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Between The Dots: Time to try flowers?

by Bob Verdi / Chicago Blackhawks
PHILADELPHIA—Maybe it’s time for flowers. True, it’s been tried before, but since the Blackhawks are going to be back here next week—a trip that became official with their 5-3 defeat in Friday night’s Game 4 of the Stanley Cup final—why not try it again?

After all, the Blackhawks have not triumphed in the City of Brotherly Love since 1996—regular season, post-season, hunting season—and this tournament is now tied, 2-2, so desperate times call for desperate measures. Like flowers. You remember the flowers, don’t you?

During the 1974 final, aware of the Flyers’ outrageous winning percentage when Kate Smith sang “God Bless America”, the opposing Boston Bruins had a plan. To take the edge off, Bobby Orr and Phil Esposito skated up to her before the puck was dropped and surprised her with so many flowers they looked like the guys from FTD. She graciously accepted their gift, along with her $5,000 appearance fee. (The Flyers won anyway).

Kate Smith is no longer with us, but Lauren Hart has taken her place, and I bet she would be more than happy to acquire a corsage from, say, Jonathan Toews before Game 6 at the Wachovia Center Wednesday night. Hart performs along with a tape of Smith on the jumbotron, so the trick still probably won’t work. Then again, nothing much did for the Blackhawks Friday night.

They staged a rally of sorts in the third period, but it was not enough to atone for earlier errata, such as two unassisted Philadelphia goals and another that escaped goalie Antti Niemi after it caromed off Kris Versteeg’s numbers—like right between the 3 and the 2.

After Dave Bolland on a power play (!) and Brian Campbell tallied in the third period, the Flyers finished off their attack with an empty netter. No wonder Toews thought aloud afterward about how nice it would be if the Blackhawks could get a bounce or two to result in an ugly goal.

They took 34 shots Friday night, only six more than the Flyers blocked, and if you were to guess how many rebounds the Blackhawks were served, you can count them on both hands with fingers to spare.

Michael Leighton is not looking like the masked man who was strafed and chased in Game 1 of this series, that is for sure. His teammates are protecting him with energy and elbows. Meanwhile, when coach Joel Quenneville described his Blackhawks as “generous” in the other end, well, it was generous of him to stop there.

Andrew Ladd was back in the lineup (for Adam Burish), but his reintroductory shift lasted until the 36 second mark of the first period, when he was banished for interference. The Flyers were contained, but on their next power play—Tomas Kopecky, high sticking—even after gaining control off the faceoff, the Blackhawks were scored upon when Niklas Hjalmarsson, carrying from right to left around his net, was separated from the puck by Mike Richards, who backhanded it by the stunned Niemi.

This was a stick up. Literally. Richards gained possession only after first rapping at the stick of Hjalmarsson, who doubled his misery ten minutes later when, while trying to clear, he inadvertently slipped the puck to Matt Carle. He had Niemi at his mercy and it was 2-0.

Patrick Sharp made it 2-1 at 18:32 on what could have been a significant momentum killer, except that the Flyers weren’t cooperating with that mushy story line. At 19:23, Kimmo Timonen fed Claude Giroux, who managed to sneak behind all the white sweaters, including the one worn by Niemi, and it was 3-1.

By the time the Blackhawks elected to treat Leighton as a mortal instead of an immortal, the Flyers were up 4-1 and acting dangerously like a team building confidence toward another one of those reincarnation acts they rejoice in foisting on unsuspecting foes.

The Flyers, annually a reflection of their tough town, have taken that motif to the outer limits. Leighton is one of seven goalies employed during a season that started Ray Emery as the intended No. 1, wherever he is.

Jeff Carter, Simon Gagne and Ian Laperriere went down during the first round of the playoffs against the favored New Jersey Devils; Gagne didn’t make it back until the second round, Carter and Laperriere until the third round. The team was in such disarray that coach John Stevens was fired in December, and everbody knows, or should know of the once-in-a-record book stunner against the Boston Bruins, who led their series against the Flyers, 3 games to 0, and Game 7 in Boston, 3 to 0, only to succumb.

“From No. 7 seed to the Stanley Cup finals,” gushed owner Ed Snider, who thought he’d seen it all.

The Blackhawks were facing a monstrous traffic jam en route to the Wachovia Center for Friday night’s 8 o’clock start. Friday night congestion in Philadelphia is not unlike Friday night congestion in Chicago. Moreover, the Phillies were opening a homestand next door with a 7 o’clock first pitch to be cast by Roy Halladay in his first appearance since he recorded a perfect game in Florida against the Marlins.

The Phillies always sell out, so that’s about 45,000 fans on top of 20,000 hockey fans. There is ample parking at the sports complex where the Eagles also play, but Friday night is getaway time for city dwellers heading for the Jersey shore. Guess what highway they have to use?

But Tony Ommen, the Blackhawks’ invaluable director of team services, arranged for a police escort for the team from the hotel to the rink. Philadelphia’s phinest did a marvelous job. However, when the team bus arrived at the Wachovia Center, Flyer fans were there with signs and taunts and salutes.

I don’t think these people would appreciate flowers, but they must practice this welcoming ritual carefully, because they all use the same finger.

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