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Six keys to the Cup Add to ...


Both teams come into the Cup final with goaltenders who came from obscurity this season to playing with the hottest hands in the NHL. Neither Antti Niemi of the Blackhawks nor Michael Leighton of the Flyers were the No. 1 goaltenders on their teams when the regular season started.

Niemi, a 26-year-old rookie, and Leighton, a 29-year-old fringe player, improbably outplayed everyone they faced along the way. Now the one who manages to stay hot will decide the series.

Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith (2) congratulates goalie Antti Niemi (31), of Finland, after the Blackhawks defeated the San Jose Sharks 2-1 in Game 1 of the NHL hockey Western Conference finals in San Jose, Calif. Keith is all smiles. He and the rest of the Blackhawks are rolling and have advanced to the Stanley Cup finals on the strength of some surprisingly stingy defense led by Keith. (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma, File)


If Byfuglien, the towering Blackhawks winger, can nullify the Flyers' equally tall defenceman who has snuffed out every offence so far, then Chicago's two stars, Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, will dominate the series. If not, then Mike Richards and Jeff Carter, the Flyers' twin prodigies, can steal the show.


This defence pair is Chicago's answer to Pronger - the shutdown artists who blanked Joe Thornton and Dany Heatley in the previous round. They need to do the same to Flyer scorers Daniel Briere, Richards and Carter.


The most important here are the Flyer penalty killers. The Flyers have allowed 10 more power plays than the Blackhawks, who have the better power play. Continuing this trend could be fatal.


These are the players who often grab the spotlight come playoff time. Dave Bolland is the Blackhawks' most visible agitator. He has checked and annoyed many into an early summer. However, the Flyers have more of them - Richards, Pronger, Scott Hartnell and, especially, Ian Laperriere.


Both Peter Laviolette of the Flyers and Joel Quenneville of the Blackhawks have won at least one Cup, Laviolette with the Carolina Hurricanes in 2006 and Quenneville as an assistant with the Colorado Avalanche in 1996. Laviolette imposed an up-tempo game on the Flyers when he took over in December. It was slow going but paid off in the playoffs. Quenneville, like Laviolette, is a master at game tactics.

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