Flyers fan's guide to Stanley Cup Final

USA Today Images

Flyers fan's guide to Stanley Cup Final

NBC Sports Philadelphia's John Boruk, Tom Dougherty and Jordan Hall provide the Flyers fan's guide to the Stanley Cup Final, which begins tonight at 8 on NBC.


Who Flyers fans should cheer for
The Golden Knights are clearly the sentimental favorite and if they win the Stanley Cup, they very well may be the best team story since the Miracle on Ice in 1980. However, let’s make a case for pulling for the Capitals.

Alex Ovechkin has been Sidney Crosby’s long-time nemesis since coming into the league in 2005 and for the anti-Crosby crowd, it was gratifying to see Ovechkin and the Caps finally get over that hump. If you’re looking for a sentimental angle, Barry Trotz is the father of a special needs child, son Nolan, who has Down syndrome, and Trotz enters the Final in the final few months of his contract. Both Trotz, Ovechkin and the Capitals have been repeatedly criticized as just not good enough to win a Cup. Here’s a chance to prove them all wrong. A Washington victory would keep the Stanley Cup in the Metropolitan Division for the third straight year, proving the Flyers compete in the toughest division in hockey.     

Conn Smythe
Right now, it’s all about Flower power. Marc-Andre Fleury has posted some ridiculous numbers through the first three rounds of the playoffs — a 12-3 record with a 1.68 goals against and a .947 save percentage. Even if the Capitals win the Cup, Fleury may still receive the honors in a losing effort as the award is a reflection of the entire postseason.

Prediction: Golden Knights in five
They swept the Kings, never trailed in the Sharks series and reeled off four straight wins over Winnipeg. Vegas is proving how dominant they are and that their regular season was no fluke. They enter the Stanley Cup Final well rested and I don’t think the Capitals will keep up with the Knights' relentless pressure and high-tempo.


Who Flyers fans should cheer for
There is not a lot to cheer about in this country right now, but the Vegas Golden Knights are as good of a story as you will find anywhere. We need it.

I don't get how anyone can actively root against Vegas. An expansion team in the Stanley Cup Final. A team filled with misfits and a castaway head coach who was forced to hail his own taxi after the Panthers fired him.

Everyone loves an underdog and if you're from Philly, you know the rest. Need more reason to root for Vegas? How about Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and Luca Sbisa, who, let's not forget, helped the Flyers acquire Chris Pronger in 2009?

Conn Smythe
Win or lose, the Conn Smythe has to go to Fleury. He already has the best save percentage through the first three rounds of the Stanley Cup Playoffs ever. Unless he allows five goals per game in the FInal — won't happen — I don't see how the Conn Smythe can go to anyone else. Fleury has been the best player throughout these playoffs and it's not even close.  

Prediction: Golden Knights in five
I'm not betting against Vegas anymore. I still look at the Golden Knights' roster and am befuddled at how they even made the playoffs, let alone the Stanley Cup Final. But here we are. I learned my lesson. Vegas wins easily.


Who Flyers fans should cheer for
Ovechkin is a likable player and the Philadelphia sports fan can certainly relate to the Capitals' pain of a championship drought. Heck, if you think you've had it bad, Washington has never hoisted the Stanley Cup, with a lengthy stretch recently of notoriously falling well short of expectations.

However, the Capitals are in the Metropolitan Division and hold a geographical significance to Flyers fans.

Is there anything to dislike about the Golden Knights and their story? Not really. It's pretty neat and if anyone is uneasy about a team winning in its first year of existence, well, the whole league has to deal with that, too.

Conn Smythe
It's hard to believe it won't be Ovechkin if the Capitals come out victorious. He's having an excellent postseason, he's one of the biggest faces in the NHL and if anyone deserves a Cup, it's probably this guy.

Prediction: Capitals in six
The Capitals are so close they can taste it. I simply don't see this group getting this far, exorcising some serious playoff demons, without finishing the job.

Ovechkin, Braden Holtby and the rest just seem laser focused. And not that Vegas will be happy to be there, but it might not feel the same sense of urgency of Washington.

Flyers need to get up to speed vs. surprising Vegas

USA Today Images

Flyers need to get up to speed vs. surprising Vegas

Of all the headliners that can be found on the Vegas strip, who would have imagined the Golden Knights, in their expansion year, would be right up there with Cirque du Soleil, Inferno and Chris Angel?

They shoot, they score, they entertain, and most impressively, they win. Only Tampa Bay averages more goals per game than Vegas does this season.

Vegas coach Gerard Gallant has performed a miracle that’s one part Herb Brooks, another part David Copperfield.

How can a coach bring together a collection of castoffs from across the league and build not just the best expansion team in league history, but one of the top hockey teams in the entire NHL, all while playing an uptempo, fan-friendly system?

“That’s a good question,” Flyers forward Jakub Voracek said. “They’re just skating very well, all of them. Obviously it’s hard to play against someone that’s skating so well.”

When these two teams played for the first time in Las Vegas in early February, the Flyers found out firsthand as they were outshot 39-18, the most lopsided shot total of any game this season, but were opportunistic in a 4-1 win.

Under Gallant, the Golden Knights have developed into one of the quickest puck-moving teams in the league and are constantly on the attack. Sean Couturier doesn’t believe there’s another team in the league that plays that style as well as Vegas does.

“I don’t think so,” Couturier said. “Not as good as they do. I think a lot of teams try and play like they do — spread the offensive zone, cycle the puck, control the play and get defenders out of position, but they’re really good at it.”

So if it works for the Golden Knights, why couldn’t the Flyers adopt a similar system?

For starters, Vegas general manager George McPhee was able to handpick his entire roster from a list of unprotected players — good players, at that. So if speed, puck control and skating ability were key attributes, then McPhee had the luxury of assembling that type of roster.

“What stands out when you watch them and when you play against them? Their speed presents a real challenge,” said Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol, whose team has 81 points, good for third in the Metro behind Pittsburgh (84) and Washington (83), and three points ahead of New Jersey (78). Washington hosts Winnipeg Monday night.

“You have to be ready to defend that and you have to be ready to counterattack against it.”

Secondly, the Golden Knights possess balance with no real “star power.” For most of this season, every line that Gallant has assembled has had to prove it's worthy of ice time, including the current top line of leading goal-scorer William Karlsson (35 goals) at center and Jonathan Marchessault (22 goals) and recent pickup Tomas Tatar (17 goals), formerly of the Red Wings. That trio has combined 74 goals on the season. The Knights also have 20-goal scorers in Erik Haula (24), James Neal (24) and Riley Smith (22).

“The biggest part of it is to have 23 players here, all kinda misfits who were left unprotected. So when they came with a simple system, it has to be 20 guys every night. You can’t have one line hot and the other three coasting,” said former Flyers forward Pierre Edouard-Bellemare, whom Vegas plucked in the expansion draft last summer. “[Gallant] played the guys who were working the hardest, and that was the indicator for the other guys, it doesn’t matter who your name is.”

Which probably wouldn’t work for Hakstol if Voracek, Couturier or Claude Giroux didn’t exactly bring their best effort every game. Gallant has been dealing from the same deck all season, a “use-it-or-lose-it” philosophy, you could say.

Impressively, it’s the same approach Gallant took with the Summerside Capitals of the Maritime Junior Hockey League back in the mid-1990s.

“The way I coach is the same I coached in junior hockey,” Gallant said. “Come to the rink, have fun, work hard and be competitive. I don’t prepare my team much differently than anyone else does. For me, it’s having fun and having a good attitude and make sure your players are ready to play.”

Proof what happens in Vegas certainly shouldn’t stay there.

Bellemare posts heartfelt message to Flyers and their fans

Bellemare posts heartfelt message to Flyers and their fans

Departing an organization via the expansion draft is an odd thing. A player's team didn't choose to send him packing per se. They also didn't protect you, but they literally have a whole list of guys they didn't protect.

It's not exactly a knock on your skill or the way a team sees you in their longterm plans.

So it's no surprise Pierre-Edouard Bellemare had kind words for the team and city he now departs.

The Vegas Golden Knights selected Bellemare to be one of their original players on Wednesday. He took time out of his day today to thank the Flyers and their fans.

He posted a photo of himself skating in the orange and black with a big smile on his face with the following caption:

You never know what life can bring you, thats why I try to enjoy every second of it! This is a perfect picture to represent my awesome time as a Flyer, playing with great teammates, for this unbelievable organisation and even more unbelievable fans!!!
Thanks for the love and support Philly

Flyers fans will likely wish him the best of luck on his new squad.