CHICAGO – It was difficult to tell who won Game 1 of the Stanley Cup final when the teams returned to United Center one day later.
The Chicago Blackhawks were far from happy with their performance during a 6-5 victory while the Philadelphia Flyers had little trouble identifying positives in their game. In fact, Chicago felt a little like it had lost.
“We’re really unsatisfied with the way we’ve started this series,” Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews said Sunday. “Regardless of us being up 1-0, to us that means nothing. We can be much more desperate.”
Down the hallway, there seemed to be a much better feeling in the Flyers locker-room. They entered this series as considerable underdogs in the eyes of many and were encouraged after scoring five times in a tough building.
“We proved we belonged with them,” said Flyers forward Danny Briere.
The Flyers will turn back to Michael Leighton in goal for Game 2 on Monday night (CBC, 8 p.m. ET). Coach Peter Laviolette wouldn’t tip his hand when asked about his starter after Sunday’s practice but the team annouced his decision later in the evening.
Leighton was replaced by Brian Boucher in Game 1 after surrendering five goals on 20 shots. He’s shown the ability to bounce back before as one of his three shutouts in the Eastern Conference final against Montreal came directly on the heels of a 5-1 loss.
The 29-year-old journeyman reviewed tape with goalie coach Jeff Reese on Sunday morning and saw some positives in his Game 1 performance.
“I didn’t let any really bad goals in,” said Leighton. “That’s the way I look at it. I didn’t make some big saves, that’s pretty much what it came down to. Every good scoring chance they had, they scored.”
One thing both teams can agree on is that they’ll have to play better defensively. Neither was happy with the number of mistakes that were made in a surprisingly open first game.
The Flyers, in particular, will be looking to do a better job of containing a Blackhawks team that is capable of scoring no matter who is on the ice.
“We’ve got to tighten up,” said Flyers defenceman Matt Carle. “We can’t run-and-gun with these guys. That doesn’t bode well for us.”
Some of the lesser-known depth players had the best performances in the series opener—Troy Brouwer and David Bolland for Chicago and Scott Hartnell for Philadelphia.
Amazingly, neither team’s top line managed to get on the scoresheet in a game that featured 11 goals. Those six players were a combined minus-16.
Toews centres Chicago’s top unit with Patrick Kane and Dustin Byfuglien and says the group is anxious to atone for a bad night.
“There’s no time to waste this time of year,” he said. “This is the big show and you want to play your best hockey every shift.”
In many ways, the first game was an opportunity for two young teams to ease their way into the series and feel one another out. There weren’t very many heated moments or signs of hatred.
“I thought it was going to be more nasty than that,” said Bolland, the Blackhawks master agitator. “It was pretty calm. I don’t know what happened.”
Veteran Flyers defenceman Chris Pronger expects things to change now that both teams have gotten a taste of the Stanley Cup final.
“I think there’s no question it’s good to get a game under your belt,” he said. “(Now guys) understand the circus we’re in, and obviously the stakes of the games and the atmosphere of the crowd and all the rest of that. The first game is behind us.
“Everybody kind of knows what’s expected of them now.”
The teams used the day between Games 1 and 2 differently. The Flyers had a relaxed skate at United Center while Chicago coach Joel Quenneville decided not to hold a practice.
No player was more relaxed than Pronger, who demonstrated a sharp wit during an amusing give-and-take with reporters. He didn’t think it should come as a surprise that he and his teammates were so loose after a loss.
“Well the world is not ending and the sun came up today,” said Pronger. “It’s a long series. We’re looking at it as a long series. We played a decent game but not our game (Saturday), and I think we understand that. The mistakes that were made can be easily corrected, and that’s what we’re looking at.
“I don’t think anybody is hitting the panic button or rushing to do anything rash here.”