Chicago's defensemen looked incredibly slow and surprisingly out of sync in the club's 102d game of the season. Meanwhile, Antti Niemi, brilliant through most of the playoffs, was far from the spectacular puck-stopper whose play helped fuel the Blackhawks' drive to the Stanley Cup Finals.
That combination against a hungrier and more aggressive Flyers squad spelled a 5-3 defeat for Chicago in Game 4 on Friday night at the Wachovia Center, and likely left coach Joel Quenneville searching for fixes on the plane trip back to the Windy City.
In the first period, Niemi let three of eight shots escape him and light the lamp. But he was not alone in blame. The Blackhawks allowed the Flyers to skate down loose pucks, stay too long in the offensive zone, and roam freely around the net.
On the Flyers' third goal, Claude Giroux, Game 3's overtime hero, was left all alone behind and to the right of Niemi. He accepted a nifty pass from Kimmo Timonen and easily stuffed home his 10th playoff goal.
Defensemen Niklas Hjalmarsson and Brent Sopel were on the ice for the first two goals. Sopel and Duncan Keith made up the last line in front of Niemi on Giroux's tally.
On the Flyers' first score, Mike Richards stripped Hjalmarsson behind the net and backhanded a shot past Niemi. Winger Tomas Kopecky had just gone off the ice for high-sticking Danny Briere in the back. The score gave the Flyers a 5-for-12 success rate on the power play in the series.
Chicago has struggled mightily in the power-play category. The Blackhawks were 0 for 8 in the series before Dave Bolland tipped home a Keith slap shot with 7 minutes, 59 seconds to play in the third period.
"A couple times, we turned some pucks over," defenseman Brian Campbell said before Game 4. "We need to take care of pucks a little more. We need more movement. We're standing still.
"I think if we involve some movement there and get some more pucks to the net and find ways to bang them home, we'll be on the positive side of that."
To win the now-deadlocked series, the Western Conference champions will almost certainly have to get more out of center Jonathan Toews. The NHL's leading playoff scorer, with 27 points, he has yet to score a goal and is minus-2.
His linemates, Patrick Kane (minus-3 Friday) and Dustin Byfuglien, have been quiet as well. Kane's lone goal came in Game 3. Byfuglien, held to one shot in the first two periods Friday, has only a Game 1 assist to his credit.
Patrick Sharp and Keith, who posted three assists and logged a team-high 23:26 of ice time, took six and five shots, respectively.
Blackhawks winger Andrew Ladd, scratched for the first three games because of an undisclosed upper-body injury, made his first appearance in the Finals. Just 36 seconds in, the 6-foot-2, 200-pounder was whistled for interference in front of the Chicago net.