The Blackhawks (1961) and Flyers (1975) both have extended Stanley Cup championship droughts to take care of. (Photo by Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images)
“A man convinced of his own merit will accept misfortune as an honor, for thus can he persuade others, as well as himself, that he is a worthy target for the arrows of fate.”
– François de La Rochefoucauld, 17th century French writer
After a week in which the hit TV show Lost completed its six-season treatise on fate vs. free will, the NHL’s Stanley Cup final is about to broach the same topic over the course of a wild battle between Chicago and Philadelphia.
At the start of the 2009-10 season, the Blackhawks and Flyers were believed to be viable Cup contenders. But the road each organization has traveled to secure a spot in hockey’s ultimate series lends credence to the notion that a Cup championship is the biggest Jenga puzzle in all of pro sports – one comprised mainly of steely resolve, savvy management and eye-popping skill, but one that wouldn’t stand up without being buttressed by fate’s unforeseeable quirks.
The Hawks have had to play with the understanding that, thanks to the NHL’s salary/talent cap, key members of the team will likely be playing elsewhere by the start of the 2010-11 campaign. They’ve also had to deal with the rejuvenated expectations of a fan base needlessly punished for decades and the suffocating pressure that can follow a storybook renaissance.
Coach Joel Quenneville and his charges deserve both kudos and additional playoff dough for contorting out of those shackles and taking care of the business before them.
But what would’ve become of Chicago’s season if the hit captain Jonathan Toews took from Vancouver’s Willie Mitchell in October had the same effect as the devastation Flyers captain Mike Richards wrought on Florida’s David Booth that same month?
There isn’t much that separates the bone-crushing physicality of the two collisions. It could’ve just as easily been Toews sidelined for three months with post-concussion symptoms – and where would the Hawks be if that were the case?
Almost certainly, they would not be the second seed in the Western Conference. Almost certainly, they would have a different set of playoff opponents.
And what happens if Chicago winger Marian Hossa gets ejected in Game 5 of the Hawks’ first round matchup against Nashville? His boarding penalty on Dan Hamhuis incensed Preds players – especially when Hossa came out of the sin bin to score the overtime-winner and turn the momentum of the series in the Hawks’ favor.
Maybe that’s a little karmic payback for Alex Ovechkin’s equally disturbing hit on Chicago defenseman Brian Campbell earlier in the season. But perhaps that’s just some blind luck that benefited the Hawks when they needed it most.
As for Philly, I’ve been saying it for months: from about December on, the Flyers’ season has resembled a YouTube video of a truck being pushed off of railway tracks seconds before a train would’ve smashed it to smithereens.
The Flyers, picked by THN and many others as a pre-season favorite to win the Cup (and as a side note, isn’t it funny that most of the sour apples who held up our prediction with ridicule now are strangely silent?) were on the verge of falling out of the post-season race for the entire second half of the year.
They had to overcome a change in coaches; salacious accusations of off-ice rifts and dressing room discord; and a goalie-go-round that comforted nobody but the NHLPA’s netminding contingent.
They needed some assistance from the NHL’s version of Lost’s Smoke Monster (a.k.a. Rangers coach John Tortorella) just to make it into the playoffs on the last day of the regular season.
But, just as the Hawks had to overcome the extended absence of Campbell and the “now-I-stop-the-puck, now-I-don’t” inconsistencies of their goaltenders, the Flyers have proven to be resilient and undeterred in the chaotic aftermath of fate’s machinations (which includes injuries to forwards Jeff Carter, Ian Laperriere and Simon Gagne).
Nobody can guarantee which of the Hawks or Flyers will win four of seven games, but there are two things you can take to the bank:
No. 1 – nothing will unfold in precise accordance with plans or predictions.
And No. 2 – the Cup champion will be the team that takes the Hockey Gods’ lemons, wraps them in chains and spikes and converts any potential fails into flails.
Adam Proteau, co-author of the book The Top 60 Since 1967, is writer and columnist for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears regularly, his Ask Adam feature appears Fridays and his column, Screen Shots, appears Thursdays.
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