Friday, June 4, 2010

Flyers Lose Another Close Game, Chicago Goes Up 2-0 in Finals

By: Tim Brennan

Prior to this series, plenty of hockey experts were going on and on about how great each team was defensively and that the puck can't find its way past either of these goaltenders. They couldn't have been anymore wrong as Game 1 was a disaster for both defenses and turned into an offensive showcase. As evidence to the terrible defensive effort by the Flyers, all six defenders combined for a minus 4 rating compared to Chicago's plus 4 rating. The goaltenders didn't fare any better than the defense, allowing a combined 9 goals on 64 shots and also saw playoff hero Michael Leighton get pulled halfway through the contest. Both teams were going to look for a better defensive effort for Game 2.

In a surprise move, Flyers head coach Peter Laviolette replaced rookie forward James van Riemsdyk with pest Dan Carcillo. Apparently Philadelphia needed an edge according to the coach so that change was made. Also imcompetent defender Ryan Parent was taken out of the lineup in favor of Oskars Bartulis. By the end of the night, Game 2 turned out to be the polar opposite of Game 1.

After only 4 penalties committed in Game 1, the first period of Game 2 saw five players enter the box, including Dan Carcillo. Prior to the game, NBC's coverage focused much of it's pre-game to the return of Carcillo and described the agitator as a game changer and a huge impact on this series. The Stache definently made an impact alright. Not only did he pick up a bad penalty by putting Tomas Kopecky in a head-lock, but on a hit attempt earlier in the period almost knocked out teammate Jeff Carter. Carcillo is a liability and this move made absolutely no sense from a viewers standpoint because van Riemsdyk had finally got into a groove near the end of the Bruins series and geled well with Claude Giroux and Arron Asham.

The first stanza couldn't have been any more frantic for Philadelphia as the Blackhawks controlled the period from start to finish. Chciago outshot the Flyers 9 to 3 and Philadelphia's defense was having a difficult time containing the Blackhawks speed and agility. The Flyers also looked like a shell of themselves as Chicago came out banging bodies and took every chance they could to abuse the Flyers. Another problem for the Flyers was their breakout. The defense didn't bother to look up to and pass it to the forwards but intstead would chip the puck out of the zone, practically giving it right to the Blackhawks every time. The few opportunities that Philadelphia got it out of their zone and could get some scoring chances, more times than not they opted to try and pass through 3 players instead of shooting, leading to such a low shot count.

The pace settled down in the second with both teams adopting a defensive style by stifling the opposition in the neutral zone. Even with this mindset, the teams combined for 28 shots for the period. Antti Niemi came up some big saves, one on a breakaway by Mike Richards and the other on a one timer from Arron Asham, which turned out to be a game changing save.

Shortly after Niemi's goaltending display, the Blackhawks worked the puck around in the offensive zone, creating a opportunity for Marian Hossa to get the game's first goal. Each of the Blackhawks on the ice were a pivotal part of the play as all five touched the puck and Hossa buried it past Leighton, picking up a rebound from Patrick Sharp's shot in the high slot. The Blackhawks didn't waste a minute adding to their lead when Ben Eager fired a shot over Leighton's glove hand to make it 2-0 with 2 minutes and change remaining in the second period. The fourth liner used defenseman Matt Carle to screen the shot so that Leighton wouldn't expect it. The shot was eerily similar to Patrick Sharp's goal in Game 1 when he barreled down the same side and fired it in the same exact area past Leighton.

For the third period, Philadelphia needed to come out with plenty of urgency and throw pucks to the net so as to avoid a two game deficit in the series. They answered the call in the early stages of the third as Simon Gagne got on the board with a powerplay marker keeping the game close. Chris Pronger pinched in and sent the puck to Jeff Carter who rimmed it around the boards to Mike Richards. Richards carried up the wall until he found Gagne in the high slot and Gagne blasted one that appeared to hit the Blackhawks defender and in. Once they capitalized on the extra man advantage, the Flyers barraged Niemi the rest of the night, pouring on 15 shots but ultimately ran out of time to get something past the Blackhawks netminder.

Niemi made 33 saves to give Chicago a 2 game series lead and was by far the player of the game. The Flyers threw everything they could towards the net, but Niemi covered every puck and didn't allow any rebounds. The lack of net presence contributed to Niemi being able to swallow up puck without any difficulty. The scouting report on Chicago's 2008 free agent signee is that although not a tall goaltender, Niemi makes up for that by playing wide in the net, which in other words means that he can cover the majority of the net and is incredible down low. There's a reason why Niemi de-throned Cristobal Huet to become Chicago's number 1 in net and some of that comes from the solid play he's been providing this post season.

In Game 3, look for Philadelphia to get in front of Niemi to rattle his cage and also keep tabs on the impact of each team's top line because it looks like they may break free and cause some damage in this series.

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