CHICAGO -- With all of the pre-game interviewing and prognosticating completed (and, truth be told, nobody really had anything left to ask or answer by Friday afternoon), the Flyers and Blackhawks are about ready to start deciding which team gets to lug the Stanley Cup to fire halls, sports arenas and backyard barbecues from here to Helsinki and back this summer.
With that, three things to watch:
1) Mr. President. The speculation has grown in the previous few days that President Obama, vacationing this weekend with his family in Chicago, might just spend a few hours watching the fastest game he's ever seen in person. Things could obviously change -- Presidents are like that -- but having the First Fan in attendance would further add to the luster of a Final series that the league quietly hopes will draw relatively big television ratings, given the market sizes and passion for the game in Chicago and Philadelphia and given how well the early rounds have done on NBC and Versus.
2) The Pronger effect. Everybody knows how important Chris Pronger's ability to shut down the Blackhawks' top line, led by center Jonathan Toews, will be. In the previous series, it was Pronger's ability to tie a rope around Montreal's Mike Cammalleri (12 goals going into the series) that was decisive. This time, though, there is a lot of size and speed and scoring on the top line, with Toews, big Dustin Byfuglien and Patrick Kane. It will be more of a handful for Pronger and partner Matt Carle -- and everything will spin off of how this matchup plays out.
3) A split. Most people nationally see this is a good, hard, close series -- but with the Blackhawks victorious in the end. As for the people who see the Flyers winning, though, none of them can draw a realistic roadmap to four Philadelphia victories if the Flyers can't find a way to win one of the first two games in the United Center. The Blackhawks are a young team in a new, stressful situation. If the Flyers can come in, throw a big (proverbial) punch and connect, we will then get to watch the Blackhawks try to recover. We will then have a series.