Heading into the Stanley Cup Finals I really felt the Philadelphia Flyers and Chicago Blackhawks would play a tight-checking brand of hockey that would see both teams score few goals.
Low and behold, the Blackhawks and Flyers scored 10 goals in the first two periods en route to a 6-5 game one victory for the Blackhawks.
A case of nerves and some bad goaltending from both the Flyers Michael Leighton—who was pulled for Brian Boucher with about four minutes to go in the third period—and the Blackhawks Antti Niemi (who let in his fair share of softies Saturday night) were the main causes for the influx of offense.
As bad as the goaltending was, both teams had to be disappointed in their star forwards as well. Flyers forwards Mike Richards and Jeff Carter were kept off the scoreboard and were a combined minus four on the night while Blackhawk forwards Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, and Dustin Byfuglien were also kept off the scoreboard and were a combined minus-nine.
Simply put, as I predicted prior to the series, it appears as if this series will be decided by the role players, and not the stars as many expected.
Interestingly, the Chicago Blackhawks did not get an opportunity on the power play all night. It was the Flyers that were awarded four power play opportunities on the night, making good on just one of them.
Troy Brouwer had a great game for the Hawks, scoring twice adding an assist and playing a physical game to boot. Marian Hossa—who is making his third straight appearance in the Stanley Cup Finals— had two assists playing alongside Brouwer.
That said, the hero on the night was Tomas Kopecky, a player that was not expected to dress for game one. Kopecky—who did not play a single game against the San Jose Sharks in the Western Conference Finals—made the most of his 12:36 of playing time, scoring what will likely be the biggest goal of his career at 08:25 of the third period—which was the game one winner.
For the Flyers game one proved a couple of things. First, that they can play with the Hawks. Second, that despite his strong play throughout the playoffs, it may be time to pull the plug on Michael Leighton in favor of veteran goaltender Brian Boucher.
Leighton looked very shaky last night, getting caught of of position on several occasions and looking slow.
Boucher is a big part of the reason that the Flyers are in the position that they are, so there will be no shame in selecting him as the starter for game two.
One of the more anticipated matchups on the night was that of Flyers defenseman Chris Pronger and Blackhawks forward Dustin Byfuglien. Pronger won the battle of the big men, keeping Byfuglien off the scoreboard by initiating contact and out-muscling Byfuglien in front of the net.
Make no mistake about it, this was a very close game that, with a little luck, could have gone the Flyers way. Both teams will have to do a better job defensively next game and a little goaltending wouldn’t hurt either!
Game two will be played Monday night in Chicago, the Flyers would be wise to bring their “A” game.
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Until next time,