Saturday, June 5, 2010

Another Win on Home Ice Levels the Playing Field to Two Games Apiece

By: Tim Brennan

The Flyers needed to come away with a victory at the Wachovia Center so that this series would be even up heading back to Chicago. Philadelphia's willingness to do whatever it takes to win and never say die continued in this effort, as they came away with a 5-3 win. Sounds simple enough but the Flyers sure know how to make a game interesting.

The first line for the Flyers has struggled quite a bit during the Finals, with Simon Gagne picking up the only goal for this unit in Game 2. The three combined for 3 points and a dismal minus 14 rating through the first 3 games of the Stanley Cup Finals. So it was clear that this line needed to get going if they were going to make an impact at all. After causing a stir and not contributing anything for the cause, Dan Carcillo was sat in favor of James van Riemsdyk.

On the other side, Chicago went through a couple of changes as Andrew Ladd and Nick Boynton were inserted into the lineup for Adam Burish and Jordan Hendry. Coach Joel Quenneville decided to break up his two superstar players, Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, so as to steer away from the Pronger-Byfuglien matchup. The Blackhawks seem to be paying more attention to matchups than anything else in this series but it was about time this move came to fruition because Kane and Toews were being tightly defended and tattooed all over the ice by Pronger and partner Matt Carle.

The Flyers felt the impact of Andrew Ladd fresh off of an injured shoulder as the gritty forward took an early penalty for interference. The Flyers failed to capitalize on the ensuing powerplay but kept the hustle going and drew another penalty 4 minutes in for high sticking. Mike Richards' hard work paid off for Philadelphia as the captain's back hander gave the Flyers an early lead. The play occurred when Niklas Hjalmarsson attempted to clear the zone when Richards lifted his stick and in one motion wrapped around the net and whipped the puck towards the cage, going five hole on Niemi. Richards' first goal of the Finals sparked the crowd and elevated his teammates.

Even though Ladd's impact was negative for the Blackhawks, the Flyers made a smart decision in putting rookie James van Riemsdyk back in the lineup. JVR and Claude Giroux combined to stickhandle through and around Blackhawks players that led to Philly's second goal. The clinic by van Riemsdyk and Giroux led to a turn around shot from the latter that hit Hjalmarsson. Another attempt to throw the puck out of harms way turned ugly as Matt Carle intercepted and fired it into the vacant net. Carle's presence offensively has been enormous for the Flyers and it was only a matter of time before he put one in the net.

The scoring wasn't over for the first period however as former Flyer Patrick Sharp added his 2nd of the series and 9th of the playoffs with a little more than a minute and a half remaining. Another defenseman fell victim to a poor clearing attempt, in this case Braydon Coburn, when the puck hit a group of players near the blueline and slid to Sharp, who blasted a slapshot from the point that knuckled past Leighton. But once again, the Flyers would take control as Claude Giroux put the Flyers up by a deuce to end the period. Kimmo Timonen made the play happen when he showed confidence with the puck and waited for space to open up and fired a pass to an unmarked Giroux for a slam dunk.

The Blackhawks were obviously trying to pick a player to go after and frustrate. The player happened to be Ville Leino, who was crushed early in the first by Brian Campbell in a violent hit that looked similar to Campbell's hit on R.J. Umberger a few years back.

The second saw no change in the score but plenty of rubber getting thrown at the goaltenders. Leighton faced 13 shots to Niemi's 10 and both played stellar. One thing to bring up about the second was what could be the worst call made during the 2010 playoffs. Patrick Sharp was called for slashing and the replay of the so called "penalty" looked like Sharp just playing hockey. The announcers for Versus, Mike Emrick and Eddie Olczyk, were baffled by the call and were searching through everything to find it. The remaining refs should be the best in the game so how could there be a phantom call in such an important game?

Leino would have the last laugh in this one however as he notched was ended up being the game winner on a shot that bounced around like a ping pong ball. Leino cut towards the middle and used Boynton as a screen, firing it off him and Kris Versteeg past Niemi. Prior to this chance, Versteeg had an opportunity and waited to pull the trigger, resulting in a block and the puck going the other way.

A combination of bad penalties taken by Scott Hartnell and Braydon Coburn put Chicago back into the fold as they countered on a 5 on 3. Dave Bolland tallied when Duncan Keith fired a pass through the Flyers defenders right to Bolland at the side of the net, which was an easy tap in. Brian Campbell added to the score and narrowed it to just a one goal advantage for Philadelphia. Another strange goal in this game as Campbell's deflected off of Kimmo Timonen's stick, then the post to go past Leighton.

This situation has come up more than once this year when the Flyers have a comfortable lead and then sit back and the opposing team takes advantage to pull it even or win the game, a prime example being a home game against the Minnesota Wild on March 25 in which Philadelphia led 3-1 heading into the third and allowed two goals to bring it to overtime, where they eventually lost. The Blackhawks continued to pressure the Flyers and threw everything they could at the net. The momentum changer came with 2 minutes left when Michael Leighton came up with a huge save on a tip from Brent Seabrook in the slot. Leighton had two players in front of him and was still able to react and make the quick leg save before Mike Richards cleared it out. Jeff Carter sealed the Blackhawks fate in this one by getting the empty net goal.

Although the intensity picked up in this game, the Blackhawks haven't looked the same as they were in the beginning of the playoffs. The impact of Chris Pronger has been huge on messing up their game plan. The Blackhawks like to put traffic out in front of the opposing goaltender and Pronger hasn't allowed anyone to get close enough to create a screen. The Blackhawks also continue to struggle when the Flyers throw a lot of hits and were weakened and tired by the end of the game.

No comments:

Post a Comment