-- Maybe it was just a hunch, like those coaches sometimes get that ultimately lead to big wins.
Maybe it was something that Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville saw on video analysis when breaking down the Philadelphia Flyers. Whatever his reasoning, Quenneville looks brilliant for a decision he made late in the second period of Chicago's 2-1 win on Monday night in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final.
Following Marian Hossa
's goal that broke a scoreless tie late in the second period, Quenneville put fourth-line winger Ben Eager on the ice with first-liners Jonathan Toews
and Dustin Byfuglien instead of star Patrick Kane
. The line tweak came up golden when Eager scored what turned out to be the game-winner just 28 seconds after Hossa's goal.
"Joel made the call to put him out there," said John Madden, who centers a fourth line that usually has Eager on one side and Adam Burish on the other. "I don't know if Kaner was gassed or what was going on, but he sent him out there and it turned out to be a great call."
Quenneville was asked about his rationale with the move, but didn't really elaborate too much. Regardless, the former Flyer made him look like a genius.
Eager skated the puck into the Flyers' zone, dragged it into the right circle and turned Flyers defenseman Matt Carle into a screen before zipping a shot past Carle, over goalie Michael Leighton's left shoulder and just under the crossbar to make it 2-0.
"It was pretty exciting," said Eager, who was traded to Chicago from Philly in 2007. "(I've) been working pretty hard this postseason. It was definitely a nice feeling to see that one go in. It was a big shift before us."
It was Eager's first goal of this postseason and just the second playoff goal of his career. Both have been game-winners -- the other beat Vancouver last spring. To the Hawks, it just shows what kind of damage he can do with the puck instead of simply smashing opponents with his 6-foot-2, 230-pound body.
Eager did plenty of that in Monday's game, too, but also showed how deep the Hawks' offense is -- even when the top line isn't doing much.
"We don't rely on one player or one line to produce for us," said forward Patrick Sharp
, who assisted on Hossa's goal. "(The stars) are a big part of the team, but we've got other guys who can do it every night. The game-winner tonight went to a guy who's more known for his physical play. That's the reason we're here ... because of the depth."
Eager even had some words for Chris Pronger at the end of Monday's game, after the big Flyers defenseman scooped up the puck following the final horn for the second straight game -- presumably to keep the puck from ending up on a Hawks mantle.
Eager was asked about the exchange in the post-game press conference and tried to play it off. He couldn't resist a little jab, though, when pressed to provide more details.
"He's been picking the pucks up after the game," Eager said, "and I just told him he can keep it."
Eight years ago, the Phoenix Coyotes thought Eager would be the one collecting "game pucks" for them. The Coyotes drafted Eager No. 23 in the first round of the 2002 Entry Draft, but then traded him to Philly before he broke into the NHL.
He has since developed a reputation as more of a tough guy, but Eager still shows flashes in practice of why he was drafted so highly.
"For a fourth-line player, I think he could probably be a second- or third-liner on a lot of other teams," Kane said. "He could probably score 20 goals in a season the way he shoots the puck. He's got a great shot and you can really see it on a shot like that. We can really see it in practice."
After being dealt to the Flyers in 2004, Eager finally got a shot to play in the NHL in the 2005-06 season. He played parts of three seasons in Philadelphia and became a fan favorite for his physical style. Now he's headed back to the City of Brotherly Love with Chicago up 2-0 in the Cup Final.
He can hardly wait.
"It's going to be fun," Eager said. "I had a lot of great times in Philadelphia. They gave me a chance to play in the NHL, and I'm thankful for that ... but to be playing against the Flyers is pretty cool."
Author: Brian Hedger | NHL.com Correspondent