Bob Ford: Flyers aren't necessarily finished
CHICAGO - Based on history, the Flyers have the Chicago Blackhawks right where they want them now. Of course, it depends on what history you choose to believe. Ask the Boston Bruins and the answer would be that the Flyers are never more dangerous than when cornered, which is precisely where they have put themselves in losing a pair of winnable games to begin the Stanley Cup Finals.
CHICAGO - Based on history, the Flyers have the Chicago Blackhawks right where they want them now.
Of course, it depends on what history you choose to believe. Ask the Boston Bruins and the answer would be that the Flyers are never more dangerous than when cornered, which is precisely where they have put themselves in losing a pair of winnable games to begin the Stanley Cup Finals.
Ask the Detroit Red Wings, who won the first two games at home in last year's Finals but lost the Cup to the Pittsburgh Penguins in seven games. They would say that winning the first two games is sometimes just enough to get you beaten.
Ask some old Blackhawks, in fact, the ones who took the first two games at home in 1971 in Chicago Stadium against the Montreal Canadians only to lose that series in seven games.
Unfortunately, the other lessons offered by hockey's history in this ultimate round aren't quite as comforting. Those come-from-ahead losses by the Red Wings and Blackhawks are the only times it has happened. In 31 of 33 Cup Finals, when the home team wins the first two, it wins the series.
The Flyers will shrug at that, and it isn't as daunting a statistic as it seems. In most of those cases, no doubt, a team took the two-games-to-none lead because it was far better than the opposition, and a comeback probably wasn't possible.
That isn't the case this time. The Flyers have played Chicago evenly in the first two games. In the opener, they were just a little sloppier than the Blackhawks, just a little too worried about putting Chicago on the power play. Monday night, they played nearly two full periods of tense, more aggressive hockey before allowing a couple of goals at the end of the period to see control of the game slide to the Blackhawks.
This series isn't over, even though the Flyers have put themselves in a very bad spot. They did get one piece of good news last night, one that could help extend the Finals.
Michael Leighton had a bad night in Game 1. He was pulled after giving up five goals and coach Peter Laviolette delayed before announcing his decision to stick with Leighton. If Leighton was going to continue to be that bad, nothing much else was going to matter.
But Leighton gave the Flyers one of their only bright spots on Monday night when he came back to have a very solid game. He controlled rebounds better, got himself in better position and even handled the puck a little better, which is not his strongest suit. The two goals he gave up at the end of the second period could have happened to the best of goalies.
On the first, he made a good reaction stop of a Troy Brouwer tip in front of the net after a slapshot from Patrick Sharp. The puck bounded out but there was no Flyer to clear, or, more critically, to keep Marian Hossa from sailing in from the right side to score the goal.
The second goal resulted from a turnover that left the Flyers badly out of shape and, after a quick pass from Dustin Byfuglien, put the puck on the stick of Ben Eager, with out-of-position forward Darroll Powe trying to play defense between Eager and the goal. He succeeded only in screening Leighton, who didn't get a good look at the quick poke shot until it was almost past him.
In the final period, the Flyers recognized their desperate position and put the pressure on Chicago in a furious period. They took 15 of the 19 shots in the period, with Simon Gagne scoring on a tumbling deflection early on in the period to make it a 2-1 game. Leighton was able to made the saves he needed to make, but that wasn't many.
At the other end of the ice, it was Antti Niemi of Chicago who was showing his own recovery from a sketchy opener. The Flyers peppered him with shots and were the far better team in the third period - just as they had been in the second period except on the scoreboard.
If they can bring half the energy to Game 3 on Wednesday night in the Wachovia Center that they brought to the wild final minutes of the game, including the nearly two minutes in which they walked the narrow ledge of playing with an empty net, then the Flyers aren't close to being done.
It won't be easy, but there is history on their side.
Not a lot, but some.