Dominant First Period Has Blackhawks One Win From Cup
Behind a dominant first period and smart coaching that led to breakout performances from their stifled young stars, the Blackhawks overwhelmed Philadelphia, 7-4, on Sunday to take a 3-2 lead in the Stanley Cup Finals.
"We'll enjoy this for a little while," said Chicago's Patrick Kane, who had a goal and an assist. "We worked hard for it. But there's two days off before Game 6, so we can't get too amped up or we'll burn out. There's still one more win to get."
"We weren't good in the first period," said Flyers head coach Peter Laviolette. "We didn't skate very well. We didn't compete very well. When you don't do those things, you're not going to like the score."
The Blackhawks did not just hold serve at home after losing a pair of games in Philadelphia, they roared out of their dressing room, were inspired by the latest arena-shaking rendition of the National Anthem and destroyed the Flyers with a 3-0 first period. Without question, it was the finest one-period performance of either team in this series. Although they did not score in the first half of the period, the Blackhawks carried the play from the outset and initiated most of the hitting instead of absorbing it.
Brent Seabrook opened the scoring with a power play goal at 12:17 of the first. After receiving a pass from wing Kris Versteeg, the defenseman showed patience in looking for the right shot. When he let go a wrister, the puck deflected off the skate of Flyers defenseman Chris Pronger and rolled short-side by Michael Leighton. Just as important as providing Chicago the early lead, Seabrook's pinball display seemed to unnerve Leighton.
The Flyers' starting goalie played well until Seabrook's goal. After that, he was shaky and then done after one. Dave Bolland scored just over three minutes later when he banged the puck off the back of Leighton's leg from behind the net. As Chicago continued to control play, Versteeg skated the puck over the blueline on a 3-on-3, showed patience as Philadelphia's defenseman backed up and fired a wrist shot past a partially screened Leighton.
"We've very disappointed," Flyers captain Mike Richards said of his team's effort. "Maybe we came out a little bit cocky and thought if we just put our sticks on the ice, we'd win."
With his team down 3-0 after the first period and Leighton failing to come up with any answers, Laviolette pulled Leighton for the second time in the Stanley Cup Finals and inserted Brian Boucher.
Laviolette's move worked, as the Flyers cut the lead at one point in the second period to 4-2 with goals by Scott Hartnell and Kimmo Timonen sandwiching a tally by Patrick Kane, but the Blackhawks always appeared in command of the game. A great deal of credit should go to Chicago head coach Joel Quenneville and his staff for making the right adjustments to counter the Conn Smythe Trophy campaign of Chris Pronger, who was in the Blackhawks' heads as much as their faces.
"You've got to give credit to Coach," said Blackhawks forward Patrick Sharp. "He has a good feel for how guys are playing. He always find those matchups and makes adjustments as we go. I think he could have played any of us against any of them tonight. We really had our legs going."
Blackhawks power forward Dustin Byfuglien, scoreless through the first four games of the Finals after being one of his team's MVPs in the first three rounds, was kept away from Philadelphia's all-world defenseman. The result: two goals (one empty-netter to seal the game) and two assists for the 6-4, 257-pound Byfuglien -- who also leveled Pronger with a hit in the second period.
"The move gave me a little more time and space out there," said Byfuglien. "Even if I'm not always out there against him, I still need to keep my feet moving, I have to hit hard and I have to get to the net." Asked if that was the message from Quenneville, Byfuglien smiled and said, "Actually, tonight might have been the first time he didn't speak to me before a game."
"Buff sets the tone out there with his size," said Sharp. "Once he gets going, he's pretty tough to stop. We didn't have to say much to him. We could see the fire in his eyes that he was ready to play."
After losing a pair of games in Philadelphia to see the Stanley Cup Finals tied at 2-2, Byfuglien and the Blackhawks apparently didn't need any obvious messages.
With Timonen's goal at 4:48 of the second making the score 4-2, Chicago managed to hold off Philadelphia for the rest of the period. Soon after Antti Niemi stopped a shot by Mike Richards, alone in front, by shooting out his left leg pad for the best save of the series to hold the Blackhawks' lead at 4-2, Chicago scored one of the prettiest goals of the Finals.
James van Riemsdyk scored for Philadelphia mid-way through the third period to make it 5-3, before Sharp put the game away with a goal off a pass from Kane. Pronger ended the game minus-5. Laviolette and assistant coach Kevin McCarthy, who changes the defensemen for the Flyers, only gave Oskars Bartulis 1:58 of icetime for the entire game. Both Laviolette and Quenneville did not seem to mind extending their best players since there are two days off before Game 6.
The Blackhawks have two chances to close the deal and bring the Stanley Cup back to Chicago.
"We've got to play Blackhawks hockey," said Seabrook. "That's what's got us this far. That's what we'll need to win the fourth game."
Their first crack comes on Wednesday night in Philadelphia.