Through four games in the 2010 edition of the Stanley Cup Finals we have watched as the home team has won all four games.
Clearly, if the Philadelphia Flyers are going to win the Cup this season they will have to find a way to beat the Chicago Blackhawks at home, which, given the Blackhawks sub-par performances at the “Madhouse on Madison,” is more likely than many Hawks fans want to admit.
Chicago has played 10 games on the road and 10 at home this postseason. In those 10 home games they have scored a total of 29 goals and given up 29 goals.
Comparatively, while on the road, Chicago has scored a total of 38 goals (nine better than at home), given up 26 goals (three less than at home).
The Hawks lack of offense at the United Center is a curious stat, one that may haunt them in tonight’s pivotal game five matchup against the surging Flyers.
Through 15 playoff games the Blackhawks have scored a total of 15 power play goals—11 of which have come on home ice. That said, the Hawks have managed just one power play goal against the Flyers, a five-on-three marker at the Wachovia center in game four.
It is the Hawks power play (or lack thereof) that may prove to be the biggest difference maker in game five.
The Flyers have benefited from being able to confidently roll out four lines against the Blackhawks, getting solid contributions from the likes of role players Darroll Powe and Ian Laperriere and secondary scorers (now top scorers) Claude Giroux and Ville Leino, as well as many others.
Flyers head coach Peter Laviolette has shown a lot of confidence and respect for his entire roster, electing to try to wear down the younger/faster Hawks, which, thus far, seems to be working.
Blackhawks head coach, Joel Quenneville, choose to breakup his first line of Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Dustin Byfuglien late in game four, electing to roll out a line of Dustin Byfuglien, Jonathan Toews, and Andrew Ladd—which was effective.
With Patrick Kane (who was a minus four in game four) the odd man out on the Hawks' first line it should give the Hawks some much needed depth and spark for game five, if that's the route Quenneville wants to go in, that is.
Clearly, the combination of Byfuglien, Kane, and Toews dominated much of the Stanley Cup playoffs, but have done next to nothing offensively against the Flyers who have nullified all three of Byfuglien, Kane, and Toews (thank you Mr. Pronger).
Another key for the Hawks is trying to figure out Flyers goaltender Michael Leighton, who, despite his criticisms, leads all NHL goaltenders in goals against (2.14), save percentage (.924) and shutouts with three through 12 playoff games.
Byfuglien, who was so good at creating mayhem in front of goaltenders Pekka Rinne (Nashville), Roberto Luongo (Vancouver), and Evgeni Nabokov (San Jose) has been very ineffective against Flyers defenseman Chris Pronger, which has given Leighton the ability to control rebounds, see incoming shots, and keep Byfuglien out of his head.
Gritty froward David Bolland has been a bit of a bright spot for the Blackhawks, including a goal in games four and game one of the series, but he also is a plus/minus zero for the series, which means, as much as he has been effective, he really hasn’t been a difference maker.
Troy Brouwer played a total of 6:48 in game four, leading many to believe that Hawks head coach Joel Quenneville may have lost his faith in the 24-year-old Vancouver, BC native.
Byfuglien, Ladd, Brouwer, Bolland—these are the players that need to step up for the Hawks, these are the guys that need to leave it all out on the ice tonight for the Hawks.
On the flip-side, the Flyers continue to get strong efforts from Claude Giroux (two goals, four points in two games), Danny Briere (two goals, seven points in four games), Chris Pronger (three points in four games and a dominant defensive/ psychological performance), and Detroit Red Wings cast-off Ville Leino (three goals, four points in four games).
Other players having a strong series for the Flyers include, Scott Hartnell (two goals, six points in four games) who, despite not scoring, may have had his best game of the series in game four—punishing Hawks players and dominating the Hawks down-low.
Flyers defenseman Matt Carle has also been very solid for the Flyers (one goal, three points in four games), playing heavy minutes and looking very solid in all areas of the game.
Simply put, the Flyers need to “keep on keepin' on,” stick with their game plan of rolling out four lines and making a concerted effort to win game five shift-by-shift, minute by minute, second by second.
It will be the Flyers ability to wear down the Hawks that will bring them to the promised land (winning Lord Stanley’s Cup), not a run and gun offense.
Make no mistake about it, this series is far from over and I expect both teams to engage in a war tonight at the Madhouse on Madison. While no certainty, one has to believe that the winner of tonight's game wins the series, neither one wants to head to the other teams building in a must-win situation, it’s been just too tough to play on the road.
Of note, the Flyers have yet to lose a game after game four in any series in this years playoffs, going an incredible 9-0.
For more NHL news and notes check out my website at www.theslapshot.com
Until next time,