Flyers' "old guys" vs. Blackhawks' youngsters

Simon Gagne (right), one of eight Flyers 30 or older, chases the puck with Mike Richards and the Blackhawks 22-year-old captain, Jonathan Toews (19), in the Flyers 3-2 win in March.
Simon Gagne (right), one of eight Flyers 30 or older, chases the puck with Mike Richards and the Blackhawks 22-year-old captain, Jonathan Toews (19), in the Flyers 3-2 win in March. (Tony Fitts)
Posted: May 28, 2010

CHICAGO - Goalie Michael Leighton, survivor, sat at a news conference earlier this week and played armchair analyst as he dissected the Stanley Cup Finals between his Flyers and one of his many former teams, the Chicago Blackhawks.

"It's like the Old Guys against the Young Guys," he said.

The young guys are the Blackhawks. They have speed and birth certificates on their side, with an NHL-low average age of around 26 years.

The Flyers aren't exactly graybeards. Their average age is only a couple of years older, but they do have eight thirtysomethings on their balanced roster: Simon Gagne (30 years old), Blair Betts (30), Arron Asham (32), Danny Briere (32), Brian Boucher (33), Kimmo Timonen (35), Chris Pronger (35), and Ian Laperriere (36).

Only one of the eight - Pronger - had ever reached the Finals before this season. So the other seven are not only salivating to win a Stanley Cup, but they know - from experience - that time is running out on their careers and that they may not get any more opportunities to fulfill their boyhood dreams.

When you analyze the talented rosters, the Flyers and Blackhawks are oh, so evenly matched. Among the intangibles in the Flyers' favor, however, is that they could have a more desperate edge to their game.

The seven players' fear that this could be their last chance is part of their motivation. Those seven players have played a combined 80 seasons and nearly 5,000 games without reaching the Finals.

Until now.

"You never know if you're going to get back here again," said center Danny Briere, who will be playing in the first Stanley Cup Finals in his impressive 12-year career. "You want to make the most of it."

The Last Chance Seven may provide a little more urgency than their baby-faced opponents from Chicago.

The Blackhawks have another theory, of course. They think they will be hungrier because their franchise hasn't won a Cup since 1961, back when Bobby Hull was a rising star.

"We don't want to stop here," Hawks winger Marian Hossa said. "We want to take the next step."

The Last Chance Seven say their long climb to get here makes these Finals extra special.

"It's definitely going to give us a lot more drive," Asham said at a news conference at the United Center Thursday. "I'm going to take as much of this in [as I can,] because this may be my only time. I'm not getting any younger, so I'm definitely going to enjoy this."

Timonen has played 864 games, including the playoffs, without skating in a Stanley Cup Finals.

"I can't wait to wake up Saturday morning and get ready to play," he said. "This might be my only chance to win the Stanley Cup, because you don't get to this point every year. Even if we have a good team next year, you never know what's going to happen."

Getting to the Finals, he said, "makes the years I've spent in the gym and running around and making sure I'm in shape" seem worthwhile.

Laperriere has gone 1,144 games without playing in the Finals - about 400 more than Briere.

"We certainly understand how hard it is to get here," Briere said, "and I think we're all trying to send a message to the young guys that this doesn't happen every year. 'We're here, Just make sure you don't have any regrets and leave it all on the ice.' That's the message we're trying to transmit here, and, at the same time, we're trying to enjoy it and soak it all in."

Chicago, meanwhile, has a host of young stars, including Patrick Kane (21 years old), Jonathan Toews (22), Duncan Keith (26), Brent Seabrook (25), and Dustin Byfuglien (25). Some of them seemed a little tight at Thursday's news conference and not as loose as the heavy-underdog Flyers.

But if the Blackhawks go on and win the Cup, that "tightness" will be perceived as "focused."

One young player who won't be tight is Toews. He likes the big stage. He won an Olympic gold medal with Team Canada in the winter, and he is the leading scorer in the playoffs with 26 points.

"He's a special player," Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said. "You have an appreciation for what he does. The way he approaches things on the ice, the practice, the morning skate to the games. He seems to improve and get better with each and every season, each and every opportunity."

Toews, a quiet sort known as Captain Serious, has "the same approach over the course of the year to the end of the year," Quenneville said. "He rises to the occasion. . . . But his consistency is what we like. And his predictability in his game is in place. I've been around a couple of quality players at a young age that turn into great players over time. Joe Sakic kind of reminds me of a young Jonathan Toews, where each and every game they're there for the guys."

At 22, Toews is trying to lead his young teammates to Chicago's first Cup in almost a half century.

A group of "old guys," as Leighton called them, will provide some major resistance.

"When you win, you're part of history," Timonen said of the Last Chance Seven's quest for the Cup. "It comes down to that."


Contact staff writer Sam Carchidi at 215-854-5181 or scarchidi@phillynews.com. Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/BroadStBull.

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