Chicago On Fire
CHICAGO - You didn't think the Flyers would make it easy on themselves, did you? They dropped a 7-4 decision to the Chicago Blackhawks on Sunday night at the frenzied United Center and fell behind in the best-of-seven Stanley Cup Finals, three games to two.
CHICAGO - You didn't think the Flyers would make it easy on themselves, did you?
They dropped a 7-4 decision to the Chicago Blackhawks on Sunday night at the frenzied United Center and fell behind in the best-of-seven Stanley Cup Finals, three games to two.
In other words, they have been pushed into a position - with no margin for error - where they seem to play their best.
"We've been good when our backs are against the wall," Flyers winger Ian Laperriere said. "That says a lot about the character in this room."
Game 6 is Wednesday night at the Wachovia Center, where the Blackhawks will try to wrap up their first Cup since 1961 - and the Flyers will attempt to force a winner-take-all Game 7 in Chicago on Friday.
Chicago, led by Dustin Byfuglien's two goals (including an empty-netter) and two assists, scored the most goals in the Finals since New Jersey netted seven in a 2000 win over Dallas.
Byfuglien, playing on a different line Sunday, had been dominated by defenseman Chris Pronger throughout the Finals. Pronger, the star of the series' first four games, was minus-5 on Sunday, and teammate Claude Giroux was minus-4.
"Our whole group needs to be better," coach Peter Laviolette said. "This is just one page of the story. Tonight was their page."
"We came out tentative, turned a lot of pucks over," center Mike Richards said. "I'm disappointed in everything not working. Seven goals is obviously a lot to give up. It's unfortunate, but we have an opportunity on home ice to bring it to seven."
For the Flyers, must-win situations aren't an albatross. They're a way of life.
They needed a victory on the last day of the regular season to qualify for the playoffs - and got it, winning in a dreaded shoot-out against the New York Rangers.
They needed four victories to overcome a 3-0 series deficit against Boston in the conference semifinals - and they did it with theatrics, rallying to win Game 7 after trailing, 3-0, in the first period.
So winning two straight against Chicago, they believe, isn't such a herculean feat.
Chicago, carrying momentum from its late surge in Game 4, scored three unanswered goals in the first period and never looked back.
The Flyers got to within 5-3 when rookie James van Riemsdyk scored on a deep rebound with 13 minutes, 24 seconds left in the third period. But they failed to convert on a power play that began with 9:22 remaining. The Flyers finished 0 for 3 on the power play, while Chicago was 2 for 4.
Chicago goalie Antti Niemi made a big stop on Richards to keep Chicago ahead by two goals with about five minutes left.
A little over a minute later, former Flyer Patrick Sharp iced the win by finishing off a 3-on-2 break by beating Brian Boucher - who replaced Michael Leighton after the first period - with 3:52 to play. That made it 6-3.
Simon Gagne, after taking a slick pass from Ville Leino, sliced it to 6-4 with 2:36 left.
Byfuglien closed the scoring with an empty-net goal with 2:05 to go.
It was the second home wild win for the Hawks in the series. They won the opener, 6-5.
Leino, who had three assists, said the Flyers were too ramped up for the game and "nervous."
"We got out-battled. They were quicker on the forecheck . . . and moved the puck crisper," said Laviolette, who was upset that Chicago did not get a penalty for an apparent high stick by Duncan Keith that bloodied Danny Briere's face in the third period. Briere later needed stitches to close the cut.
Before the game, struggling Chicago center Jonathan Toews said the Blackhawks needed to play with more urgency and dictate the pace.
That's just what the Blackhawks did as they built that big first-period lead.
"You don't play this far into the season for nothing. I think we can, as a team, dig a little deeper and find a little extra something," Toews said before the game. "We know as a team how good we are and we haven't reached that level yet. We only have three games left to do that, and so there is no more time left to waste."
The Hawks took a 1-0 lead on defenseman Brent Seabrook's power-play goal, a shot from the left circle that appeared to deflect off the skate of Pronger with 7:43 left in the first period,
In an attempt to get one of his top scorers away from Pronger, the Blackhawks split up their top line, putting Toews and wingers Patrick Kane (one goal, one assist) and Byfuglien on different units.
The move seemed to give the Hawks energy. They had the puck down the Flyers' end for most of the first period, outshot the Flyers, 13-7, and added goals by Bolland and Versteeg to take a 3-0 lead into the intermission.
With a delayed penalty called against the Flyers, Bolland beat Pronger to the puck as a shot went off the backboards - and then beat Leighton to the short side with 4:34 remaining in the first period.
Versteeg scored from the slot with 1:45 to go in the period, igniting mocking chants of "Leigh-ton, Leigh-ton."
Leighton (three goals on 13 shots), who was superb in the first half of the opening period before faltering, was replaced by Boucher at the start of the second period.
The Flyers stormed Niemi in the second period. They got to within 3-1 32 seconds into the period as Scott Hartnell knocked in a rebound of a Leino shot that rested in the crease for an interminable amount of time.
Kane, playing on his new line, tapped in an Andrew Ladd feed to give the Hawks a 4-1 advantage with 16:47 left in the second period. Ladd had his first shot blocked by Pronger, but he collected his own rebound and fed the wide-open Kane at the left of the net.
But the Flyers, true to their postseason form, refused to quit.
A brilliant shift by Briere kept the puck in the offensive zone, and defenseman Kimmo Timonen capitalized, scoring with a blast from the left circle with 15:22 to go in the period to slice the deficit to 4-2.
The Flyers nearly made it 4-3 with two great chances during a power play midway through the second period. Richards, all alone in front, redirected a Gagne cross and the shot appeared ticketed. But Niemi made perhaps his best save of the series, doing a split and making a skate save at the last instant.
Later in the power play, Leino, with an open net in front of him, fired just wide after a great setup by Richards.
Byfuglien's first goal of the Finals - he scored on a tap-in from out front on the power play after a pass by Toews - increased the Hawks' lead to 5-2 with 4:15 left in the second period.
Chicago was the more undisciplined team in the first four games, giving the Flyers 16 power plays - seven more than the Hawks garnered. The Flyers had outscored Chicago, 5-1, on power-play goals before Sunday.
"Now we're going back to our place, a place where we've played well, and where we feel comfortable playing," Boucher said.