PHILADELPHIA – As the Stanley Cup final goes to a best-of-three, the Philadelphia Flyers are the team that is dictating the pace of the series.
Raise your hand if you’re surprised by that development. I know I am. Going into the final, the Chicago Blackhawks were 24 points better than the Flyers and were generally acknowledged to be more talented and deeper. It was assumed the Flyers would have to respond to what the Blackhawks threw at them, not the other way around.
The Flyers have managed to claw their way back in this series for two reasons. No. 1, that’s what they do. They seem to revel in digging themselves into seemingly insurmountable holes and emerging from them. No. 2, they are relentless in the way they are taking the pace of the game to the Blackhawks, evidenced by their 5-3 win in Game 4.
“I felt they were very frustrated tonight,” said Flyers center Danny Briere. “You know, a lot of cheapshots after whistles and stuff like that. It’s good to see for us. I hope it keeps going that way.”
If the Blackhawks don’t learn the age-old lesson that you can’t take boneheaded, retaliatory penalties, it will indeed keep going that way. Chicago took three penalties 200 feet from their own net and of the seven minor penalties they took in Game 4, six of them were stick fouls.
That tells you something.
“I thought we were generous in the first period on what we gave them as far as goals went,” said Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville. “We have to be smart and more composed in the discipline area as well. I think we have to be smart, disciplined and make them play defense.”
No kidding. The Flyers are getting away with a ton in this series and Chris Pronger is doing a great job of being the most sneaky-dirty guy in the league. And it’s clearly irking the Blackhawks, who don’t seem to accustomed to dealing with that. And in the NHL you can count on a number of things, one of which is that the retaliation is going to get called infinitely more than the original act.
And while pointing out the Blackhawks shortcomings in the final is tantamount to taking the low-hanging fruit, it’s probably time everyone acknowledged their opponent has been terrific. Had you said before the season that the Flyers and Blackhawks would be in the Stanley Cup final, that would have seemed reasonable. But after stumbling in the dark for six months, the Flyers are clearly showing why THN picked them to win the Stanley Cup in its 2009-10 Yearbook.
(By the way, let’s all just forget about the fact that we recanted it in our Playoff Preview. Hey, when we put that out, the Flyers weren’t even in a playoff position.)
The Blackhawks are clearly going to have to recapture their playoff mojo if they have designs on recapturing control of this series. They are clearly going to have to start playing with more of a sense of urgency. It would help if they could claim a little of the front of the net and the middle of the ice, something they’ll have to be mindful of doing as the series moves back to Chicago.
Hey, it could be worse. The league could have chosen to review the Brian Campbell hit on Ville Leino in the first period and suspended him for a blindside hit.
But knowing the league, it won’t. You’ll recall that back in March, the league passed a rule prohibiting, “a lateral, back-pressure or blindside hit to an opponent where the head is targeted and/or the principal point of contact.
Go back and look at Campbell’s hit and tell me it doesn’t meet that criteria. The fact that Leino has been a star of this series would have made it devastating to the Flyers had they lost him because of Campbell’s reckless play.
“I just had a hard hit,” Leino said. “It knocked the wind out of me a bit. Just a little treatment in the room. It’s not a big deal.”
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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