Nearly a week layoff. Anticipation. Fanfare. Media days. Not things hockey players are used to. It showed as each of these top tier teams came with a sloppy performance in Game 1 of these Stanley Cup Finals.
Neither goaltender, both riding a magical hot streak during their first trek through the playoffs, nor defense, both headlined by ace shutdown stars, were able to keep this game under control.
The Flyers were able to open the scoring as Ville Leino threw a puck on net, only to have to the rebound deflect from Antti Niemi’s blocker, into defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson, and across the goal line.
Unfortunately, as would be the case all night, the Blackhawks answered without much delay. Barely a minute later, Marian Hossa carried the puck around the top of the circle on the cycle and dropped it into the high slot for Troy Brouwer for a one time slapshot to beat Michael Leighton.
As the seconds waned on the Flyers second power play of the night, Blackhawks forward Dave Bolland stole the puck from Braydon Coburn to get loose on a breakaway. His shot found a way over the shoulder of Leighton for the 2-1 lead.
Philadelphia capitalized on their next power play as Chris Pronger, seconds after ringing a shot off the post, fired another one on Niemi. This time he stopped it and left a juicy rebound on the stick of Scott Hartnell, who tied the game at two goals a piece.
Danny Briere, the Flyers’ goal scoring star during this post season, found another one a half a minute to go in the opening period when he put home his own rebound to give the Flyers a 3-2 lead.
After an explosive first period like that, these teams had to settle into a rhythm and slow down the scoring, right? They would match the five goals scored in the first with another five during the second.
The next goal fell on Chicago’s side as former Flyer Patrick Sharp burst down the right wing and beat Leighton to knot the game back up. Fourth line checker Blair Betts topped him with a shot of his own past Niemi for his first of the playoffs to break the tie and put the Flyers back on top.
Once again, Chicago stepped up and retook control of the game, this time with two consecutive goals separated by about six minutes. Both were scored off a centering pass from behind the net, with the first off the stick of Kris Versteeg and the second coming from Troy Brouwer, his second of the night.
With their fifth goal on the board the Hawks had driven Michael Leighton from his crease. Coach Peter Laviolette saw fit to give him the hook and send in Brian Boucher, fresh off recovering from his tragic injury in Game 5 of the Conference Semifinals against Boston.
Not to be outdone, Philly found one more goal in them to tie the game at 5 going into the third. On a rush that included Arron Asham, Scott Hartnell, Danny Briere, and Matt Carle, Briere ultimately fed Arron Asham in the high slot for a well placed one timer past the pad of Niemi.
If the Flyers controlled the first, with the aid of their three power plays, then the Hawks were the team in the driver’s seat throughout the second. Going into the third, it seemed like anyone’s game.
Unfortunately for the orange and the black and their “Philly Phaithful”, it was the Hawk’s night last night.
Not quite halfway into the period, with the Flyers looking into the neutral zone on the breakout, the Blackhawks caught them off guard with a last second keep at the blue line by defenseman Brent Seabrook. This quick turnaround caught the Flyers off guard as Tomas Kopecky, in the lineup to replace the injured Andrew Ladd, held the puck until Brian Boucher came far enough out of his crease to easily slide it past him.
This costly miscue by Boucher left the Flyers with half a period to come back against a team that bottled up defensively. Perhaps the pressure was getting to them, as they strayed from their game and seemingly felt the need to get the goal back immediately, instead of waiting for the opportunity to come.
Philadelphia was held to their lowest period shot total of the night in the third, a measly six pucks finding their way to Antti Niemi.
Unable to come back and tie the game as they had in the previous two periods, the Flyers fell 6-5 in this series opener at Chicago.
KEYS TO THE GAME:
Top Line Shutdown: In a game with so much scoring, it seems shocking to see a scoresheet devoid of each team’s top lines. Not only were no points put up by either first line, they actually combined for a minus 17 on the night among the six of them. This is representative of each team’s top defenseman’s ability to keep these players in check, as Chris Pronger logged over 30 minutes once again, and the pair of Keith and Seabrook led their squad in ice time, staying busy all throughout the evening.
Briere / Leino / Hartnell: With first line scoring so non existent, it’s up to each team’s second, third, and even fourth lines to get the job done. Unfortunately for the Flyers, the second seemed to be the only one in sync, picking up three of their five goals. An area where nearly everyone gave the Blackhawks more credit was their scoring depth, and it showed, as the second and third lines showed a top line level of scoring production.
Solved Niemi: While a loss is a loss, there are some positives to draw from this game. The first and most important is that the Flyers were able to do something that the Hawk’s previous opponents, the San Jose Sharks, were unable to do: score on Niemi. His unorthodox saves kept them at bay, never giving up more than two goals in a game that series. But with five tonight, the Flyers have proven they can get pucks past their opponent, now they only need to focus on their own end.