CHICAGO – The Chicago Blackhawks pushed around Chris Pronger and the Philadelphia Flyers. Now, they’re on the verge of knocking them out, altogether.
Dustin Byfuglien had two goals and two assists to go with a big hit on Pronger, and the Chicago Blackhawks beat the Flyers 7-4 in Game 5 to take a 3-2 lead in the Stanley Cup finals.
That puts the Blackhawks one win away from their first championship since 1961 and Philadelphia in another tough spot heading into Game 6 at the Wachovia Center.
The way the Flyers see it, what’s one more?
“We haven’t made it easy all year long,” Pronger said. “We’ve played pretty well when we’ve been called upon to come up with a big game or a big win—no bigger than Wednesday night. So we’ll see.”
They endured a coaching change, key injuries and had to win the final regular-season game just to make the playoffs. If that wasn’t enough, there was a historic comeback against Boston in the second round, when they trailed 3-0 in the series and 3-0 in Game 7, only to become the third team to pull it out after dropping the first three games.
And after a five-game win over Montreal, they tied this series at home after dropping the first two games at the United Center.
“I don’t know why we wouldn’t have confidence,” said Brian Boucher, who replaced Michael Leighton in goal at the start of the second period. “We’ve had our backs against the wall for 2½ months.”
The 257-pound Byfuglien, who had eight goals in the first three rounds of the playoffs but none in the first four games against a tough defence, had a power-play goal in the second period with Pronger in the box and added an empty netter in the closing seconds.
“I was focused, ready,” Byfuglien said. “I knew what I had to do. Just stuck to my game plan and never got away from it.”
The Blackhawks also got goals from Brent Seabrook, Dave Bolland and Kris Versteeg less than six minutes apart in the first period against Michael Leighton. He faced 13 shots in the first period, and Boucher didn’t fare much better, allowing three goals on 14 shots.
“This is the first 60-minute game we’ve played, and we’ve got to take these positives out and move forward,” Versteeg said. “Now we know what we can do when we’re playing hard and playing simple, and that’s what we need to do next game.”
The Flyers got on the board 32 seconds into the second period, after Ville Leino tried to push it in from the right side of the crease. Goalie Antti Niemi deflected the puck, which trickled between his pads, but Scott Hartnell knocked it in with no defender in sight.
The Blackhawks responded less then three minutes later when Andrew Ladd got stopped, got the puck back and delivered a crossing pass to Kane for his second goal of the series.
Flyers defenceman Kimmo Timonen scored from the left circle to make it 4-2 at the 4:38 mark, there was no big rally. No real drama.
The Blackhawks were in control, and never was that more apparent than when Byfuglien drove his shoulder into Pronger, knocking him off his feet and onto the ice.
Then, Pronger got called for hooking Kane at 15:18, and the sight of the six-foot-six defenceman in the penalty box drew a roar from the crowd, about as loud as the one Michael Jordan got a few minutes earlier when he was shown in a suite wearing a Jonathan Toews jersey.
With Pronger off the ice, Byfuglien set up in front of the net and scored off a feed from Toews for his first goal of the finals.
“I guess he’s well rested,” said Pronger, who was on the ice for the Blackhawks’ other goals.
Pronger had prevented Byfuglien from getting position in front and is a big reason why Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville dropped him and Kane from the top line to start Game 5.
After watching that unit combine for one goal and four assists in the first four games, Quenneville mixed things up. Tomas Kopecky and Marian Hossa were with Toews on the first line, Kane was on the second line alongside Andrew Ladd and Patrick Sharp, Byfuglien was on the third line with Versteeg and Bolland, and Ben Eager, John Madden and Troy Brouwer were on the fourth line.
Chicago was the aggressor from the start after getting pushed around in Philadelphia and is one win away from its first title since the Bobby Hull-Stan Mikita days.
“We’re just realizing that nothing’s won yet and we need one more win to do it,” Chicago’s Duncan Keith said.