Flyers Hold Serve at Home, Even Stanley Cup Final with 5-3 Win
"We did exactly what we set out to do at home -- win our two games," said Flyers defenseman Chris Pronger, once again effective in limiting the scoring chances of Chicago's top guns. "We held serve, but we have to get a win in Chicago now. We're looking forward to the challenge."
Who said home-ice advantage in the NHL is dead? Playing before a packed Wachovia Center crowd that took the Flyers' attendance over the one million mark for the season, the Flyers rode the emotion to a 3-1 lead after the first period that they barely held on to until the final buzzer.
The Flyers didn't wait long to capitalize on a high-sticking penalty on Tomas Kopecky four and a half minutes into the game. The Blackhawks won the ensuing faceoff in their end, but Flyers captain Mike Richards swiped the puck from behind defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson at the side of net and scored off a surprised Antti Niemi five seconds into the man-advantage.
Hjalmarsson, the Blackhawks' mid-round draft pick from 2005 who has emerged as a regular-shift defenseman in the playoffs, continued his night to forget 10 minutes later. As the Flyers turned up the pressure in the Chicago end, Hjalmarsson went to clear the puck after a Niemi save. Instead his meek attempt down the center of the ice landed on the stick of Flyers defenseman Matt Carle, who shot it past Niemi, out of his net and with no chance of making the save.
"We battled all game, but we were way too generous in giving them scoring chances early," said Chicago head coach Joel Quenneville. "That was a bad first period for us. The Flyers dictated more than we would like. The goals came rather easily, and that's usually one of the strengths of our team."
With a minute and a half left in the first period, the Blackhawks got what should have been a crucial momentum-shifting goal. When the Flyers failed to clear the puck around the boards, Duncan Keith stopped the puck at the blue line and moved it to Patrick Sharp, who fired a one-timer that cut Philadelphia's lead to 2-1.
Jonathan Toews called the Flyers' late goal to make it 3-1 "stupid." The Blackhawks captain went on to say, "We wanted to be able to go into the second period down by just a goal. To give up a goal like that makes it hard to come back."
"That was such a crucial goal for us," said Flyers forward Simon Gagne. "We've had a good habit of getting goals like that in the playoffs."
The scoreless second period was only the second one in the four games of the Stanley Cup Final.
The Flyers have been the better team for two straight games, arguably three straight, and they have also gotten their fair share of the bounces. In the flukiest one of the Final, Ville Leino scored at 6:43 of the third period on a shanked wrist shot that would have sailed six feet wide but hit Blackhawks forward Kris Versteeg in the back and landed behind Niemi. It was Leino's seventh goal and 16th point of the playoffs in 17 games -- the points setting a new postseason franchise record for Flyers' rookies.
"I don't know what to say," said Leino. "I was given an opportunity. I'm extremely fortunate to be on a line with great players and have the support of the coaching staff. This has been a wild ride. We're close, but we have a few more big games to win."
Heading into Game 4, the Blackhawks were counting on their impressive ability to get off the mat quickly after losses. Before this week, they last lost back-to-back games on the road in November. After losses in the 2010 postseason, Chicago out-scored opponents 14-3 in the next games.
Both teams made changes to their lineups. Flyers head coach Peter Laviolette brought back rookie James van Riemsdyk and benched agitator Dan Carcillo, who did not play in the second half of the Flyers' Game 3 victory. Quenneville made a pair of alterations. Left wing Andrew Ladd, out for the first three games with an undisclosed injury, was cleared to play. Making his 2010 postseason debut was veteran defenseman Nick Boynton, who had not played since April 9 and only played nine games for Chicago after his acquisition from Anaheim at the trade deadline.
The Blackhawks brought the game to 4-3 late in the third. With eight minutes remaining, Dave Bolland converted a point pass from Duncan Keith on a 5-on-3 power play. With just over four minutes left, defenseman Brian Campbell scored with Toews crashing the net. Chicago kept up the pressure until Jeff Carter scored an empty net goal with 24 seconds left in the game.
Chicago out-shot Philadelphia 34-30. The Flyers were 1-5 on the power play, the Blackhawks were 1-3.
"Whenever our team is down," said Gagne, "we always seem to be able to bounce back and play our best hockey. We've come down from 3-0 (to Boston in the second round). Now we've come back from 2-0 when a lot of people might have thought we were done. But the important thing for us to know is, we haven't done anything yet. All we've done is tie the series."
Added Pronger: "We're good at making the right adjustments where we have to. This was a great pair of games, but there is still a lot of work to be done."
Now that both teams have held serve at home, Game 5 is Sunday night in Chicago. "We're excited to be going back home," said Quenneville. "We have to fix what didn't work and get the momentum back. All I know is that the series is tied. No one has an edge."
More than eight months after the start of the 2009-10 NHL season, the Stanley Cup is coming down to a best-of-three series.