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Blackhawks push Flyers to brink of elimination

CHICAGO - For the first time since the Flyers and Blackhawks squared off, the Stanley Cup will be in the building Wednesday night at the Wachovia Center.

Michael Leighton struggled against a surging Blackhawks offense. (Yong Kim/Staff Photographer)
Michael Leighton struggled against a surging Blackhawks offense. (Yong Kim/Staff Photographer)Read more

CHICAGO - For the first time since the Flyers and Blackhawks squared off, the Stanley Cup will be in the building Wednesday night at the Wachovia Center.

For the 94th time, the Stanley Cup, made of silver and nickel alloy, will be pulled out of its hallowed case, to be polished and cleaned - by a man wearing white gloves - and on display for television cameras.

Wednesday night, the Flyers will have exactly 60 minutes to decide whether the Cup will be repacked in its case and delicately shipped back to Chicago for Game 7.

Last night, it took the Blackhawks just 20 minutes to decide the victor in Game 5.

Fueled by line and lineup changes, the Blackhawks scored three times in the first period alone and rolled to a 7-4 victory in front of 22,305 boisterous fans at the United Center. With the win, Chicago earned a 3-2 series lead in the best-of-seven Stanley Cup finals, inching one game closer to clinching the Cup for the first time in 49 years.

In franchise history, the Flyers are just 2-13 in a series when trailing three games to two.

For the first time since their second-round series with the Bruins - in which they staved off four straight elimination attempts - the Flyers will face the prospect of their season ending Wednesday night at the Wachovia Center.

Including their elimination game against the Rangers in game No. 82, way back on April 11, Game 6 will be the Flyers' sixth elimination game this season. They will have to hold off Chicago two more times in order to be the NHL's last team standing on Friday night.

The Flyers didn't start out like they would be the last team standing last night, coughing up pucks and passes from the first faceoff.

Ville Leino chalked that up to the Flyers being nervous.

"I don't know if we were nervous, or if we were thinking it was a big game," Leino said. "I think we were ready but we were a little too ready. I think we were a little nervous. Nobody wanted the puck. We didn't make plays, we were just giving it to then."

Chicago's offensive pressure was almost unbearable for the Flyers, who struggled to get the puck out of their zone often in the first period. That left Michael Leighton to make big saves. Leighton did that the first 12 minutes before cracking when Brent Seabrook bounced a power-play point shot off Chris Pronger's stick and into the net, giving the Blackhawks a 1-0 lead.

"We survived the first 6 or 7 minutes and they didn't score," coach Peter Laviolette said. "I thought that was the worst of it. Then they capitalized on some opportunities."

Dave Bolland followed Seabrook's lead and doubled Chicago's edge when he banked a shot from behind the net off Leighton's skate and into the net. Bolland's goal came just 3:09 after Seabrook broke the seal.

And it got worse in a hurry. The Flyers managed just seven shots in the first period and spent most of it pinned in their own end, thanks to turnovers.

"It was just one of those games," Mike Richards said. "They capitalized on every chance. We just came out slow. We gave them a lot of looks and they scored on every one. That's just us leaving a goalie out to dry."

Kris Versteeg dried out Leighton even more when his wrist shot from the half boards cleanly hit the twine with 1:45 to play in the period. That was Chicago's third goal on 13 shots.

And that's all Laviolette needed to see. For the second time in the series - and the second time at the United Center - Brian Boucher was summoned from the bench to start the second period in net.

Despite help from Scott Hartnell, who whacked in a loose puck off a Leino shot just 32 seconds into the second frame, Boucher wasn't much better.

It took Chicago's stars just two attempts to solve Boucher. Andrew Ladd's shot attempt ricocheted back to him off Pronger's shin pad and he pushed the puck to a streaking Patrick Kane to his left. Kane put it in the empty net behind Boucher to give Chicago a 4-1 lead less than 3 minutes after it looked like the Flyers would make it interesting.

It really looked interesting when Kimmo Timonen blasted a shot top shelf on Antti Niemi just 1:25 later to cut the deficit to two again. Danny Briere and Leino dominated the Blackhawks below the goal line before a rebound squirted out to Timonen.

But a two-goal deficit was as close as the Flyers could get. Chicago brought the house - and the Flyers came up small.

"Everything just seemed just a little bit off tonight," Laviolette said. "They had a bit more jump than we did. They were moving the puck a little bit crisper."

Dustin Byfuglien scored his first goal of the series from his home - in front of Boucher - on the power play with 4:15 left in the second period, and it was 5-2 after 40 minutes. Chicago's power play was 2-for-4 in the game; the Flyers were 0-for-3.

Rookie James van Riemsdyk cut it to 5-3 when his put-back off a Lukas Krajicek shot hit the back of the net 6:36 into the third period. Despite a furious rally - and a few attempts on the power play - the Flyers couldn't get within serious striking distance like Chicago did in Game 4, when it erased a serious deficit.

It looked like Patrick Sharp iced the game when he made it 6-3 with 3:52 left, but Leino surgically sliced through Chicago's defense and found Simon Gagne wide open on the backdoor. Gagne's goal made it 6-4 with 2:36 remaining.

Just a few seconds later, however, Byfuglien hit the empty net with 2:05 left.

Last year, Pittsburgh erased a 2-0 deficit, clawed back to make it 2-2, lost Game 5 in Detroit, then won the next two games to win the Cup. The Flyers have one more test, one more opportunity to claw their way back into the series.

"It's one thing I've learned along the way about the playoffs: One game is only one game," Laviolette said. "There's usually not a lot of carryover effect from game to game. This is just one page of the story. [Last night] it was their page."

Whether the Flyers can put the Cup back in its case is the question that will decide whether there is another chapter in this page-turner.

For more news and analysis, read Frank Seravalli's blog, Frequent Flyers, at