Blackhawks take game 5 as a decisive 7-4 victory; lead series 3-2
Sportscasters and hockey fans alike have wondered the same thing throughout the Stanley Cup Final round: would the real Chicago Blackhawks please stand up?
We've already seen the first four games, and the closest we've seen to "Blackhawks hockey" was game 2, a solid battle by both sides that was a tight 2-1 win at the UC and went scoreless for nearly two full periods before Marian hossa put the first one home.
After Chicago headed to Philadelphia with a 2-0 lead and then headed home with the series tied 2-2, the sports media shifted their focus heavily to the Philadelphia Flyers. After Chris Pronger's attitude and antics, the series was clearly being painted as the Chicago "good guys" against the Philadelphia "evil underdogs". Well, where would we be without hype?
While questionable or outright missing officiating has marked not only this series but throughout the playoffs, there's a lot of truth to the idea that champions win despite however the calls go. After last night's game, the penalty minutes have finally evened out at 46 apiece. (36 apiece if you drop the 10-minute majors given after the final horn to Pronger and Eager in game 2.)
No matter what, it is clear that the Blackhawks shelved games 1 through 4, readjusted their attitudes, slapped on the war paint, and came out flying in game 5.
To absolutely nobody's surprise, Coach Joel Quenneville shook up the lines on Sunday night. The lines that had worked such magic in Vancouver and San Jose were at a push for the first few lines. The only question people had was: what took him so long?
The starting top line on the ice was Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa and Tomas Kopecky. The three Olympians started strong from the puck drop, and the Blackhawks never let up in the first period. Toews led the way with confidence, Hossa was his normal beast self, and the whole team followed.
Patrick Kane dropped back to the second line with Andrew Ladd and Patrick Sharp; Dustin Byfuglien ended up on the third with Kris Versteeg and Dave Bolland. The shakeups did everybody good, and the players were practically vibrating with energy from the start.
The Blackhawks scored first at 12:17 (Seabrook), then again at 15:26 (Bolland) and again at 18:15 (Versteeg).
The Flyers pulled goalie Michael Leighton after the first period and put Brian Boucher in the pipes for the rest of the game.
There's a saying that the hardest lead to hold onto in hockey is being up 3, because the leading team tends to get comfortable. Scott Hartnell scored for the Flyers just 0:32 into the second; it was a puck that Blackhawks goaltender Antti Niemi must've thought that he had contained/stopped with his pads, but it popped out from beyond his foot. With no defenseman handy to knock it out of the way, it was an easy tap-in for Hartnell.
While the Blackhawks had dominantly owned the first period, the Flyers came out in the second looking desperate and playing hard. Although Patrick Kane put one in at 3:13 to make it 4-1, Kimmon Timonen got one in shortly after to make it 4-2.
A two-point spread was the closest the Flyers would get from there on out; and the game looked dangerously close to veering towards game 1 of the series. But Boucher ultimately did the same job as Leighton, also giving up 3 goals, and when the Flyers went to empty net with just over 2 minutes left on the clock, Dustin Byfuglien put his second goal of the night in, and that was all she wrote at 7-4.
- With the Flyers receiving 8 minutes in penalties and the Blackhawks receiving 6, the teams are now tied for penalty minutes in the series (36 minutes), not including the twin 10-minuute majors handed out to Pronger and Eager post-final-game-whistle at the end of game 2.
- Once again, surprise surprise, the officiating was spotty. At least one player on each team took a high stick to the face from the other team. The refs decided not to whistle the one from the Flyers that not only got Brian Campbell in the face but took him to the ice, but there didn't seem to be bleeding at the time; so perhaps that is why they didn't whistle when Duncan Keith's caught Danny Briere and caused bleeding. Bill McCreary and Dan O'Hallron were on as refs; Greg Devorski and Pierre Racicot were the linesmen. Interpret that as you will.
- The Flyers are clearly making a point of charging the net in an attempt to rattle Niemi. Scott Hartnell went barreling into Niemi's net in the second, and later in the game, a Flyer was rushing Niemi after a whistle when one of his defensemen intercepted, and there were a few pileups on or around the goalie. The Blackhawks are looking for this now, and the D-men were back on their game, so look for Philadelphia to get away with less of this behavior in game 6.
- There are those who would argue that perhaps Antti Niemi might be out of consideration for the Conn Smythe due to letting in so many goals this series (despite the wins). I want to remind people that the Conn Smythe is about MVP throughout the playoffs. If it wasn't for Niemi, there's a pretty good chance the Hawks would've been out of this quite some time ago. He has stolen some wins, including game 2 of this series. And even despite the high goal count this series, he certainly could've been a lot worse off in Philadelphia, considering the near-nonexistance of the D-crew in games 3 and 4. Sopel and Boynton were not pretty together on defense tonight (in either sense of the word), but the defense on Sunday in general looked a hell of a lot better than it did the last two games in Philadelphia. Now they just need to tighten up the cracks and stop letting Flyers stand wide-open by the net.
- Welcome back, Dustin Bufyglien. "Big Buff" had a stellar night, not just racking up 2 points, but adding 9 to his hit list, and getting 2 assists as well. Byfuglien was a man with a mission last night, and it was clear he'd had enough of being held on a leash by Pronger and the Flyers in general. His big hit on Chris Pronger was the highlight of the game for many (and has been already been put into the latest NHL "History will be made" spot), and he followed it up with another good check later. Heck, at one point he took out Flyer Kimmo Timonen and a ref, Dan O'Halloran. (I'm sure most people were wishing it'd been McCreary.) Hope we see exactly that same fire out of him on Wednesday.
One of the analysts after the game commented on the hits with, "Those hits on Pronger tonight... I've never seen Pronger hit like that, and I've been watching him play since he came into the NHL."
- Chris Pronger has played 1,272 games in his NHL career. Last night was his first -5 game ever. Couldn't have happened to a nicer guy. But seriously, Pronger tends to rebound like a cheap Vegas buffet, and expect him to come out like a mad dog in game 6. Expect the whole Flyers team to rally in a do-or-die situation.
- Although Leighton was pulled after just one period, I would not be surprised to see him back for game 6. In Chicago, Leighton has a 5.31 GAA and .831 save percentage. But at home, Leighton has a 2.86 GAA and .918 save percentage.
After the game, Chicago team captain Jonathan Toews said, "The line changes obviously looked like a good thing. But the number one thing was the way we played as a team. We all understand in our locker room it doesn't matter who you are playing with. You have to go out there and make a difference." (quote source: NHL)
The Hawks seem very aware of the point they stand upon. With a day off to rest and recoup today, expect them to go into Philadelphia locked, loaded and ready, with the full awareness that their performance will directly translate into whether or not they bring that bright, shiny, silver "one goal" home with them on the plane or have to wait for game 7.