The Chicago Blackhawks finally seem to be shaking off their post-Stanley Cup hangover. Meanwhile, the Philadelphia Flyers have been playing all season like a team with a chip on its shoulder.
The Eastern Conference-leading Flyers visit the Blackhawks on Sunday in the first meeting between the teams since Chicago hoisted the Stanley Cup trophy in Philadelphia.
Chicago (26-18-4) defeated Philadelphia (31-12-5) in six games last June, clinching the series with a 4-3 overtime victory in Philadelphia on Patrick Kane's goal 4:06 into the extra session.
The Flyers have established themselves as favorites to return to the finals. They lead the Eastern Conference with 67 points and have scored a league-high 164 goals.
If they were lacking for motivation, they'd find it in the United Center rafters.
"Walking into that building ... it's going to be hard to forget about it," Philadelphia defenseman Matt Carle told NHL.com. "We have something to prove going into that building."
The Blackhawks have a much different look for the rematch, having traded many of the key pieces from their Stanley Cup run due to salary cap restrictions. However, coach Joel Quenneville still expects plenty of emotion from his club.
"It was a great playoff series and I think when you do get in a playoff series it creates some intensity, a little bit of a rivalry," he said. "It should be a fun game for everybody."
After a slow start, Chicago appears to be heating up. The Blackhawks have won five of six, including a 4-1 victory at arch-rival Detroit on Saturday.
"We've got confidence in ourselves," said Tomas Kopecky, who scored twice in the second period. "Just going with the flow."
Patrick Kane, who had three goals and five assists in the Cup finals, is regaining his form after missing time last month because of an ankle injury. He had an assist Saturday to give him eight points in as many games.
While Kane and the Blackhawks were able to take advantage of a banged-up Red Wings team, they'll face a much bigger challenge against the red-hot Flyers, whose 3-1 loss to New Jersey on Saturday was only their second defeat in 10 games this month.
Philadelphia, which had totaled 17 goals during a four-game winning streak, appeared to come out flat against the Devils. Left wing Scott Hartnell denied the Flyers were looking ahead.
"We obviously knew we were going into Chicago but ... a couple of errors defensively and it's tough to play catchup," he said.
James van Riemsdyk scored the lone goal for Philadelphia on Saturday. Captain Mike Richards assisted, giving him a team-high 45 points. Richards had a tough series against the Blackhawks last spring with one goal, one assist, and a minus-seven rating.
The Flyers lost all three games played in Chicago last spring and have dropped four straight overall at the United Center since a 5-2 victory Jan. 11, 2006.
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