"41 THUNDERTRUCK!" my crazy but effective junior coach used to shout at us.
(Of course, the phrase isn't Thunder-"truck" per se, but for the sake of those with sensitive ears and/or eyes, I'll refrain from using the actual four-letter word that owns the place "truck" is renting.)
In a world of defense-first hockey, you're occasionally forced to flip the switch, find some offense and put some pressure on your opponent. For the most part, our team would go "41 Thundertruck" during the first or last shift of a period, or when we were falling behind and needed to change our fortunes.
The simple explanation of that expression is that it's four players up and one defenseman back (hence the 41) -- but for us, the phrase carried another connotation. It meant "mow some guys over, take some chances, and most importantly, do not take your foot off the pedal for a shift or two".
And heading into the Stanley Cup Finals, no team seems to be able to flip it to "41 Thundertruck" as effectively as the Chicago Blackhawks. They probably use a classier name to describe applying pressure, but man can they do it well.
Having a couple quick, talented defensemen affords the Blackhawks the option to take some offense-first shifts, and gives them the chance to get back into games when they start to trail.
"Fast" is not nearly as important as "quick" for a defenseman on a rush - the last thing you want to do is have your opponent take advantage of your sudden aggression and bury one, so you need players who can make the immediate transition back to defense if necessary. You need guys like Duncan Keith(notes) and Brian Campbell(notes).
It is a common thread among winning NHL teams: They have talented offensive players who are coachable and responsible enough to stick to a defensive system -- until the leash is taken off. The Blackhawks stars seem to have learned since the 2008-09 playoffs that they can increase their effectiveness by vacillating between "41 Thundertruck" and whatever you want to call the defensive parallel.
Coaches spend most of the game asking their team to be smart and wait for chances --- especially with Joel Quenneville's roster. But if opportunities aren't coming quickly enough, you use that high-pressure mode like an onside kick. And the Hawks tend to recover the ball more often than not, and manage to pull out close games with a sudden flurry of offense.
Their ability to find a nitrous-injected next gear can't be an exciting prospect to face for the Philadelphia Flyers in the Finals.
The Blackhawks have already beaten Pekka Rinne(notes), Roberto Luongo(notes) and Evgeni Nabokov(notes), losing a mere four times in three rounds along the way. The reality for this Flyers team: It would take one heck of a masterful coaching effort by Peter Laviolette to jam a stick in Chicago's high-flying spokes.
Michael Leighton(notes) would have to continue his spectacular run too. As great as he's been in his seven playoff games, he's either faced a depleted Boston Bruins roster or an exhausted Montreal Canadiens team. How do you like his odds against a well-rested, fully-healthy Blackhawks squad that can afford to be patient or go all "41 Thundertruck" on his seven-seeded Flyers?
Simple and efficient, he uses his reach and body position as compliments to his knack for rarely getting flustered under pressure. So sure, he'll play his half a game, but with the Blackhawks having three effective lines capable of pouring on the heat, the biggest tests will be taken by names like Matt Carle(notes) and Braydon Coburn(notes).
The Flyers top forwards are capable, established players. They know what they're getting into. But as a great goaltender once told me "just because I know where you're going to shoot doesn't mean I can stop it". And that's what Philly is dealing with.
They see a Thundertruck of a haymaker coming. It's just a matter of getting out of the way and finding a counterpunch.