win over the Colorado Avalanche on Tuesday night.

Later, Mayers weighs in on possible targets with the NHL trade deadline just six weeks away.

Listen to the latest episode of the Hawks Talk Podcast below:

Playing close to home a special experience for Hartman, Hinostroza families

Playing close to home a special experience for Hartman, Hinostroza families

DENVER – When Ryan Hartman went to Michigan at age 16 to play with the U.S. National Development team, his father Craig moved the whole family there, too. Craig wanted Ryan to stay close with his brother, who’s several years younger.

The move was worthwhile, but not easy. Craig traveled back and forth to Chicago for his work, and the stay in Michigan, originally expected to be two years, turned into four when Ryan played for the Plymouth Whalers.

Now when the Hartmans want to see Ryan, whether it was Rockford last season or Chicago this season, it’s less than an hour away from their West Dundee home.

“Either transition’s been great because I’ve been seeing him a lot, taking care of his dog when he’s on the road,” Craig said. “It’s pretty cool when he comes and sees his little brother play hockey. It’s pretty amazing to have him home. If he’s in any other city, he’d be gone. It’s special to have him here.”

For many of the fathers currently on the Blackhawks’ dads trip, this excursion is one of maybe a handful of times they’ll get to see their sons play in a season. But for Craig Hartman and Rick Hinostroza, Vinnie Hinostroza’s dad, their sons play for the hometown team. They get to see them at least half of the season. And for both of them, it’s an incredible feeling.

“It’s pretty unbelievable to be able to just drive, depending on how traffic is, it could take us a little over an hour to get there. But just to be able to be home in 35 minutes and we get to sit and talk to him after a game or go out to dinner, things like that,” Rick Hinostroza said. “It’s really nice, and we’ll take it as long as we can.”

Craig and Rick are also enjoying their first dads trip, which began in Denver and now goes to Boston. Ryan Hartman said it’s been a great experience for him and his father.

“It’s my first year here and [it’s a chance] for him to be able to see what we go through on the road, so he has a better idea of what I’m doing when I’m gone all the time. I’m sure it’s good for him to be here and see that,” Hartman said. “And just being on the road with him, it’s a cool experience. I’m glad to have him here.”

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Vinnie Hinostroza said this was the first hockey trip he’d been on with his dad since his midget hockey days.

“It’s so special to bring him along, where he used to bring me and pay for the hotels and everything. It’s nice he gets to enjoy this,” Hinostroza said. “It’s special for us to have them here. They sacrifice so much for us growing up, taking us on hockey trips.”

Rick Hinostroza got his first taste of how his son travels on this trip. The elder Hinostroza was impressed, from the charter jet to the hospitality that wasn’t the usual commercial-flight can of soda and bag of pretzels.

“The attendants going back and forth, asking if I wanted something to eat and here you have this list, a choice of all this stuff. I’m used to the attendant coming around with the cart and you get what you get when you get it,” he said. “To be exposed to that and see just how the organization treats the families and players, it’s pretty neat. It’s really surreal.”

But as important as playing in hometown Chicago is for Hartman and Hinostroza’s parents, it means so much to the players as well.

“It’s a blessing, really, having them so close,” said Ryan, who sees his younger brother play hockey whenever he can. “It’s nice. You don’t have to plan a trip for them to come and you don’t have to be waiting for the next time you’re going to see them. Sometimes there are off days when I go home and relax with them. It’s definitely nice to have.”

The latest Blackhawks’ dads trip will end this weekend. Most of the fathers will head back to their respective homes, most of which are a good distance from Chicago. For the Hartmans and Hinostrozas, the return to Chicago means being back home and continuing to live the dream of watching their sons play here.

“I’ve gotten to meet a lot of fathers and having a nice time,” Craig Hartman said. “It’s fantastic. Growing up in the city – I was born probably about 15 blocks from the UC – being part of this and having my kid play with the Blackhawks, it’s crazy.”