05/24/2010 10:43 AM - For the first time in 18 years the Chicago Blackhawks are going to the Stanley Cup Finals, and the team has a distinct Rockford IceHogs flavor to it.
Nine former IceHogs skaters have contributed to the Blackhawks Western Conference championship run, including goalie Antti Niemi who is 12-4 in the postseason with a .921 save percentage and a 2.33 goals against average.
Niemi helped backstop Chicago to a series sweep of the San Jose Sharks in the Western Conference Finals and has won eight of his last nine playoff games overall. The Vantaa, Finland native allowed just seven goals in the four games against San Jose.
No player has been more clutch in this season’s Stanley Cup Playoffs than former IceHogs winger Dustin Byfuglien. Byfuglien tallied four goals in the Western Conference Finals, three of them counting as the game winner. The Minneapolis, Minn. native’s eight goals lead all Chicago skaters overall in the playoffs, all coming in the Blackhawks last eight games.
Former Rockford centerman Dave Bolland has also elevated his play as the playoffs have grown old. Bolland anchored the line for Chicago that helped shutdown the Sharks top line in the Western Conference Finals, including Joe Thornton, holding the All-Star winger to just one assist in four games.
Other former IceHogs appearing in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the Blackhawks include Kris Versteeg, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Troy Brouwer, Bryan Bickell, Colin Fraser and Jordan Hendry.
The Blackhawks now await the winner of the Eastern Conference Finals series between the Montreal Canadians and Philadelphia Flyers. Game 5 in that series is on Monday with the Flyers leading 3-1.
Chicago hasn’t appeared in the Stanley Cup Finals since 1992 when they were swept by the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Blackhawks last Stanley Cup Championship came in 1961 when they knocked off the Detroit Red Wings in six games.