CHICAGO - As expected, the Chicago Blackhawks shuffled their lines for Game 5 Sunday night, and the new-look lineup helped them build a 3-0 first-period lead at the roaring United Center.
All three of the Hawks' usual first-liners - center Jonathan Toews, right winger Patrick Kane, and left winger Dustin "Big Buff" Byfuglien - were on separate lines to start the game.
Kane said the moves gave the lines more balance and caused the Flyers to "make more decisions about who they have to try to play against."
The moves were made to keep Chris Pronger away from some of the Hawks' top scorers.
Pronger and defensive partner Matt Carle had dominated the line of Toews (minus-3 before Sunday), Kane (minus-6) and Byfuglien (minus-3). That line had combined for one goal and a minus-12 rating in the first four Finals games.
In the first period, Toews centered Tomas Kopecky and Marian Hossa; Patrick Sharp centered Andrew Ladd and Kane; and Dave Bolland centered Byfuglien and Kris Versteeg.
The Hawks got first-period goals from Brent Seabrook (power play), Bolland and Versteeg in a span of 5 minutes, 58 seconds late in the first period.
The line changes seemed to affect the massive Byfuglien the most. He had one assist total in the first four games but had a goal and two assists in the first two periods on Sunday. He added a second goal into an empty net in the third period.
That first-period meltdown nudged coach Peter Laviolette to insert backup goalie Brian Boucher to start the second period.
With about 13 minutes left in the third third period, Hossa left the game after he was hit by Kimmo Timonen, and Kane went back on Toews' line on his next shift.
Most of the attention has centered on Pronger, but defenseman
has excelled throughout the playoffs.
That's why Laviolette didn't seem concerned about the Hawks' line changes. He figured the Timonen-anchored second pairing, which included Braydon Coburn, was just as effective as his No. 1 unit.
"Kimmo has been excellent all year," Laviolette said before the game. "I've stated numerous times back in Philly that he plays the game every bit as good as Chris Pronger. Defensively, he's always in position. I think there's a different physical element when it comes to Chris' game as opposed to Kimmo's. But Kimmo is a good first-pass, always-in-position [player]. He can play against anybody's best players on any given night and be successful."
Timonen entered Sunday with nine points (all assists) in 21 playoff games and was plus-4. He scored a goal in the second period Sunday night and had an assist in the third.
Timonen was not on the ice for any of Chicago's even-strength goals in the first period. Pronger was on the ice for all three of the Hawks' first-period goals.
The fact that the Flyers entered Sunday night two wins away from the Stanley Cup had winger
"When you think by mid- to end week, there's going to be a champion, it kind of brings a smile to your face," Hartnell said after Sunday's morning skate. "It's a long road ahead. It's not going to be easy by any means, but we believe in this dressing room that we have the guys to do it, the system to do it, the work ethic to do it."
The Flyers were in a relaxed mood before Game 5. After the morning skate, they were playing something they call juice boy - think dodgeball with a soccer ball.
But the loose attitude didn't translate to inspired play in the opening period, when the Hawks outshot the Flyers, 13-7, and kept the puck in Philadelphia's end for most of the first 20 minutes.
In the previous 20 Finals that were tied at two games apiece, the club winning Game 5 won the Cup 14 times (70 percent). Here are the six teams that won the Cup after losing Game 5 and falling behind three games to two: Detroit in 1950, Toronto in 1964, Montreal in 1971, Colorado in 2001, Tampa Bay in 2004, and Pittsburgh last year. . . . The Flyers entered Sunday night with a 9-0 record in Games 4 through 7 in this year's playoffs. . . . There were a combined 29 goals scored in the first four games, the highest four-game Finals total since the Islanders and Minnesota North Stars combined for 36 goals in 1981. . . . Since the best-of-seven Finals were implemented in 1939, the home teams have won all seven games just three times: 1955 (Detroit-Montreal); 1965 (Montreal-Chicago); and 2003 (New Jersey-Anaheim). . . . After being a healthy scratch for two games, rookie
James van Riemsdyk
played for the second straight time Sunday night, and he scored a goal in the third period. "It's obviously always tough to sit, especially at this time of the year," van Riemsdyk said. "You want to do what you can to help the team and contribute, but it's your job to stay ready and try to make the most of the opportunity you get."