CHICAGO – Given the way this final has gone so far and the way the Chicago Blackhawks have played on the road these playoffs, the guy who engraves the Stanley Cup might want to start brushing up on his spellings of Hjalmarsson and Byfuglien.
Since losing Game 3 way back in the first round against Nashville, the Blackhawks have rolled to a 7-0 record on the road since then and have outscored their poor, pitiful opponents by a 31-13 margin. It’s against this backdrop the Blackhawks go into Philadelphia just two wins away from winning their first Stanley Cup in 49 years.
And they will win it – and do so quickly and easily – if they continue to be just a little bit better and make slightly fewer mistakes than the Philadelphia Flyers. Game 2 could not have been more different than Game 1, but the result was the same and the difference came down to enormous blunders by Flyers coach Peter Laviolette and goalie Michael Leighton.
After playing his Nos. 5 and 6 defensemen a total of just 7:44 of ice time in Game 1, Laviolette gave Lukas Krajicek and Oskars Bartulis a combined 21:54 in Game 2. Even more inexplicably, he had the two of them out on a faceoff in the Flyers own end against the Blackhawks’ most dangerous line from Game 1. Predictably, the two defensemen couldn’t contain Marian Hossa and Troy Brouwer in front of the net and the Hawks scored.
Then 28 seconds later, Leighton gave up another glove-high goal to Ben Eager – it’s Ben Eager people – and was down on his knees even before the puck left Eager’s stick. In what turned out to be a fortuitous turn of events for the Hawks, Eager took Patrick Kane’s spot on the top line because Kane had been caught out on a long shift just prior to that.
Leighton claimed Matt Carle screened him on the play, but he simply has to stop that shot.
“I didn’t see (Eager) release the puck,” Leighton said. “Obviously I saw it when it went through my D-man. I’m not saying he’s an Alex Ovechkin, but that’s how he scores a lot of his goals. He drags it and uses the ‘D’ as a screen.”
The Flyers should be very, very afraid when their goaltender is comparing Ben Eager to Alex Ovechkin. They should also be worried about a couple of other things. One, that they ramped up their play to a huge level and it still wasn’t enough. And, two, that the Blackhawks have had virtually no contribution from their top line and they’re still ahead 2-0 in the series.
(By the way, the Dustin Byfuglien-Chris Pronger duel is losing steam really fast, largely because Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews almost never have the puck on their sticks. Byfuglien can stand and camp out all game in front of the Flyers net, but it won’t mean jack-squat unless Kane and Toews can start getting the puck into that area.)
For the Flyers to have a chance of getting back in the series, they’ll need all the Kate Smith inspiration they can get back home. (Just a quick query: If she’s such a great good-luck charm, why is it the Flyers haven’t won the Cup in 35 years?) Perhaps then they’ll be able to play the way they played in the third period for an entire 60 minutes. The Flyers had just three shots in the first period and 13 through the first half of the game, but came out like crazed beasts in the third period.
“We all talked about tightening up defensively,” Daniel Briere said, “but that doesn’t mean no forecheck and no offense. I thought we sat back way too much.”
And it’s looking very much as though three times is the charm for Hossa. It has been well documented his teams have failed in the past two finals and that he was close to invisible in both series. But he has been the best all-round Blackhawk at both ends of the ice in the final and was rewarded with his first goal in eight playoff games and his first in the same number of Stanley Cup final games.
“It’s great,” said linemate Patrick Sharp. “At least he won’t have to answer those questions anymore. He has been great for us.”
Flyers defenseman Chris Pronger and Eager had an interesting set-to after the game, with Pronger picking up the puck and refusing to give it to Eager. The two exchanged words, then Pronger threw a towel at Eager.
When asked about the verbal exchange, Pronger said, “I don’t know what he was saying. I don’t speak gibberish.”
THN Puck Panel: What can the Flyers do to get back in the series?
PRODUCER: Ted Cooper
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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