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Stanley Cup finals: Game day skate before Game 1

Kopecky_425

Hey, hey, let’s play two today!

OK, wrong sport: that was Cubs first baseman Ernie Banks’ favorite saying. But it’s a beautiful day in Chicago, where the Cubs are playing the Cardinals this afternoon and the Stanley Cup finals open later at the United Center. Great city, great weather, great weekend.

First, the injury news: Chicago winger Andrew Ladd, who sustained an upper-body injury in the Blackhawks’ last game of the West finals against San Jose, won’t play. He will be replaced by Tomas Kopecky (pictured above), though Coach Joel Quenneville said he expects Ladd to return sometime during the finals.

Quenneville wouldn’t say who Kopecky’s linemates will be but Kopecky practiced with Kris Versteeg and Dave Bolland the last few days. Quenneville said Kopecky “has got some patience. Sees the play, sees the ice. He can check as well. That whole group has been pretty effective.”

Ladd was a presence around the net, and he might be missed.

“Laddie is a big loss for us,” Bolland said, adding that Kopecky seemed to be eager to get a chance after being scratched the previous five games. “To be back in the finals to play he’s got to be really excited. It should be good tonight,” Bolland said.”

For the Flyers, goaltender Brian Boucher will dress as the backup to Michael Leighton, the first time Boucher will be in uniform since he suffered a knee injury during Game 5 of Philadelphia’s second-round comeback victory over Boston. He compiled a 1.59 goals-against average and .940 save percentage in the Flyers’ first-round upset of New Jersey, tops among all goalies in the first round.

“We were a seventh seed in the East but I think we all feel we’re a better team than that,” Boucher said. “We all kind of stumbled around there for a while and lost our way but we know deep down inside we’re a good hockey team when we play to our capabilities.”

Their capabilities increased when Peter Laviolette replaced John Stevens as coach in December, though it took a while for the Flyers to adjust to the strategical changes.

“It takes time to learn the system. It’s one of those things where if you’re thinking out there it’s not a good thing,” Boucher said. “I think at times there was some thinking going on at the start as to where guys should be. Now I think it’s just second nature. They know the system. We’re an in-your-face type of team and when we’re playing that way and skating, we’re a pretty good team.”

Their system, he said, minimizes the dangerous shots the Flyers’ goalies must face. The Flyers have faced an average of 28 shots a game in 17 games; the Blackhawks have faced an average of 29 over 16 games.

“When the system’s played to a tee they don’t get very much. They certainly don’t get much off the rush,” Boucher said of the Flyers’ opponents. “If the guys are in good position, the forwards do their job up ice, it’s really a three-on-three most of the time. As a goaltender that’s a great situation.”

Time flies ... or does it?

With so much time between games -- the Flyers clinched the East last Monday and the Blackhawks won the West last Sunday -- both teams have had plenty of time to prepare for this momentous occasion.
Laviolette said that in a team meeting before Game 5 against Montreal he told players they had been getting ready for this moment for the last 10 or 11 months only to be reminded that wasn’t true for everyone.

“Ian Laperriere corrected me and said, ‘I’ve been preparing 15 years for this,’ " Laviolette said. “Guys are ready for this.”

Laperriere, the scrappy and likable former King, was so animated Saturday morning he said he doubted he’d be able to take a pregame nap. “I’ve been preparing for this all my life,” he said. “I want to make the best out of it.

“I’m 100% sure if you dream about making money and being a player you’ll never make it. If you dream about winning and making money and make it to the NHL money will come with it no matter what. You’ve got to care about the game more than anything else.”

More later at www.latimes.com/sports

Helene Elliott, reporting from Chicago

Photo credit: Rich Lam / Getty Images

 
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