Heading into game five of the Stanley Cup Final, there was a lot of chatter about whether or not Chicago Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville would switch up his lines.
Well, as the Blackhawks and Philadelphia Flyers got set to take the first draw of the game there was evidence that change was here as Jonathan Toews took the draw with Marian Hossa and Tomas Kopecky at his side.
Breaking up the Hawks top line of Toews, Patrick Kane, and Dustin Byfuglien (a line which came into the game with a plus/minus rating of minus -12) was all but a necessity, as this threesome has had no luck all series long.
The Philadelphia Flyers came out rather flat to start game five, with the Blackhawks dictating the play down low and creating scoring chances—essentially, the Hawks looked like the Flyers of games past!
The Flyers took the first penalty of the game (a cross checking penalty to Flyers defenseman Lukas Krajicek). Despite some very strong pressure, the Blackhawks were unable to score against the Orange and Black—who came into the game having given up just one power play goal (a five-on-three) to the Blackhawks in four games.
The Blackhawks gave the Flyers their own power play opportunity when David Bolland took a cross checking penalty of his own trying to subdue Flyers forward Ville Leino.
Despite a couple of good chances early on in the power play, the Flyers, who came into the game 5 for 16 on the power play, were unable to get one past Blackhawks goaltender Antti Niemi, who was excellent on the penalty kill.
Just as the penalty to Bolland had expired, Flyers forward Scott Hartnell took the Flyers second penalty of the game when he got caught for tripping Hawks forward Patrick Sharp.
The Blackhawks made no mistake on their second opportunity, when Blackhawks defenseman Brent Seabrook shot the puck at the net, which went off the skate of Flyers defenseman Chris Pronger, beating the unsuspecting Leighton.
With the referees about to call another penalty on the Flyers, Bolland redeemed himself for his earlier penalty, when he eluded Leighton with a perfect wrist-shot to make the score 2-0 Chicago.
Just under three minutes later Blackhawks forward Kris Versteeg shot the puck past Leighton—who looked completely stunned on the play.
The Hawks (who had 26 attempts at the Flyers net in the first period) went to the first intermission having outshot the Flyers by a margin of 13-7 and with a well-deserved 3-0 lead.
Clearly, Quenneville’s changing of the lines had paid off as the Hawks not only got their swagger back, they had finally lived up to their billing—looking like a Stanley Cup Champion and making the Flyers look like a very average team in the process.
The Flyers started the second period with Flyers goaltender Michael Leighton being replaced with Brian Boucher; question was, could the Flyers forwards climb back and give Boucher a chance at a win?
Just 32 seconds into the second period, Flyers forward Scott Hartnell tapped in a Ville Leino shot that was sitting along the Blackhawks goal line, cutting the deficit to 3-1.
Just as the Flyers fans thought they were back in the game, Blackhawks “snake-bitten” forward Patrick Kane scored his second goal of the series (ninth of the playoffs) at 03:13 of the second period, giving the Blackhawks back their three goal lead.
Never ones to give up, the Flyers responded when a wild scramble in front of the net led to a goal from Flyers defenseman Kimmo Timonen (his first of the playoffs), quieting the Hawks crowd and once again, getting the Orange and Black right back in the game.
In what could be the turning point of the series, Flyers forward Scott Hartnell took what can only be called a “stupid penalty” when he nailed an unsuspecting Tomas Kopecky in the head with an elbow.
For Hartnell and the Flyers sake, they had better hope the NHL comes back with a favorable ruling if they choose to review the hit—if the NHL does, they may very well suspend Hartnell for game six, as the hit could be looked upon as a head-hunting incident.
After killing the penalty the Flyers were rewarded with a power play opportunity of their own when Blackhawks defenseman Brent Seabrook took a penalty for “delay of game—smothering the puck,” which somehow wasn’t a penalty shot.
Blackhawks goaltender Antti Niemi robbed Flyers captain Mike Richards from in close on the power play, but that was all the pressure the Flyers could muster, failing to score.
It would seem as if special teams would be the difference tonight as, with Flyers defenseman Chris Pronger in the penalty box (just his second penalty of the series) Chicago Blackhawks forward Dustin Byfuglien (who Pronger has done such a good job of containing all series long) scored for the Blackhawks, making it 5-2.
It was a better effort for the Flyers as they outshot the Hawks by a 10-8 margin in the second period but, in the end, it was the same result—with the Flyers heading into the intermission behind by a three goal deficit...not good!
Of note: Flyers forward Scott Hartnell left the second period with what many suspect is a knee injury. He played limited minutes in the third period, it will be interesting to see if he can go for game six.
The Third period was a bit of a seasaw battle, with the Hawks and Flyers exchanging the odd scoring chance in-between exchanging expletives.
Flyers rookie forward James van Riemsdyk scored at 06:36 of the third period to give the Flyers a measure of respectability, edging the Flyers closer to the Hawks, making it 5-3.
But it was not to be for the Flyers on this evening as the Blackhawks scored their sixth goal of the game when Patrick Sharp beat Boucher at 16:08 of the third period, icing the game and, quite possibly, icing the series as well.
And...wait for it...Flyers forward Ville Leino—who clearly has no quit in him, scored for the Flyers to make it 6-4.
With just over two minutes left in the game the Flyers pulled Boucher in favor of the sixth attacker, a move that failed miserably as Dustin Byfuglien scored just seconds later, putting the Blackhawks ahead for good, 7-4.
In the end, as close as the Flyers made it on the scoreboard, I felt, just as the Blackhawks were never really in game four of the series, the Flyers were never a threat to challenge the Blackhawks in game five.
And, with the likes of legendary Chicago Bulls icon Michael Jordan and movie stars Michelle Pfeiffer and Blackhawks super-fan Vince Vaughn looking on, the Hawks quieted the critics and took one giant step forward to winning the ultimate prize (Lord Stanley’s Cup) beating the Flyers by a 7-4 margin.
The Blackhawks now led the Stanley Cup Finals three games to two with game six set to be played Tuesday night at the Wachovia center in Philadelphia, where the Flyers are 8-1 in the playoffs and 2-0 thus far in the series.
The game's three stars were Dustin Bufuglien, Kris Versteeg, Patrick Kane (all Blackhawks).
Flyers defenseman Chris Pronger was a plus/minus- five on the night (career worst).
Blackhawks goaltender Antti Niemi has now allowed four or more goals in four out of five games in the series.
After struggling for most of the series, Byfuglien, Kane, and Toews were all pretty special players tonight, combining for a total of three goals and four assists for six points.
For more NHL news and notes check out my website at www.theslapshot.com
Until next time,