After a strange series opener for both teams, with Chicago coming out on top, Philadelphia and Coach Peter Laviolette looked to make some adjustments.
Two major moves were made in regards to the Flyers lineup, with one meant to provide a more physical, and ultimately potent, offense; while the other patched some holes and forged a more balanced defensive squad.
Laviolette took James van Riemsdyk, Flyers 2007 draft pick (second overall behind Blackhawks star Patrick Kane), out of the lineup and replaced him, albeit indirectly, with Dan Carcillo, a healthy scratch since the return of Jeff Carter and Ian Laperriere. Carcillo brought a physical presence to the Flyers first line alongside Mike Richards and Jeff Carter. Not threatened by this seemingly softened scoring line sans Simon Gagne, Chicago held their top defensemen back, matching Keith and Seabrook against the Flyers second scoring line instead.
The second change, replacing Ryan Parent with Oskars Bartulis, out of the lineup since the series against the Devils, added some more reliable depth to the Flyers defense. Having a third pair able to play some solid minutes provides the top four, especially Chris Pronger, with a much needed rest, which lets them bring their best when it’s really necessary.
The first period started off fast and hard, with each team throwing the body at every opportunity. Dan Carcillo set the tone for both teams, flying into the corner at a Chicago defenseman mere seconds into the contest.
The Flyers were going toe to toe well with the Blackhawks throughout the first, matching bodies and scoring chances. It wasn’t until the Flyers found themselves on back to back penalty kills late in the period. Chicago was afforded their first power plays of the series, but was unable to capitalize in the face of a quality set of penalty killing forwards and strong saves by Michael Leighton.
After a high energy, high emotion opening frame, each team seemed to step onto the ice a little slower at the start of the second. This didn’t last long, though, and the pace ramped up as the Hawks took another man advantage on Mike Richards’ second penalty of the night.
The Flyers offense got back on their feet following the kill, including a stretch of more than 8 shots to Chicago’s 1 throughout the middle of the period. Unfortunately, Niemi came up huge with a series of sensational saves.
With about three minutes left in the period, former Flyer Patrick Sharp put a shot on net from the slot while teammates Troy Brouwer and Marian Hossa swarmed the net. After a bad bounce over the stick of defenseman Lukas Krajicek left the puck loose following his attempt to sweep it out of the crease, Marian Hossa stepped in and put the rebound up and over Michael Leighton.
Possibly shell shocked, Michael Leighton was beat again not even thirty seconds after the opening goal. A Flyers turnover set up tough guy Ben Eager cutting across the blue line and ripping a shot from the top of the circle through the screen of an unsuspecting Matt Carle and over the shoulder of an equally unsuspecting Leighton.
As the period came to a close, a desperate Flyers team showed signs of life, manufacturing scoring chances and even drawing a penalty.
In the third and final period, down two goals, the Flyers had their work cut out for them. But they stepped up their game as needed. Another penalty was drawn, and with a second remaining on the man advantage, Gagne fired a bouncing knuckle puck that hit the ice and flew over the shoulder of Antti Niemi to cut the deficit in half.
As the period continued, aside from a short stretch following a momentum draining TV timeout, the Flyers were nothing short of dominant. Nearly every shot, every chance, went their way.
No chance was closer than a moment where, a mere split second after the whistle as the referee lost sight of the puck, Danny Briere flipped a shot over an incapacitated Antti Niemi. Not a single person, from the goal judge to the refs to the players seemed to notice it. No one seemed to care. It was too late, the whistle was blown.
A microcosm of the period up until and following that chance, the Flyers came as close as a team can come to scoring without being rewarded.
Despite a last minute rush of shots, rebounds, and scrambling opportunities, the Hawks defenders and their netminder Niemi held on to a tenuous lead to take the 2-0 series lead.
The sentiment inside the Flyers locker room is one of hope, with every player looking to find a way to emulate that third period for all sixty minutes of their home opener in Game 3. Should they be able to do that, a win is certainly in order.
The Chicago Blackhawks are 7-1 on the road in these playoffs, while the Flyers are 7-1 at home. Who’s going to give? We’ll see on Wednesday.
KEYS TO THE GAME:
One Bounce Off: The Flyers find themselves in a familiar spot, down 2-0 in the series following one goal games whose decisions came down to a single (un)lucky bounce. They did it against Boston, yet failed to recover until Game 4 before their history-making comeback. The plan now is to win the next two at home, climb back to an even series, and steal at least one game in Chicago’s United Center.
Defensive Depth: Oskars Bartulis played ten minutes and four seconds longer than Ryan Parent did in Game 1. He blocked shots, interrupted plays, and stayed in position throughout. This allowed Chris Pronger a whole five minutes less than he played in the series opener, a much needed rest to keep him alive throughout this series.
Braydon Coburn also stepped up, playing easily his best game of the season, from October on through the playoffs. His sound positioning, large stature, and smooth skating kept his opponents at bay while he was able to turn that around and contribute to chances offensively as well.
Goaltending: With each team maintaining solid defense, trying their best to capitalize on the few chances granted to them. If one goalie makes a save that the other goalie doesn’t, his team has the clear advantage. Last night, Niemi found the puck into his glove when the Flyers needed it most, while Leighton didn’t have the same luck. This slim difference in puck stopping, whether it be “star power”, flexibility, or concentration, can spell doom for the team on the losing end.
If Michael Leighton isn’t able to step up, possibly having to steal a game from under the Hawks prying gloves, then he simply may not get his name engraved on that most holy of hockey trophies.