Some pictures are worth a thousand words. This picture is worth 52 names. Those are the 52 names of the Chicago Blackhawks that will be engraved on the Stanley Cup sometime late this summer if this odd and bumpy Stanley Cup Final continues on its present trajectory.
This picture came at the end of the second period last night when the Blackhawks finally found the back of the net to take a 1-0 lead. A little more than 20 seconds later Ben Eager had the puck on his stick and launched a shot at his former team's net minder Michael Leighton to the short side and glove high. Leighton waved at the puck as it zipped past but only managed to change where the puck would hit the net.
Eager’s goal killed the Flyers. They came out in the third period with desperation in their eyes but the damage done was already too much. They made it 2-1 and two of their frantic scrambles in the Chicago end were Cup classics but they could draw no closer.
One bad goal equals a two games to none lead for the Blackhawks who head to Philadelphia having not lost a playoff game on the road in a month. They are 7-0 in that span and teams in their position are 41-4 in winning the Cup since 1939.
Flyer fans will counter that they have been down this road before. Down three games to none to Boston and down 3-0 in the third period of Game 7 they dug their way back. But this is different; this is the Stanley Cup Finals.
This story appeared to have a much happier ending before the first puck was dropped Friday night. Michael Leighton plucked off the waiver wire from Carolina by a team whose season was sinking faster than the Titanic turns into the reincarnation of Bernie Parent and saves his team. A season ending ankle injury doesn't end his season and he returns to the net to lead his team to an historic comeback win in Boston.
But then Friday night happened and the clock apparently struck midnight on Leighton and his Flyer teammates. In the biggest game for the Flyers this century, Leighton was putrid in surrendering five goals on 20 shots. Sure his teammates were equally as bad but it’s the goaltender that must rescue his teammates on such nights and all Leighton did was throw gasoline on the building blaze.
Game Two appeared to be going better for the guys in orange but then came the Eager goal, Bill Wirtz boat horn blaring from the rafters and a seismic shift in the series. Try as they might, the Flyers’ second goal never came and the series tie they desperately needed had vanished.
The Flyers will trot out Kate Smith and their classic orange uniforms on Broad Street Wednesday night trying to pretend it is 1975 again and that they are still in this series. But until they can trot out something better than Michael Leighton in goal, it’s all an illusion.
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