Chat with EJ Hradek
Welcome to SportsNation! On Wednesday, ESPN The Magazine's EJ Hradek will stop by to chat about the NHL season.
Hradek is a senior writer at ESPN The Magazine, joining the staff prior to its launch in 1998. He began covering hockey as a writer/editor for Hockey Illustrated in 1989.
Keep up with what Hradek has been up to through his blog on ESPN.com.
Send your questions now and join EJ to chat Wednesday at 3:30 p.m. ET!
Buzzmaster (3:30 PM)
We're getting EJ now!
Does Chicago have to score early to have a chance to win tonight?
EJ Hradek (3:33 PM)
When you score the first goal, historically, you win approximately 65% of your games. So, scoring first is a good thing. They have to try and match the desperation level the Flyers will have. They have to win. Chicago has a little bit of leeway, but they have to be as intense and Philly, particularly early.
The Hammer (Manhattan Beach, CA)
Having watched about every game of the flyers this season, one of their achilles heal is starting to show. FACEOFFS. they are getting dominated in the face-off circle. Thoughts?
EJ Hradek (3:34 PM)
I think Chicago has actually been very good there. It might be more of them being good. Maddon has been good. Towes has been good. Philly has always found a way to battle and answer. Home ice, they might have an edge on the faceoffs. They want to be better in that area tonight. There's not a lot of room for error for the Flyers tonight.
Rich (Columbia, MO)
EJ-Don't you feel like one of the goalies is going to get hot? I still think Niemi or Leighton could carry his team over the hump. Your thoughts. Thanks.
EJ Hradek (3:36 PM)
I have nothing really that tells me that. I think scoring hasn't been a problem in this series. It's been the fourth highest scoring series in Stanley Cup history. I don't think either one is going to be dynamic tonight. I have to feel that if I'm going in on either team that if we create traffic we're going to score goals. Certainly one of those guys can get hot, but that hasn't been the case so far. They've both shown vulnerability.
What line do you think Pronger plays the most against tonight....Toews', Kane's or Buff's? Do you see Philly taking Carter off his current line due to poor production?
EJ Hradek (3:36 PM)
They might change some things, but I think the focus will be with Pronger playing with Toews as much as possible. Philly has the last line change so that will help them.
Chad (Las Vegas)
Who wins tomorrow? I have to say Chicago. They had serious chances in the 1st 2 games at Philly and I have to believe splitting the lines up like they did in game 5 will continue to benefit them.
EJ Hradek (3:37 PM)
I think that Chicago made some adjustments and Philly didn't have an answer. They've had two days to think about it and if they haven't found an answer, then Chicago will be raising the Cup. They need to find a move to counter it. That move might not be in terms of changing players. It could be in the strategy they use.
David B (Chicago, IL)
Michael Leighton has been outstanding in Philadelphia, are you expecting that trend to continue? And do you think Anti Niemi will come up big tonight? He's seems to be the only person on both teams under the impression that this is just another game. After to 45 save performances in the San Jose series, the guy just looked indifferent. Thoughts?
EJ Hradek (3:39 PM)
We'll see. He has been really good at home. The numbers back that up. Based on that, you'd expect him to play well. But you're looking at individual games in shift to shift circumstances. If I'm Chicago, I feel confident, but he has played well at home.
ej,pronger bounces back from a bad game tonight?
EJ Hradek (3:39 PM)
Chris Pronger doesn't really lose too much sleep over a tough performance. The numbers weren't really indicative of how he played. Some of the things that led to the -5 were out of his control. I always expect him to play well. He'll be in the hall of fame as soon as he's eligible.
Corey B (Brookfield, IL)
Chrissy Pronger or Patty Cake Kane - which is funnier?
EJ Hradek (3:40 PM)
I think they're both kind of funny. Both guys have a pretty good sense of humor. One of them will have the last laugh. We'll see who it is.
Strange question -- but as a lifelong Penguins fan who grew up in the suburbs of Philly, is it legit. for me to celebrate if the Hawks win tonight? Maybe light a victory cigar for the first time since last June?
EJ Hradek (3:41 PM)
I guess. I can only say this, when there are teams that I have rooted against in my life, particularly early in my life, I never felt bad when they lost. So, I guess it's OK to celebrate that. Enjoy.
How important is the last change tonight to countering Chicago's line juggling?
EJ Hradek (3:42 PM)
The last change is helpful in getting matchups you want or don't want. It will be helpful for them. Laviolette doesn't chase the matchups like the Hawks do, but it will allow him to get the players on the ice that he wants.
Ed (Santa Fe, NM)
Conn Smythe - Toews, Keith, Pronger or Briere?
EJ Hradek (3:43 PM)
I think all of those guys are good candidates. One guy that hasn't gotten a lot of talk is Keith. He has an ability to make the good first pass. He plays on the power play and penalty kill. He would be someone worth significant consideration.
Josh Elkton MD [via mobile]
Who do you think the most consistent Philly goalie is and which one do you think will get the start?
EJ Hradek (3:44 PM)
Well, I'm pretty sure that Leighton will get the start. He's been real good on home ice. That's what they're hanging their hat on. That's probably the right move, because I think it's hard to imagine if you play Boucher and things don't go well, I don't know how you put your head on the pillow that night. All that said, I would have gone to Brian Boucher in Game 2 in Chicago. But at this point in the series, the move is Leighton.
Have you seen a team this late in the Finals have such a goalie decision?
EJ Hradek (3:45 PM)
I guess it happens from time to time. If you look back, I'm sure you can find moments in history about goaltenders. Normally at this time of the year, it's the same guy you're going to ride. But with Philly this year that's the way it's been. They have these kinds of decisions to make for Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals.
toews doesnt deserve the conn smythe he really hasnt done anything in this series just like richards hasnt really done anything if the flyers win the cup
EJ Hradek (3:46 PM)
I think he's had a great playoffs. He does a lot of things well, even if he doesn't score. He's a great two-way player. In this series, he's had a little bit of a struggle, because he's playing against Chris Pronger, one of the great players to ever play. But Toews is in his first Finals.
Ty (San Francisco)
EJ, I dont think Kane is getting his due with everything Toews and Buff have been doing. Please give props to Kane, a true magician on ice..
EJ Hradek (3:48 PM)
Patrick Kane is a good offensive player. When he's playing his best, he's got the puck on his stick. It's his first Finals, playing against quality defensemen. It's no surprise that he's been up and down. I will be interested to see how he plays on the road in Philadelphia.
What can we expect from the Blackhawks 1st line?
EJ Hradek (3:49 PM)
They have real good balance, but for the Toews line they have to play smart. Get the puck in deep with intelligence. Make smart plays and try to get pucks at Leighton. Play a good solid two-way game. Get the puck because they're at their best when they do.
Corey B (Brookfield, IL)
I have buddies who flew to Philly today and have nice tix - will I see them again if Chicago hoists the Cup tonight?
EJ Hradek (3:50 PM)
Yeah, I think you see them. They might have a few bandages. I haven't heard of any deaths at the Wachovia Center. I am sure the fans will all have a good time. Hopefully there will be nothing more than good natured ribbing. If you go to Philadelphia, you have to be ready for that. I like that about their fans.
What's the verdict on the NHL-NBA ratings duel on Sunday? Is the league office satisfied?
EJ Hradek (3:51 PM)
I think they were happy with it. Ideally, you would like to have the stage to yourself. You have two great markets there in Philly and Chicago. Overall, the league, NBC and Versus are happy with the numbers this year.
Do you think that Philly needs to do some line juggling of their own to be successful tonight and force a game 7?
EJ Hradek (3:52 PM)
They might. I think that's something Peter Laviolette has been looking at. You might see Carter moved into the middle. Giroux moved from center to wing. I think he will be making quick decisions tonight based on how he thinks guys are playing.
Which Center has been the tougher atmosphere, United or Wachovia? Seems both places have been really amped up.
EJ Hradek (3:53 PM)
I think they've both been hard places to play. The visiting team hasn't been able to win a game, so it must be hard for the visiting teams. I don't think there's an advantage. They block a lot of this stuff out.
Brian King (Minneapolis/Chicago)
I think that Hossa has been the Hawks best player in this series. How do you feel about this? I personally think Hossa is going to have a big night (2 goals and 1 assist (Hawks winning 4-2)). Do you think people have been a bit unfair in how they are calling him out for his points production when he is playing with players not named Toews or Kane. I think that the people whom he was playing with could not provide the scoring chances that Kane or Toews could (hence the lower goal total). Any thoughts? Go Hawks?
EJ Hradek (3:55 PM)
He is playing with Toews now. He played with him in Game 5. He's played with some good players. He has played well. But they're paying him a lot of money to score points. I wish he would move the puck more. But he's a real good player and there is a lot of pressure on him, especially in being on a third straight Finals team.
For the Flyers to win this series, who needs to step up?
EJ Hradek (3:55 PM)
I think Carter has to be better, if he can be. He's come off a couple of injuries late in the season and in the playoffs. They need him to provide a spark. He has to be better than he has been.
Corey B (Brookfield, IL)
Has Philly played a bit over their heads in this finals considering their regular season and playoff records this year?
EJ Hradek (3:56 PM)
I think Philadelphia has met the expectations they had during the season. They underachieved during the year. They had some goaltending issues. Coaching change. This is the team they expected to have back in September and just took a while to find their way.
Is today the game where the Flyers scrap the third defensive pairing and just play the top two pairs 30 minutes each?
EJ Hradek (3:57 PM)
They really have tried to do that most of the series and most of the playoffs. Needing a win tonight, they will have their best players on the ice as much as they can. So I think we'll see a lot of their top four.
EJ Hradek (3:58 PM)
Enjoy a great game tonight. Maybe this will be it. Maybe we will have one more.