If the funny little jokes about the Flyers having the Blackhawks “right where they want them” after falling down two games to none weren’t doing it for you, then take solace in the fact that now, the Flyers really DO have them right where they want them.
Each team made some slight changes to their lineup coming into this Game 4. For the Flyers, it meant bringing back James van Riemsdyk, a healthy scratch in the past two games. For the Blackhawks, Andrew Ladd returned after sustaining an injury in the fourth game of the Conference Finals. The Hawks also swapped out Jordan Hendry in favor of Nick Boynton on their third defensive pair.
Of these three, JVR was the only one to make a real positive difference on the ice.
A pair of early power play chances let the Flyers, who seemed to have a slow start, ease their way into the game. On the second chance, following a Tomas Kopecky high sticking in front of the Flyers goal, Mike Richards chased a defender behind the net right off the faceoff, lifting his stick and catching Niemi unprepared with a backhand through his five hole.
With the first goal of the series finally under his belt, the Flyers’ captain can hopefully break loose, allowing his no-quit mentality and constant confidence to bring him more goals in the next few games.
In a series where both teams’ top lines have been virtually shut out, victory will likely come to the team whose secondary scoring can keep them alive long enough for the top line to break through. And with the Flyers second line of Briere, Leino, and Hartnell, along with Claude Giroux, playing the way they have, a breakout by Richards, Carter, or Gagne could tip the series in Philadelphia’s favor.
Later in the period, van Riemsdyk took the puck around the net, sending it out front to Claude Giroux for a quick shot. With a rebound fluttering out into the high slot, Matt Carle swooped in and buried a shot for the Flyers first two goal lead of the series.
Chicago answered with a Patrick Sharp shot from the point that went in off the stick of Braydon Coburn as he tangled up with a Hawk forward in front.
Their lead now cut in half, the Flyers needed to maintain control of momentum going into the locker room, lest it lead to their collapse in the coming periods.
Knowing the situation, Scott Hartnell led a rush 1-on-2, opting to peel off along the boards and hit the trailer, Kimmo Timonen. A true talent at quarterback, with a vision for the ice, Kimmo spotted Claude Giroux, who made his way behind the goal mount, completely forgotten by Antti Niemi and his teammates. Niemi stepped up to the top of the crease to face the Timonen shot he anticipated, yet was handcuffed when the Finnish Olympian slid the puck to Giroux along the goal line, who had an easy slam dunk goal.
Throughout the second period, both teams exchanged control in the flow of play, with neither team able to pull ahead with another point on the board.
A few minutes beyond the midpoint of the period, Peter Laviolette’s team was afforded another power play. Smelling blood, and looking to put the game away with a fourth goal, the Philadelphia head coach pulled out his lone timeout to rest and prepare his forces. Unfortunately, an extremely aggressive Chicago penalty kill kept them from properly setting up.
Going into the final frame, the Flyers still sat on a 3-1 lead.
Early in the third, the Flyers were caught up heavily in a defensive game. They knew it wasn’t yet time to collapse back and fend off the assault, but they couldn’t break out of the rut.
Eventually, one of these defensive scrambles resulted in a blocked shot to spring Danny Briere and Ville Leino. Leino took the puck across the line, cutting to the middle behind a well timed pick, and letting loose a shot. A puck that would have gone high wide left took a strange carom off the back of a sprawling defender, fluttering high and over Niemi’s opposite shoulder for a 4-1 lead, the only three goal lead by either team in the series.
Having extended their lead to another level of comfort, the Flyers were more content to settle in defensively, and it was working like a charm. Unfortunately, a strange unsportsmanlike penalty against Scott Hartnell, followed by a holding call on Coburn left them stuck in a 5-on-3 disadvantage.
Seconds into the supercharged power play, Duncan Keith exchanged the puck with Patrick Kane in the high slot, ultimately throwing a slap pass in front for the tip in by Dave Bolland to pull back to a 4-2 deficit.
This was the first power play goal for the Blackhawks all series, coming on their 9th opportunity, and the first chance on the two man advantage.
A few minutes after that, with luck and momentum on their side, Brian Campbell threw a puck on net as Jonathan Toews crashed into Kimmo Timonen. A fortuitous bounce off the leg of Timonen and past Leighton made it a one goal game, 4-3.
In the closing moments of the game, the Hawks surged around the net with a handful of chances, but the Flyers continued to keep them on the outside. With Niemi resting on the bench in favor of the extra attacker, Jeff Carter stole the puck from Duncan Keith along the blue line, flying in on a breakaway for the icing on a 5-3 cake.
Sitting on a tied 2-2 series, things seem even. But the Flyers may yet have the upper hand. While each team has won two games, the Flyers are coming fresh off their two wins, entering an abbreviated series, Best of Three, with the home ice advantage lying with Chicago. If they can manage to carry that momentum forward and steal Game 5 in the United Center, they may just be able to come home with the Cup.
KEYS TO THE GAME:
Lavy’s Mind Games: Head coach Peter Laviolette seems like a sort of evil genius. He manages his team with near perfect disposition, choosing all the right words. Better yet, he’s found a way to manage his opponents and force them to play right into his hands. His press conference comments, hinting at flaws in the Hawk’s game that he plans on taking advantage of, are all part of a wild chess match of minds that he hopes will give his team the slight edge they’ll need to come out on top in this tight series.
Streak Killers: Harkening back to their sheer defiance in the Boston series, pulling the series right from the clutches of a near-victorious Bruins team, these 20 or so players not only refuse to respect any streaks or odds they’re faced with, they show up even more determined to throw it in their opponents’ faces.
Coming into Game 3, the Blackhawks were had won seven consecutive games on the road, and were one away from an NHL playoff record (not to mention burying the Flyers in a 3-0 series hole). Philadelphia spat in their faces with a crushing OT win. Antti Niemi had yet to lose back to back games, with a 4-0 record coming off losses this post season. The Flyers took it upon themselves to expose him for the rookie that he is.
Claude Giroux: After talking to his coach about “lightening up” going into Game 3, Giroux went from a -3 with no points in the opening pair of games to +4 with two goals, one the OT winner, and a pair of assists.
Chris Pronger: An obvious Conn Smythe candidate should the Flyers win this series, his constant ability to shut down opponents’ top scorers is second to none. In this game, Patrick Kane was a -4 on the evening, with Chris Pronger a +4. This difference is no coincidence, and he’ll continue this play throughout the series.