The Chicago Blackhawks knew that if they had to come back to Philadelphia down 3-2 in the 2010 Stanley Cup Final, their chances of a comeback were slim to none. Instead, the ‘Hawks played like their lives depended on it and destroyed the Flyers in Game Five by a final score of 7-4.
Much like the 5-3 final of Game Four that went in the Flyers’ favor, the three goal cushion the Blackhawks had when this game went final didn’t even do their total domination justice. Antti Niemi was very ordinary tonight in goal for Chicago, but fortunately for him Michael Leighton was the recipient of some bad bounces, and Brian Boucher couldn’t hold down the fort. The forwards and defense for Chicago completely wanted it more, and battled hard all game long as a result. The Flyers were tentative – they let the Blackhawks dictate the play early on and that set the tone for a domination by the ‘Hawks as the game continued to wear down. The Flyers got it to two goals twice: down 3-1 in the first minute of the second period, and down 6-4 with a little less than ten minutes to play in the third. Still, that was more a factor of Niemi not being very good more than it was the Flyers actually generating serious offense.
The Blackhawks came out flying in the first period, scoring three unanswered goals, and controlling the shots by a margin of 13-7. Many Flyers said that after the game the first period they had just played in was one of the worst periods – if not the worst – this team has played the entire season, let alone playoffs. The scary thing is that it couldn’t have happened at a worse time. Brent Seabrook got the scoring started on a goal that has become creepily typical of Blackhawk goals this series – a deflection. A Seabrook wrister unfortunately deflected off of Chris Pronger’s skate – who was trying to block the shot – and snuck into a tiny hole that had opened up when the puck changed direction past Michael Leighton’s right pad at 12:17 of the first period on the power play. The ‘Hawks weren’t done, however, as just three minutes later, another crazy carom saw the puck go from Dave Bolland’s stick behind the net to the back of Leighton’s skate and into the net for a goal that made the score 2-0 Chicago. In a period that Chicago dominated, the ‘Hawks were not yet done, as Kris Versteeg found the back of the net through a screen and under Leighton’s glove to give the Blackhawks what seemed like an insurmountable 3-0 lead. It was just that.
The second period opened with a glimmer of hope for the Flyers and their fans, as Scott Hartnell picked up a loose puck in the crease to make it 3-1 Flyers just 32 seconds into the frame. Brian Boucher also entered the game for Leighton, who was pulled after giving up three goals in the first. The Flyers started to control the play a bit in the beginning of the period and there was reason to think that a comeback was entirely possible. That was, of course, until Danny Briere did not pick up his man – Patrick Kane – who got a beautiful back-door pass from Andrew Ladd to break the Flyers’ backs and make the score 4-1 Chicago. The goal proved even that much more crucial when Kimmo Timonen roofed a rebound in front to cut the Blackhawks’ lead to 4-2 just a minute and a half later. The Flyers chances then began to mount, but failed opportunities in front of a wide open net from Ville Leino and Mike Richards proved even more costly, when Dustin Byfuglien scored his first of the game on the powerplay to make it 5-2 Chicago and, for all extensive purposes, put this game out of reach.
The Flyers showed a little fight in the third period, as James van Riemsdyk scored his first goal of the Stanley Cup Final on another bad rebound from Niemi and made the score 5-3, but, like the Orange and Black did in Philadelphia, it was the Blackhawks that answered back in a big way Sunday night, as Patrick Sharp beat Brian Boucher to make the score back to a three goal margin, now at 6-3. Simon Gagne got one back for the Flyers, as Ville Leino – really the only forward that gave a complete effort tonight – made a great individual play to get the puck to Gagne who was wide open to put the puck in the empty net. At 6-4 with less than three minutes left, there was hope, but not much. All that hope was diminished when Dustin Byfuglien buried an empty netter for his second of the game and locked up a 7-4 Game Five victory for the ‘Hawks as well as a 3-2 series lead.
This game was not about any one player in particular, although many other articles you’ll read will want to make it seem that way. In short, the Blackhawks as a team wanted this game a helluva lot more than the Flyers. As a deserving result, Chicago is now just one win away from a date with Lord Stanley. That could happen Wednesday night in Philadelphia, where I’ll be in attendance. However, if the Flyers get their way, all eyes and bodies will be back in Chicago for a decisive Game Seven.
It’s a pretty simple equation for the Flyers at this point: win two games and a row and you are the 2010 Stanley Cup Champions. Lose a game before you win two, and it’s all over. Let’s hope the first option is the reality come Friday night. Get the ball rolling Wednesday, boys.