Leading up to Saturday's Game 1, Puck Daddy's Sean Leahy and Greg Wyshynski are previewing every facet of the Stanley Cup Finals between the Philadelphia Flyers and the Chicago Blackhawks — on the ice and off the ice.
A strong offense is only as good as its defense. Both the Chicago Blackhawks and Philadelphia Flyers have blue lines led by some of the biggest workhorses in the NHL. Playing between 25-30 minutes a night against an opponent's top lines, and being successful at it, is a job that only a handful can do.
Chicago and Philadelphia have top-two pairing that is able to handle that responsibility and consistently deliver when needed.
As they now go up against one another with the Stanley Cup on the line, matchups will be the key to winning and losing. Chris Pronger(notes) vs. Dustin Byfuglien(notes) will be fun to watch down low, for example.
Who has the better group of defensemen: Chicago or Philly?
There's a reason why the Flyers went out and traded for Chris Pronger last summer. Not only did he contribute 55 points, but his presence on the Philadelphia blue line brought leadership and a championship-winning mentality to a team that always seemed to be "right there" when it comes to challenging for the Stanley Cup.
Pronger was everything and more to the Flyers in a season that some would argue deserved Norris Trophy consideration, and he continued it on into the playoffs. Leading all players in time on-ice (28:48), all defensemen in points (14) and all remaining blue liners in shots blocked (51), it's not surprise that leading by example is one reason why the Anaheim Ducks and Edmonton Oilers found success when Pronger was in their lineup. All eyes will be on how Pronger handles Chicago's Byfuglien.
Kimmo Timmonen and Braydon Coburn(notes) eat up minutes like Pronger and Carle do and are a perfect second pairing to go up against Chicago's top lines. If they're not tasked with slowing down Jonathan Toews(notes) and Patrick Kane(notes), they'll be given the job of keeping Marian Hossa(notes) off the scoreboard.
The third pairing of Lukas Krajicek(notes) and Ryan Parent(notes) is where the drop off comes. Parent (7:53) and Krajicek (10:32) see very little ice time a game given the horses above them in the depth chart, but their minutes will be even more valuable in the Stanley Cup Finals.
Chicago's corps isn't the minute-munchers that can be found in orange and black, but the depth is there.
Teeth Keith leads all defensemen in takeaways with 11, but is also susceptible to the turnover, leading all players with 17 giveaways. That still doesn't knock him down from the elite level defensemen he's developed into this season, and his vision is one of the many reasons he's a Norris Trophy finalist.
Keith's No. 2 is Brent Seabrook(notes), who's provided three of the five goals coming from the Chicago blue line and completes one the NHL's top pairings. Such a pairing hasn't been seen by the Flyers' top lines, something that could force Peter Laviolette to tinker with once the series shifts to Philadelphia for Game 3.
Niklas Hjalmarsson(notes), Brian Campbell(notes), Brent Sopel(notes), and Jordan Hendry(notes) give Chicago the added depth compared to Philadelphia. Hendry is sure to continue to see limited ice time, while Hjalmarsson, Campbell and Sopel will be needed to provide favorable matchups against the Flyers' top two lines when called upon.
This one is a draw.
The third pairings will be called upon during the series to provide small, but valuable minutes in games that are expected to be tight. The Blackhawks have the depth and don't need to rely heavily on their top two pairings like Philadelphia does.
What makes this a draw is what the Flyers defense has done this postseason. Allowing an average of 2.12 goals-per game in the playoffs, Philadelphia clamped down (with help from Leighton) and limited the production of Mike Cammalleri, Brian Gionta(notes), Patrice Bergeron(notes), Mark Recchi(notes), and Miroslav Satan(notes) over the better part of the last two rounds.
Going up against what the Chicago Blackhawks will be providing as arsenal will be another challenge for the Flyers, one that could determine the length of the series.