CHICAGO – One of the more interesting aspects of Game 1 of the Stanley Cup final was that despite the offensive fireworks, both teams experienced power outages from their most dynamic players.
Ten players scored goals in Game 1 and all told, those players averaged just fewer than 15 goals each this season. Meanwhile, the top players from both teams would have been silent had they not been so bad defensively. The Blackhawks top line of Jonathan Toews between Dustin Byfuglien and Patrick Kane had no points and was minus-9, while the Flyers top line of Mike Richards between Simon Gagne and Jeff Carter also posted a bagel and was minus-7.
“We haven’t had a game like that in a while…but I think the nerves are out for sure and we’ll put that game behind us,” Toews said Sunday. “We’re not going to let it make us worse or let it be a burden on our minds. We’ll go out there and play better, it’s as simple as that.”
In many ways, the Toews line in general – and Byfuglien in particular – was neutralized by the defensive play of Chris Pronger. The Richards line, meanwhile, was rendered impotent largely because of the checking of the Hawks third line of David Bolland between Tomas Kopecky and Kris Versteeg. Even worse, though, was the fact Richards’ line was outscored 3-0 by the line that was checking it. The Blackhawks depth allows them to win the battle of the lesser lights, so it’s imperative for the Flyers stars to step up in Game 2.
“I thought we had good looks, we just didn’t score,” Richards said. “We just didn’t score, we did everything but. So I think persistence is something we need to have as a line and not get discouraged by one or two bad bounces and just keep trying.”
Richards does have something of a point there. He, Carter and Gagne had a combined 10 shots in Game 1, which was twice as many as the Toews line.
And perhaps it’s not even fair to refer to Richards’ unit as the Flyers top line, since the trio of Daniel Briere between Scott Hartnell and Ville Leino has been much more productive. Each of the three scored a goal in the first game and it was a threat to score just about every time it was on the ice. Clearly, being moved back to center has brought out the best in Briere and he works well with Leino, who is strong on the puck and good at stripping it on the forecheck.
“Me and Ville, for some reason, seem to have found that chemistry as soon as we started playing together,” Briere said. “I like playing with him.”
The wildcard in all of this might be Byfuglien, a player who obviously finds it impossible to consistently play the dominating power game that has made his so effective at times in these playoffs. If he could play that way all the time, he’d be making $10 million a year. But going against Pronger is not an easy task.
“Against that line, you have to close quickly, you have to eliminate time and space and you have to try to deny them the puck,” Pronger said. “When you’re playing with it, it forces them out of their rhythm and forces them to play defense, which they obviously don’t want to do. I just tried to deny (Byfuglien) easy access to the front of the net. I think teams allowed him to just go and stand there. You have to force a guy like that to work. He’s a big guy, but he’s got to exert some energy and work to get into position. That tires guys out that aren’t used to it.”
People sometimes forget how young Kane and Toews are and that this is their first Stanley Cup final. The jitters might have played a factor and perhaps the two deserve a mulligan going into Game 2.
“We expect these guys to be a big part of our success and a big part of our team,” said Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville. “They’ve been there all year. I think the way they compete, they know how to play and what can make them better as well.”
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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