PHILADELPHIA – The Philadelphia Flyers have been in this position many times, six of them in the past two months alone. But the Chicago Blackhawks have never been one game away from winning the Stanley Cup before.
If familiarity with the situation has any bearing on the result in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup final, the Flyers go into it with an advantage that goes beyond home ice. Starting with their shootout win in the last game of the regular season, they’ve stared down a screeching halt to their season five times before this game and prevailed in each one.
But these Blackhawks, as young as they are, are not exactly new to big-game experience themselves. They’ve been excellent on the road in these playoffs, have ample experience in closing teams out and have six players, including much of their leadership core, who played in either the gold or bronze medal game at the Olympics.
But when it comes down to one game in a series that has been as unpredictable and volatile as this one, perhaps Blackhawks center Patrick Sharp put it best.
“Who knows what’s going to happen?” Sharp said. “You can look at past records and how teams have fared in that situation, but we’re going to have to put the sticks on the ice and go at it and it’s going to be a close game, like everyone knows it is. It doesn’t matter if we’re 4-for-4 in elimination games or they’ve staved off a bunch of times, it’s going to be a good game out there any way you look at it.”
And it might just come down to this – the Flyers need much better goaltending than they’ve been getting to this point in the final and a more tangible contribution from the likes of Simon Gagne and Jeff Carter. The Blackhawks need to stick to the aggressive puck-pursuit approach that made them so successful in Game 5 after playing a mind-bogglingly passive game through the first four.
It also helps that the young Hawks, at least for public consumption, have managed to stay away from looking ahead to what might be. They had their final video game tournament of the season at the team hotel Tuesday night and anyone who even mentioned the Cup was put in his place.
“As we’ve gone through in these playoff rounds, I think the guys just welcome the next challenge and their focus and concentration always seems to be in the right place,” said Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville. “Looking and gauging everybody’s demeanor today, it seemed very reassuring.”
The Flyers, too, were a relatively loose group during the morning skate for a team on the cusp of such a big game. Neither Chris Pronger nor Mike Richards was on the ice for the skate and it was believed they weren’t even in the building. There was no sense of panic, though, among the players who were there.
“It’s the biggest game of the year for us,” Gagne said, “but it’s not like it’s the first time we’ve been facing this situation. We know what to expect.”
Although the Flyers seemed fatigued and unable to match the Blackhawks’ speed in Game 5 – and Pronger certainly began to look worn down after playing at least 27 minutes a game in the previous six playoff games going back to the Eastern Conference final – Flyers coach Peter Laviolette maintained his team has plenty of energy.
“I definitely think there’s enough to go two more,” Laviolette said. “We can go more if we had to. It’s not the position we want to be in…that’s just not the path we’ve taken this series. We find ourselves with our back against the wall. I believe that we are comfortable here.”
Ken Campbell is on the road following the Stanley Cup final and will be filing daily blogs until a champion is crowned.
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