By Chad Huebner
So hopefully, everything’s settled by now, and all of those “We’re playing in the *expletive* Stanley Cup!” jitters are gone. That seemed to be the major issue of Game 1.
You could say that the goaltending was subpar, but on both sides, it was really the defense that let the goalies down. Even the best of the best couldn’t stop the barrage Niemi and Leighton/Boucher took on Saturday night. Which is probably why there are no worries about Niemi (he did hold on for the win) and Leighton. By the time you’ve read this, you’ll probably know that goalies who give up at least five goals in a non-elimination Stanley Cup game go on to win their next outing. Hopefully, this won’t happen, but I could see Leighton playing with a lot more poise tonight.
Umm, no, not really. All the worse for him, and more of the same the rest of his team. Time for what should be another, ahem, memorable game? Heh, I’m always full of the stupid jokes.
The Flyers activated Dan Carcillo for tonight’s game, so look for a little more physical play. Personally, I want to see Adam Burish and Carcillo in a dragoutdrag out barroom fight, just like Peter Griffin and the Chicken in “Family Guy.”
The Toews-Kaner-Big Buff line continues to struggle in the Flyers’ zone, a carryover from Game 1. As long as the other three lines continue to contribute, that’s fine.
Carcillo’s starting to mouth off with the ‘Hawks’ bench. Man, he looks like the kind of guy you just want to punch in the face without any provocation.
Oh gee, another ‘Hawks’ penalty, what a surprise! Never mind the fact the Flyers could’ve been called for high sticking once this game (“follow through movement” my white heinie!). Naturally, the Karma Sports Gods let the ‘Hawks easily kill this one.
Big Buff runs over Carcillo in the ‘Hawks’ zone. Yep, Carcillo’s our bad guy for the night, and probably any other game he plays this series.
I see a lot of hitting, but I also see a lot of missed passes through the neutral zone, lots of faceoffs lost and lots problems for the ‘Hawks when the Flyers play the puck out of the corners. Big hits are that much better when they have a point to them.
Wait, the refs are allowed to call penalties on the Flyers? Wow, that is big news! Blair Betts runs Burish into the boards. Lots of alliteration there, but apparently, Betts is pretty good on the PK, so that helps us, I think. Sadly, the ‘Hawks couldn’t get much going in the Flyer’s zone thanks to a tighter D than in Game 1.
Kaner sends the puck to the net, and it lands right on Leighton’s left pad before he goes down to smother it. About as close the ‘Hawks have come to scoring so far tonight.
Would you believe it’s not Burish vs. Carcillo but Kopecky vs. Carcillo? Tomas is not backing down to this guy! Both guys get in a scrum, and have offsetting penalties, but the ‘Hawks get a PP on a Flyers’ boarding call. Lots and lots and lots of near misses, but Leighton actually looks settled down. Hmmm, so much for rattling him in this one.
Telling stats from the first period: ‘Hawks shots, 9, ‘Hawks hits, 20. Yep it’s going to be one of thosesmashmouth smash mouth games we use to hear so much about from the 70s, something the Flyers had a hand in.
I’d hate to say it, but the Flyers are doing really well in their zone. The ‘Hawks can’t move the puck deep into their zone, only able to shoot from inside the blue line, and such shots are being gloved by Leighton without any rebounds. Very frustrating.
Now it seems the Flyers are getting all the penalties this game. Mike Richards hooks Brian Campbell, which again should help the ‘Hawks on the PP. Umm, not really. More close misses with a few shot attempts by the Flyers thrown in.
Richards breakaway. . . deflected aside by Niemi! Best save of the night for him, not that he’s been called on to make that many.
Dunc’s point-blank slapper. . . blocked by Leighton! Yeah, he’s been pretty good tonight, too.
No score, but you feel like the Flyers are in more control of the game at this point. They don’t give up the puck easily, and they’re stripping the ‘Hawks of the puck even before they come out of their zone. Just get that first goal, just get it now!
I sometimes think that games like this are kept close because the goalies are lucky. In this game, it’s because both are that good. Get comfy, class, it’s time for a goaltending clinic.
But first. . .
‘Hawks knock the puck in front of the Flyer’s net, and Marian Hossa flips it in. Now there’s that first goal.
And as I was writing that. . .
Versteeg picks up the turnover in the neutral zone, passes it to Ben Eager, who rifles it over Leighton’s shoulder. Oh yes, my congregation, we are embarrassed with riches, can ya give me a Hallelujah?
And then with 35 seconds to go, there’s a scrum in front of Niemi and Troy Brouwer who looks like Racki from “Youngblood”, comes in a little too late to defend his goalie and take some Flyer’s head off his neck. So the Flyers will have quite a bit of PP time to start the next period, but so what? In a close heavyweight battle like this, the KO blows have already been thrown.
“You know, the hardest lead to hold in hockey is a 2-0 lead. . .”
Ahhh, stick it in your craw! These are the 2009-10 Chicago Blackhawks, this doesn’t happen to them!
While the Toews-Kaner-Buff line might be held scoreless for a second straight game, it isn’t for a lack of effort. Leighton can stone those guys, but not the other lines.
Crucial time, as Sharpie’s in the box for tripping. ‘Hawks killed off the PP that carried over from the second period, now they need to come up big again.
But with one, stinking second left, the Flyers ruin Niemi’s shutout chances. A redirect shot with his view blocked, and that’s pretty hard for any goalie to stop. Still, maybe there’s something to that whole 2-0 lead stuff.
Unfortunately, the ‘Hawks are acting like they did in the regular season when they carried the lead into the third: they’re not moving the puck. They seem to be in full defensive mode, which can really play into the Flyers’s hands, who can bring a frenzied attack. It’s like watching an even-strength PP.
I haven’t been able to type for the last five minutes. The reason? Things are so hair-raising, my fingers would probably shake as soon as they hit the keyboard. But Niemi calmly makes all the saves. He’s the eye of the hurricane, and he gives credence to the argument that he could win the Conn Smythe when all is said and done.
Still more scary moments: one where there’s a scrum in front of Niemi, and he loses control of the puck and it ends up in the net. . . after the whistle’s blown. ‘Hawks aren’t making it easy.
1:44 to go, Leighton’s off the ice. Things are so unbelievably furious. . . Sharpie takes the puck, shoots from beyond the Flyer blue line. . . CLANK! So much for putting this one away.
19.4 seconds to go, puck in the Flyers’ zone. Leighton not on ice. Flyers get the puck deep into the ‘Hawks’ territory, but it comes all the way back out, and the clock counts down.
‘Hawks probably could’ve put this game away, which would’ve gone a long way to avoiding this harrowing third. Still, Niemi was sparkling once again, and he got plenty of help in the way of shot blocks and all-around good D. His franchise record-setting 14th win this postseason was well worth it.
One more stat to keep in mind: since 1939, when the NHL went to a best-of-seven series for the Stanley Cup Final, teams who have won the first two games have gone on to win the Cup over 91 percent of the time. Of course, in 1971, the ‘Hawks had a 2-0 lead in the Final series and ended up losing that one. So basically, I still have no idea what’s going to happen.