THE FLYERS wanted to get in Antti Niemi's kitchen. They wanted to harass the Chicago goaltender, make him more uncomfortable than a stranded motorist on the Schuylkill on a steamy summer day.
They sent everybody at the net. Even the guy sounding the horn at the Wachovia Center got involved.
The ploy eventually worked.
Claude Giroux redirected a Matt Carle slap pass at 5:59 into overtime that found its way past Niemi and gave the Flyers a 4-3 win. All of a sudden, we have a series; a very strange and already memorable series.
Niemi had more company in his crease last night and twice was bitten by a premature horn signaling a Flyers goal. But the horn doesn't count. It's the referees and replay officials who make the call.
"Yeah, it was annoying," said Chicago defenseman Brent Sopel, "but it's annoying any time the horn goes off; it means they scored, or might have scored. But we just had to play through it."
In the second period, a Scott Hartnell shot was ruled to have crossed the goal line - but only after officials reviewed a replay following nearly a minute-and-a-half of play. In overtime, a Simon Gagne chance was reviewed and correctly disallowed. Both times, the Wachovia Center crowd was sent into a premature frenzy.
Niemi, a playoff rookie this season, allowed four goals, but kept the Blackhawks in it. He made 28 saves on the night and turned away 14 of the Flyers' 15 attempts in a furious third period. Ville Leino scored Philadelphia's only goal of the period, helped by a fortuitous carom off Chicago defenseman Jordan Hendry.
"They crowded Antti a little more tonight," said defenseman Adam Burish, "but that's what you do at this time of the year."
The Blackhawks, who had a record-tying seven-game road playoff winning streak snapped, were again outplayed for most of the third period.
"We were pretty good at the start of the third when we scored," said coach Joel Quenneville. "Then they scored in the following shift. I think we lost a lot of momentum there right away. Didn't get a chance to take advantage of playing with the lead."
Hawks star Patrick Kane, tantalizingly wearing sweater No. 88, registered his first goal of these finals by scoring on a breakaway early in the third that put Chicago briefly ahead. Leino's goal 20 seconds later tied it back up and the nailbiting was in full force.
Kane, who assisted on Chicago's first goal, wears No. 88 because that's the year he was born and not to mock Flyers fans over the unfulfilled era of a certain former captain.
The message in the Blackhawks' locker room following the game was not about the disappointing loss or the missed opportunity to take a commanding 3-0 lead. The feeling was that they still are in control of the series.
"If before the series you guys said we'd be up 2-1 after three games, I would have said 'Sign me up. I'm in. We'll take that,' " Burish said. "We're still in a good spot."