If the Philadelphia Flyers lose tonight in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Finals, they will have the Blackhawks just where they want them: Chicago will take a commanding 3-0 lead, which the Flyers have shown doesn’t bother them much in these playoffs.
Blackhawks at Flyers, 8 p.m. (Versus)
The line: Flyers -130/Blackhawks +110
Props: Who will score more points – Chicago’s Jonathan Toews (-130) or Philly’s Simon Gagne (Even); player to score first goal (several options; I’m giving Marian Hossa at 10/1 and Scott Hartnell at 15/1).
How they enter: The Hawks won one-goal games in Chicago, although the two games couldn’t have been much different. Now the Blackhawks are where they want to be: on the road. Chicago has tied an NHL record with seven consecutive playoff road wins in a row (Hawks won twice in Nashville, three times in Vancouver and twice in San Jose by a combined score of 31-13). Five other teams have done that and three of those won the Cup.
Scouting report: The TV ratings have been massive for these two big-market clubs looking to end respective title droughts. Chicago seems a lock to win the Cup now as of the previous 33 times a home team has won the first two games in the Stanley Cup Finals, 31 times that team has hoisted the Cup. What has been fairly shocking for Chicago’s 2-0 lead is that its top line of Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Dustin Byfuglien has yet to find the net. Toews entered the Finals with a 13-game points streak and an NHL-high 26 points in 16 games, and the trio combined for 22 goals through the first three rounds. Seven players have scored Chicago’s eight goals in this series, including guys like Ben Eager, who’s an enforcer, and Tomas Kopecky, who had played sparingly in the playoffs. With the Flyers having the final line change back at home, look for Philly defenseman Chris Pronger to be on the ice every time that Chicago line is. Marian Hossa has been Chicago’s best player in this series so far with three points and playing excellent on the penalty kill. Hawks goalie Antti Niemi has certainly outplayed counterpart Michael Leighton so far in this series; Niemi stopped 32 of 33 shots in Game 2. The Flyers say they will put way more pressure on him tonight and will attack the front of the net. And they are 7-1 at home in these playoffs. The Flyers held a team meeting Tuesday, and the focus was on continuing the play they exhibited in Game 2's third period when they outshot the Hawks, 15-4, and outscored them, 1-0.
The predictions for Game 3 (free NHL picks): Since 1968, when the NHL added six teams and a round to the playoffs, only three teams have swept both the Stanley Cup finals and the series before. I don’t think Chicago can do that as I believe Philly is jacked up tonight in the franchise’s most important game in nearly 15 years. Take the Flyers at 7/2 to win by exactly two goals (thanks to an empty-netter). I do like Hossa and Hartnell to be the player to score first – I can’t honestly say which team scores first as both have done so already. I would imagine it’s the amped Flyers, and Hartnell has been very good in this series and is the best value on the Philly board at 15/1. I would also take Gagne at Even against Toews, although Gagne has just one point in the past four games (the team’s lone goal in Game 2). I think that final line change will help keep Chicago’s big guns in check again.