With the first four games being split, it’s down to a best of three series; two games in Chicago, one game in Philly. Winner takes the Cup. The Flyers, assuming a home ice win, have only two chances to steal the series while in Chicago.
Their first chance was ruined by an embarrassing opening period that left them struggling, and ultimately failing, to climb out of a three goal hole.
The move to switch Chicago’s lines and split Kane and Toews was a successful one, as Patrick Kane played the right wing alongside Dustin Byfuglien and his new center Patrick Sharp.
Coming out with high energy, hitting the Flyers hard, Chicago was further jumpstarted by an early power play. Their offense was on fire, registering the game’s first seven scoring chances. Leighton held his foes off with some strong saves.
Following a power play during which Philadelphia nearly took the lead on more than one occasion, Scott Hartnell put the Hawks back on the man advantage with a high sticking penalty. Brent Seabrook let loose a shot off the inside of the leg of Chris Pronger, further deflected by Leighton’s pad, for Chicago’s first 5-on-4 point of the series.
Only a few minutes later, on a delayed call, an errant point shot was taken off the end boards by Dave Bolland behind the Flyers net and redirected into the skate of Leighton, sending it in behind him for the two goal lead.
Chicago wasn’t content with a two goal lead, wanting a three goal lead of their own, as the Flyers did for the first time in the series in the previous game. Kris Versteeg made it so as his cross-slot wrist shot beat Leighton stick side with only a couple of minutes remaining in the first period.
After such a disastrous twenty minutes of hockey, Laviolette shook his team up by starting Brian Boucher in the second. The response was there as the Briere, Leino, Hartnell line got on the board barely thirty seconds in when Leino threw the puck into the paddle of Niemi and Hartnell buried the rebound.
Unfortunately, Chicago was simply playing too well to allow them back into the game. They responded with a goal of their own. Following a flurry of chances for the Flyers checking line, Andrew Ladd broke in across the line with the puck, having his shot blocked by Pronger and landing right back on his stick. He fed a pass across to a streaking Patrick Kane for a tip in past Boucher.
Once again, Danny Briere’s line struck gold when he was able to set up behind the net before throwing it out front. Hartnell and Leino dug at it before Chicago defenseman Brian Campbell cleared it out, though it landed right on the stick of Kimmo Timonen for a shot to beat the diving defenders and a sprawling goaltender.
Perhaps foreshadowing his easy PP goal to come later that period, Dustin Byfuglien laid a nasty hit on Chris Pronger. For the first time this series, instead of being controlled by the 6’6” defensive ace, Byfuglien seemed in control of him. Pronger was a -5 by the end of the night, a horrendous rating for a team leader such as him.
Despite a pair of goals, the Flyers were unable to get any closer than they were at the end of the first, entering the final period with a 5-2 deficit.
Once again, the Flyers opened the scoring that frame when James van Riemsdyk created an offensive zone turnover, fed the puck to the point, and then put home the Lukas Krajicek rebound to shorten the gap between these playoff contenders.
Over the course of the next ten minutes, the Flyers had plenty of chances to pull within a goal. A missed call on a high sticking that left Danny Briere bleeding heavily would have helped, but they were still afforded a power play chance later on courtesy of a Versteeg slashing minor. Unfortunately they were once again unable to capitalize.
With just over five minutes left on the clock, two goals down, Mike Richards nearly halved the gap by putting a Timonen rebound over the glove of Niemi. The puck stayed out, as it seemed to be doing all night long.
Moments later, Pronger pinches at the blue line, leaving Arron Asham caught flat footed in his place. The two Patricks, Kane and Sharp, led a 3-on-1 break that culminated in a Sharp wrister past Brian Boucher to more or less put the game away.
Soon afterwards Ville Leino and Simon Gagne capitalized on the broken stick of Duncan Keith. Leino led a parade of struggling Hawks defenders through the slot before sliding the puck to Gagne for an easy one timer goal.
It was too little, too late, however, as Dustin Byfuglien picked up his second goal of the night on an empty net for a 7-4 finisher.
So while the Flyers played toe to toe with the Blackhawks for two periods, a pathetic effort in the first period left them too far gone to be saved.
Down 3-2 in a best of seven, the Flyers have their backs against the wall, the place where they have seemed to be most comfortable throughout these playoffs. They now need to win two consecutive games, one in Philadelphia, and Game 7 in Chicago.
KEYS TO THE GAME:
Dustin Byfuglien: From his opening shift, creating a turnover and nearly beating Leighton for a quick lead, to his last, when he buried a puck into the empty net to seal the win, the man they call “Buff” was in control of the Flyers. Chris Pronger seemed ineffective against him as he had his way with the rest of the team’s defensive squad, finding himself wide open in front of the goal on the second answer to Philadelphia’s scoring on Chicago’s 5th goal.
Special Teams: The key area for the Flyers, which they’ve dominated throughout the series, was turned against them. Until this game, the Flyers had only given up a single power play goal, one that came at a two man disadvantage. Philadelphia had managed at least one power play goal of their own in every game.
In this Game 5 loss, they were shutout on all three power plays afforded them while the Blackhawks capitalized on two of their four power play chances. This complete role reversal was the result of a much stronger game brought on by Chicago.
Line Switches: The breakup of Byfuglien, Kane, and Toews, sometimes completely removed from their original linemates, set up with two new players, played a major role in Chicago’s domination. Chris Pronger was matched up against Byfuglien, yet even that failed for the Flyers, as Pronger was beat up and further exhausted by the large, hard hitting forward. Kane and Toews, now freed up, were able to get more and more pucks on their sticks to create chances. Kane especially came through with a goal on the board.