Flyers take must-win in dramatic OT

By JAY BOEHMER
Staff Writer — jboehmer@highhopesblog.com
_______

The Wachovia Center was rocking last night as the largest hockey crowd in Pennsylvania history cheered on the Orange and Black. (Steven M. Falk/ Philly.com)

Things were starting to look grim.  The Flyers dropped two straight games despite their best efforts.  They had a chance to steal Game 1, and failed.  They outplayed the Hawks for the majority of Game 2, and still lost.  Seems like the Blackhawks were going to win no matter what the Flyers did (just ask the San Jose Sharks).

Philadelphia: 7-1 at home; Chicago: 7-1 on the road.  Who was going to give?

The Flyers took the opportunity to show the Blackhawks what they’re made of and make a real series out of this Stanley Cup Final matchup in this dramatic 4-3 overtime win.

Both teams were evenly matched in the first period, with a fast, run and gun pace.  Stretches without a whistle, some up to four minutes in length, made matching lines on the fly the focus of the period.  Shifts were short as each time kept their players rotating in and out, staying fresh.

The move to a new arena, with a new team directing line changes with their last change at every stoppage, it took both teams a little while to settle into the game before everyone rolled at a steady pace.

On Philadelphia’s first power play of the night, courtesy of a Marian Hossa slashing call, a one timer from Braydon Coburn along the top of the circle left a rebound that Scott Hartnell, falling to the ice, threw behind his back to Danny Briere for a slam dunk to open the scoring.

The Flyers started the second on a power play following Dustin Byfuglien’s scrum as the previous period came to a close.  There were a flurry of chances, several nearly going in, but Antti Niemi held them off.  As Mike Richards flung a one timer over the crossbar on a near-empty net, the puck rang around the boards and out of the zone.

The Blackhawks took that puck up, set themselves in on a cycle, and Patrick Kane found Dustin Keith at the point for a shot off the stick of Jeff Carter and over the shoulder of Michael Leighton for a tie game.

Later in the period, Chris Pronger drew a slashing call on Dustin Byfuglien in front of the Flyers’ net for the second power play chance of the evening.

Giroux, set up along the half boards, sent the puck to Chris Pronger for a wrist shot deflected off the stick of Scott Hartnell and through the five hole of Niemi.

The Hawks defender pulled the puck back as it crossed the line, leading to the play continuing for more than a minute, with scoring chances going both ways, before an icing call stopped play to look at the replay.  With the puck on its thinnest edge, it barely found its way across the goal line and Philadelphia took a 2-1 lead.

Unfortunately, Chicago answered once again.  While the Flyers dominated them in the faceoff circle throughout the game, John Madden won one cleanly back to Brent Sopel at the point, whose blast of a shot found its way past Leighton to send the game into the third tied at two goals apiece.

Early in the third, with Braydon Coburn caught pinching in the offensive zone, Patrick Kane received a feed from partner in crime Jonathan Toews for a breakaway goal and his teams first lead of the game.

The Flyers took it away from them almost immediately, with Claude Giroux throwing a puck towards the net, off a Chicago defenseman and into the pad of Niemi.  Ville Leino followed the play and buried the rebound.

After failing to get pucks to the net in the second period, with only a pair of shots in the final ten minutes, fortune smiled upon them as they did just that: threw pucks Niemi’s way.

Throughout the rest of the scoreless third period, Dan Carcillo didn’t play a single shift.  Instead, Ville Leino double shifted at nearly every opportunity, playing wing with both the 2nd and 3rd forward lines.  He and Claude Giroux showed a great level of chemistry.

Another notable Flyer stuck glued to the bench was Oskars Bartulis, whose ten minutes or so of ice time in Game 2 gave Chris Pronger some much needed rest.  This time around, he played only two and a half minutes, not seeing the ice from the second period on.

When the horn rang to signal the end of the first sixty minutes of play, it became apparent that one of these players, none of whom had scored a Cup Final OT goal, would leave the arena with a new and dramatic memory.

After an opening much in the Blackhawk’s favor, the Flyers got the puck in the zone for the first time as Simon Gagne ripped a shot off the far post.  The goal horn blared, the players celebrated.  But Antti Niemi and the Hawks weren’t so sure.

As the puck hit the post, it crossed the goal line into the glove of Niemi.  The real confusion begins when the whistle was never blown before Jeff Carter poked the puck past for what would have been a sure goal.  Unfortunately, with the goal horn causing play to stop, his tip in would not have counted.  And upon review, Gagne’s shot never crossed.  So the Flyers were left snake bitten, stuck playing in an overtime they should have won.

Instead of letting that play get them frustrated, the Flyers began buzzing like never before, with chances coming one after another.

In a play identical to Simon Gagne’s Game 4 OT winner against Boston, Claude Giroux tipped a Matt Carle slap pass through the legs of Niemi to win the game.

Just as they did in their regular season victory over the Hawks, the Flyers caught them in a lazy change.  Two Blackhawks were trailing behind at the far end of their bench while the other three were left to defend all five Flyers in vain.

Having outplayed their opponents for much of this series until this point, yet still trailing two games to one, the Flyers are in a similar situation as in their series against Boston.  Hopefully this time, since they turned it around before falling to the dreaded 3-0, their chance of surviving will be enough to bring home the Cup.

KEYS TO THE GAME:

 

Michael Leighton: He wasn’t forced to make too many spectacular saves throughout the first two periods, but when the Flyers were pressing and trying their best to win the game in the final period, his few saves kept them alive.  Leighton only faced four pucks in the final frame, but nearly all of them were high quality scoring chances that he fought off.  If he can get into a groove, he should have no trouble carrying the Flyers through their next few games.

Ville Leino: Playing with his line of Hartnell and Briere, Leino has picked up two goals and an assist so far in this series.  His play seems to be getting better every time he steps onto the ice.

His performance in this game was nothing short of incredible, as he spent the entire third period double shifting, playing with two lines in place of the benched Dan Carcillo.

Scott Hartnell: An amazing set of statistics show Hartnell’s impressive turnaround in this post season, following a season of mediocrity.  Prior to being sat in the most important moments of Game 3 against Boston, his stats were just as poor as his season had been:  0 goals, 2 assists, – 6, and a record of 4-4.

Fortunately for him and his teammates, who he has saved with some of his more opportune goals, his stats have turned around dramatically:  6 goals, 7 assists, + 7, and a record of 8-4.

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