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John Smallwood: Now Blackhawks forced to regroup

IT'S SUCH a fine line. The truth is, you don't always have to be great to become a champion. You don't have to dominate.

Scott Hartnell's second-period chance was ruled a goal after a review. Hartnell also recorded an assist. (Michael Bryant / Staff Photographer)
Scott Hartnell's second-period chance was ruled a goal after a review. Hartnell also recorded an assist. (Michael Bryant / Staff Photographer)Read more

IT'S SUCH a fine line.

The truth is, you don't always have to be great to become a champion. You don't have to dominate.

All it really takes is that you play just a bit better than the other guy - convert one more opportunity here; make one more save there.

That's what the Chicago Blackhawks had done in these Stanley Cup finals.

They hadn't whipped the Flyers. They hadn't taken them behind the woodshed.

The fact that the first two games had been decided by one goal shows how close this had been on a play-by-play basis.

Still, the Blackhawks had been a little bit better for just long enough to win the first two games in this best-of-seven series.

Last night that changed.

In Game 3 at the Wachovia Center, it was the Flyers who did a little more, worked a little harder, created a few more opportunities.

And when Claude Giroux put the puck past Blackhawks goalie Antti Niemi 5:59 into overtime to give the Flyers a thrilling, 4-3 victory, this series started all over again.

Instead of a grabbing a commanding 3-0 series advantage, Chicago finds itself needing to recover from what had to be a deflating defeat that has the Flyers a home win away from tying this series at 2-2.

Well, they always say a series doesn't truly begin until somebody wins a road game, and despite the many twists and turns that have happened in the first three games, things have held to form.

Pressure is a funny thing, and until tomorrow night, we won't really know how this loss is going to affect the Blackhawks.

With a victory in Game 3, Chicago would have found itself on the verge of ending the longest active championship drought in the National Hockey League.

When a franchise has last lifted the Stanley Cup in 1961, the last thing the Blackhawks would have done had they won was concede that their thirst was about to be quenched.

But with the loss, and now with the Flyers having gained some momentum, you have to wonder if nearly a half-century of demons will start playing tricks on the Blackhawks' minds.

With Chicago being such a young team, it could be easy for a tough loss to mushroom into something a bit more serious.

The Hawks don't seem to be the type to shrink in the face of adversity, but when was the last time they've been tested?

Does it mean anything that the prodding of Flyers veteran defenseman Chris Pronger finally seem to get to Blackhawks forward Dustin Byfuglien?

Byfuglien isn't used to being pushed around the way Pronger, who can match his size and strength, has pushed him.

When Byfuglien intentionally broke Pronger's stick in the second period, he earned a slashing penalty that led to Scott Hartnell's power-play goal.

Byfuglien had also drawn a roughing penalty at the conclusion of the first period.

"We took a few penalties that we shouldn't have and that maybe cost us the game," Chicago captain Jonathan Toews said. "We don't want to be that team.

"We've said all along that we were going to be smart. We've seen other teams take stupid penalties against us. But we're not going to let them sucker us into playing like that."

This was a game Chicago could have won.

The Flyers led twice over the first two periods, but each time Chicago equalized.

And when Patrick Kane scored his first goal of the finals for Chicago, the state of Pennsylvania record hockey crowd of 20,297 went stone silent.

That was the type of moment that had made the difference in the first two games for Chicago.

But this time, the Flyers got back up off the mat.

A half-minute after Kane's score, the Flyers brought the crowd back to life when Ville Leino evened the score.

If Niemi was going to succumb to the pressure of his first playoffs, it would have been then, but the Blackhawks' young goalie survived an onslaught by the Flyers in the final 16 minutes.

He held up strong.

Chicago even got a first huge break in overtime when the Flyers had an apparent winning goal overturned on review.

A moment like that can have a devastating mental effect on a team, but the Flyers weren't fazed.

"We were pretty good at the start of the third when we scored," Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said. "Then they scored on the following shift.

"I think we lost momentum there right away. We didn't get a chance to take advantage of playing with the lead."

This time, for the first time in this series, the Flyers were a bit better at the right times.

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