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Mike Richards #18 of the Philadelphia Flyers looks on before taking on the Chicago Blackhawks in Game Two of the 2010 NHL Stanley Cup Final at the United Center on May 31, 2010 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images) (Jim McIsaac/2010 Getty Images)
Mike Richards #18 of the Philadelphia Flyers looks on before taking on the Chicago Blackhawks in Game Two of the 2010 NHL Stanley Cup Final at the United Center on May 31, 2010 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images) (Jim McIsaac/2010 Getty Images)

Nearing the end of NHL marathon Add to ...

Up in the Air is not just a popular Oscar-nominated movie starring George Clooney, but also the primary subtext of the 2009-10 NHL season, a gruelling non-stop travel odyssey - missing only the frequent flyer points because everybody charters now.



Mercifully, it will all come to an end this week, either Wednesday night if the Chicago Blackhawks-Philadelphia Flyers' series ends in six, or on Friday, if the Stanley Cup final goes the distance. It's sort of like the end of a long election campaign: everybody running on fumes but aware that they need to be at their best for the last push.



An NHL season that unofficially began in the second last week of August for all the players attending the Olympic orientation camp in Calgary will end with at least two and possibly new members of an ultraexclusive club.



Previously, only three other players in NHL history - Ken Morrow, with the 1980 New York Islanders; Steve Yzerman and Brendan Shanahan with the 2002 Detroit Red Wings - ever won the Stanley Cup and Olympic gold in the same season. Chris Pronger and Mike Richards will join them if Philadelphia emerges triumphant, while Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Jonathan Toews will do so if it ends up being Chicago.



Pronger and Richards played their 111th games of the season Sunday (82 regular season, seven in the Olympics, 22 in the playoffs); Keith and Patrick Kane were the Blackhawks' leaders at 110 apiece.



No matter how you slice it, that's a lot of hockey - and a lot of travel, especially for a Blackhawks' team that started the year by playing its first two regular-season games in Finland against the Florida Panthers. It makes you think the NBA has it right when it comes to scheduling the final, with its 2-3-2 playoff format, designed to minimize the coast-to-coast travel in the last series.



The NHL's 2-2-1-1-1 format is a killer on the body once things get to this stage of the competition. It frequently undermines the quality of hockey, especially after two pretty good games in Philadelphia last week, on ice that's just so-so, in muggy, humid summer weather that is putting the ice makers in both venues to the test, in addition to the players.



No man is a machine - although Pronger might come close.



Coach watch



The NHL's coaching dominoes should start to fall in the next fortnight, and it looks as if the first opening will be filled by the Columbus Blue Jackets, who are expecting an answer from Guy Boucher either Monday or Tuesday, to see if he'll fill their vacancy. Boucher was most recently with the Hamilton Bulldogs and is considered one of the top up-and-coming young coaches in the game.





 

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