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Hawks rediscover their identity in Game 5

06/07/2010 1:50 AM - From (link)

The Chicago Blackhawks remembered who they were Sunday night. Because they did, they are on the verge of becoming a team their city will remember forever -- a team that is within one victory of the Stanley Cup.

After three games spent in a mystifying and self-defeating attempt to impersonate someone else -- perhaps a Jacques Lemaire-coached Devils or Wild team, or maybe, given the nationality of their goaltender, the Finnish Olympic Team -- the Blackhawks decided that the men in the mirror looked just fine the way they were.

"We did get back to our identity tonight," center
Dave Bolland said.

Which is to say, they stopped obsessing about line matchups and Chris Pronger's long-established expertise at straddling the line of allowable nastiness and making sure they erred on the side of caution. That was an error. Because that simply is not who these Blackhawks are -- and it's certainly not how they piled up a franchise-record 52 victories and 112 points and overwhelmed three 100-point opponents to get to this Final.

These Blackhawks fearlessly hold the point to keep attacks alive in the offensive zone -- as a manic
Duncan Keith did all night long. They drive to the net with abandon -- as the newly-constructed side of beef line of Dustin Byfuglien, Bolland and Kris Versteeg did repeatedly to the tune of four goals, five assists and 11 hits -- nine by Byfuglien, including a second-period pancaking of Pronger.

These Blackhawks attack in five-man units, racing through the neutral zone as if late for a job interview while confident that the puck-carrier will gain the zone or get it deep. And if he doesn't and the opponent scores, these Blackhawks don't curl up into fetal positions near their own net -- as the impostor Blackhawks did for three games after Philadelphia goals. Instead, they defiantly declare: We gave you one, we'll get two back.

These Blackhawks overwhelmed the Flyers on Sunday night in the roaring cauldron that was the United Center. Back at home and back to being themselves, they erupted early and then kept coming until a 7-4 Game 5 victory was hammered out and a 3-games-to-2 series lead was seized.

The Flyers did not yield -- they stopped doing that about seven weeks ago. They go home for Game 6 Wednesday night to a Wachovia Center where they significantly outplayed Chicago twice to even the series.

But the Blackhawks team that tip-toed through those two games -- and, in truth, Game 2 in Chicago -- was a very different animal than the china shop-wrecking bull that marauded around the Madhouse on Madison in Game 5.

Coming out of Game 4, a second straight loss for his team for the first time in these playoffs, Chicago coach Joel Quenneville made several significant changes to his forward line combinations, most notably breaking up the Byfuglien-Jonathan Toews-Patrick Kane line. But the most profound change he wanted from his team was an attitude change -- back to the brash, relentless approach that had vanquished Nashville, Vancouver and San Jose in the first three rounds.

"Just making sure we want it," was how Kane described Quenneville's theme in the Hawks' Saturday team meeting.

Toews, the 22-year-old team leader who had somewhat lost his way in the Final after performing brilliantly throughout the postseason, set an authoritative tone with new linemates
Marian Hossa and Tomas Kopecky on a commanding first shift of the game.

Andrew Ladd-Patrick Sharp-Kane line picked up the beat and buzzed as well. Byfuglien, Bolland and Versteeg increased the intensity and threw in some withering physicality, while all six defensemen -- particularly Keith and Brent Seabrook -- pushed forward without hesitation.

The Flyers were able to keep the game scoreless for 12 minutes. But they couldn't mount any attack whatsoever.

"The biggest thing is the start we had; whether we come out of the first period with the lead or not, we can be happy with that pressure," Toews said.

They came out with a lead, all right. When Seabrook broke the dam with a left-circle shot that changed direction off Pronger's boot, any chance of Flyers goaltender Michael Leighton stealing one was gone and the goals began to gush. Bolland and Versteeg added goals before the first period was out and Leighton was on the bench to start the second.

"You know, getting down there two games in their building, we had to come back with some fire and just get on them and show them that we weren't going to quit," Byfuglien said. "Right from the get-go, we just moved our feet and stayed physical."

Then, performing a productive impersonation -- of the Flyers' answer-back work in Games 3 and 4 -- the Blackhawks responded each and every time Philly scored to threaten to make a game of it. Yes, they left Flyers all alone in front of goaltender
Antti Niemi a few times when caught puck-chasing with a bit too much zeal.

But this is a team that can live with such errors of commission. It's the greater error of omission -- of leaving their swagger behind and playing with caution as they did in Games 2 through 4 -- that they can't live down. Because playing that way is not them.

"This was the way we played against San Jose and Vancouver -- gritty, hard, with speed," Bolland said. "We were doing everything right."

Bolland was asked where that Blackhawks team had gone for three games.

"We did get away from it," he said. "(The Flyers) play a different kind of style of game for us. It's something we had to adapt to a little bit to be aware of. But I think we're fine now."

They're better than fine, of course. They're within one victory of winning the Stanley Cup. Because they're back to themselves.

"We play like that every night," Kane said, "it's going to be tough to beat us."

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