For Flyers, desperation inspires confidence
The Flyers will face elimination Wednesday night in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals against the Chicago Blackhawks. But that may not be such a bad thing.
The Flyers will face elimination Wednesday night in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals against the Chicago Blackhawks.
But that may not be such a bad thing.
Desperation seems to bring out the best in Team Resilient.
"We're confident in our ability to fight back," captain Mike Richards said.
Chicago, coming off Sunday's convincing 7-4 win in Game 5 at the United Center, leads the best-of-seven series, three games to two, and can hoist the Stanley Cup for the first time since 1961 with a win at the Wachovia Center on Wednesday.
Flyers coach Peter Laviolette said he had made a decision as to who his goalie would be but would not announce it at Monday's news conference. That wasn't exactly a public vote of confidence for Michael Leighton, who Sunday allowed three first-period goals - two were softies - on 13 shots and was pulled for the second time in three Finals starts in Chicago. Brian Boucher, who doesn't appear to be 100 percent healthy after returning from knee injuries, surrendered three goals on 14 shots and wasn't effective, either.
Still, signs point toward Leighton getting Wednesday's call.
During the playoffs, Leighton has bounced back from rough outings, so it would be stunning if Laviolette changed starters at this point. Leighton, remember, had three shutouts and a 1.41 goals-against average against Montreal in the conference finals, including a bounce-back 3-0 win in Game 4 after a 5-1 clunker.
Oh, and Leighton is 6-0 at home during the playoffs.
The Finals, however, haven't exactly been a goalie showcase for either team.
Leighton has a 4.01 goals-against average and an .864 save percentage, while Boucher's numbers are just as unimpressive (3.78, .846).
"We hung our goalies out to dry," Richards said after Sunday's loss.
Chicago's Antti Niemi has also been shaky, compiling a 3.54 goals-against average and .883 save percentage.
The Flyers' urgency level figures to be jacked Wednesday. After all, eight of their players are 30 or older - and they know they may not ever again get this close to winning the Cup. They realize their chance is here. Now.
In effect, the Flyers have won all five elimination games down the stretch.
In their regular-season finale, they defeated the Rangers in a shoot-out to qualify for the playoffs. They overcame a 3-0 series deficit - and climbed out of a 3-0 first-period hole in Game 7 - to stun the Bruins in the conference semifinals.
So it's understandable that the Flyers believe they can win two straight and capture the franchise's first Cup since 1975.
"When you get to this point, there's a tremendous amount of confidence in your team to win hockey games. They get it, and they understand it," said Laviolette, who had a lunch meeting with the team Monday but gave the players a day off from practice. "If any team gets it, this team gets it, because we've been here so many times.
"Again, to have our back against the wall, we'll be comfortable with this. I have no question our team will respond."
The Flyers had little energy, didn't have much offensive zone time and were dominated as they fell behind, 3-0, on Sunday. It was one of their worst periods of the playoffs - and clearly Chicago's best 20 minutes of the Finals.
"It was not a good game for us. Again, you don't want to make excuses for it. There's no reason to have a game like that, certainly not under the circumstances," Laviolette said. "Chicago ramped up their game. It comes down to that first period. They scored three goals. They took advantage of us in the first period. We didn't respond to it. They came out in their building, they had the home-ice advantage. They had the last change. They had a lot of things going for them. They took advantage of us."
The home team has won all five games in the series.
The Flyers have the best home record (9-1) in the playoffs, and Chicago has lost 10 straight at the Wachovia Center since 1996.
Laviolette, who said he expects Chris Pronger to rebound from a minus-5 performance and lead the way, pointed out that the Flyers regrouped from that 5-1 setback in Montreal and won the next game.
"That's why I have a lot of confidence in our group, that we will respond appropriately," he said.
He said the lopsided loss in Montreal and Sunday's defeat were two out of the team's 22 playoff games that, "as a group, none of us are probably happy with the way we played."
Added Laviolette: "We've got to get back as a team and make sure we're ready to play our brand of hockey, our style of hockey in our building with our fans."
Chicago defenseman Brian Campbell expects the Blackhawks to face a driven team on Wednesday.
"It's going to be tough," he said. "Look at what they've done. They're warriors. I give them a lot of credit."
Campbell added that it would be "a hard ride. You have to buckle down and realize how many minutes you have left in the season."
The Flyers hope it's at least 120.