Hossa, Eager, Niemi Star to Give Blackhawks 2-0 Final Edge
"The pace was faster, more competitive," said Chicago head coach Joel Quenneville. "We just happened to score two big goals at a key time. I thought coming in that whoever scored first tonight would have the advantage."
Late second period goals 28 seconds apart by unlikely scorers -- slumping star Marian Hossa and fourth-line tough guy Ben Eager -- broke a scoreless tie. Until the 37th minute of the game, the Blackhawks and Flyers played a superior brand of defense after the 6-5 shootathon in Game 1. Goaltenders Antti Niemi and Michael Leighton were not just better than they were on Saturday, they were often spectacular.
However, the bubble burst on Leighton and the Flyers late in the second period. Hossa scored at 17:09 when he picked up the garbage off a Patrick Sharp point-blank shot with Troy Brouwer screening Leighton. Moments after the ensuing center-ice faceoff, Eager stole the puck, executed a give-and-go with Dustin Byfuglien and roofed a wrist shot past Leighton that caromed off the net and knocked off the Gatorade bottle on top. While it was a dream shot for Eager, an excellent role player and fighter with seven goals in the regular season, Leighton cannot be beaten in that spot by a wrister.
"When Benny came right back with that great shot after Hossa's goal," said Quenneville, "that was huge for us."
The Flyers cut Chicago's lead in half on a power play goal by Simon Gagne at 5:20 of the third. With Sharp in the penalty box for hooking, Gagne took a wobbly pass from Mike Richards and put it on goal. The shot appeared to deflect off Hossa before it fluttered over Niemi for Gagne's eighth goal of the playoffs.
To the Flyers' credit, they dominated the rest of the game after Gagne's goal, peppering Niemi throughout -- especially in the final minute with Leighton pulled for an extra attacker. While Sharp hit the post on the empty net, Philadelphia pushed play but failed to get the equalizer.
"If we played as well in the whole game as we did in the third," said Philadelphia forward Claude Giroux, "we would have given ourselves a chance to win."
Flyers captain Mike Richards had a more positive outlook. "I really liked the way we played in the third," said Richards. "We came up short, but there's a lot for us to build on heading into Game 3 in our building."
While Leighton struggled in the second period, Niemi was Chicago's best player. The Finnish goalie, one of the best out-of-nowhere stories of the Stanley Cup playoffs, made glove saves on Daniel Carcillo and Richards mid-period and -- his best of the game -- a dazzler on Arron Asham two minutes before the goals by Hossa and Eager.
Philadelphia head coach Peter Laviolette made one major change to his lineup, inserting agitator Daniel Carcillo in place of rookie James van Riemsdyk. Although the Flyers lost and Carcillo was whistled for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty in the first period, the shift disturber was in the Blackhawks' faces all night and managed three shots on goal in 12 minutes of icetime.
Philadelphia outshot Chicago, 32-26.
"Antti was great for us again," said Sharp. "It never surprises us anymore. I'm sure he didn't love giving up five goals last game, but he played his best in the third in Game 1 and he did it again tonight. Whether the game is 6-5 or 2-1, it still comes down to protecting a one-goal lead in the third period. Antti did his job both nights."
Winning both games at the United Center gives Chicago a major advantage. Teams taking the opening two games of the Final at home have gone on to win the Stanley Cup 31 of 33 times. In the Flyers' favor, they became just the third team in NHL history to overcome a 3-0 playoff series deficit when they eliminated the Boston Bruins in the second round.
This is the fifth consecutive Stanley Cup Final in which the home team has won the opening two games of the series. Also providing hope for the Flyers: the Pittsburgh Penguins of 2009 were one of the two teams to lose the first two on the road and fight back to win the Stanley Cup. The Detroit Red Wings took a 2-0 lead with wins at Joe Louis Arena before the Penguins won the series in seven games.
"This was crucial," said Blackhawks center John Madden. "We keep home-ice advantage. Now we have to go into their building and look for a win."