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Fleischman: Flyers Must Tighten Defense in Game 2

by Bill Fleischman / Philadelphia Flyers
After Chicago’s fourth goal in Saturday night’s Stanley Cup opener, I noted, “Leighton has to be better.” One Blackhawks goal later, Leighton was replaced by Brian Boucher.

Was the Flyers 6-5 loss to Chicago largely Leighton’s fault? Not entirely. The free-skating affair was more reminiscent of an October regular-season game than a Stanley Cup final. Sometimes in such high scoring games the goaltenders don’t have much control over the outcome.

No one in the Flyers locker room was blaming Leighton for the loss.

“We need to play better in front of him,” said defenseman Chris Pronger. “We played well offensively, but you don’t win in this league without playing defense. Defense wins championships. We have to do a better job of shutting down the slot and in front of the net.”

The Flyers expect Leighton to quickly put the disappointing opener in his rear-view mirror, as he has done throughout the regular season and playoffs. Even though coach Peter Laviolette replaced Leighton with Boucher, I’ll be surprised if Leighton isn’t in the nets for Game 2. However, Laviolette will have him on a short leash.
Chicago Blackhawks right wing Marian Hossa (81) battles Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Chris Pronger (20) in the second period of Game 1 of the Stanley Cup hockey finals on Saturday, May 29, 2010, in Chicago. The Blackhawks won 6-5. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

“Am I disappointed that I got pulled? Of course,” Leighton said. “But every time they had a good opportunity, they were scoring goals. I’ve got to make a few of those saves. I don’t think both teams were too worried about defense: they were just worried about scoring goals.”

Clearly, the Flyers have to solidify their defense.

“We know we have to tighten up defensively: we can’t get in a track meet with this team,” said captain Mike Richards.

While the setback is hard to swallow for the Flyers, surely the favored Blackhawks must be thinking: we gave up five goals in our building in the Stanley Cup-final opener? The good news for the Blackhawks is, they won by scoring six goals.

For the Flyers to prevail in the Finals, they’ll need scoring from the Richards-Simon Gagne-Jeff Carter line. That line had zero points in Game 1. Interestingly, Chicago’s top line of Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Dustin Byfuglien also was held point-less. You’d think in an 11-goal game both top lines would be frolicking like children splashing in a swimming pool on the first day of summer. Chicago coach Joel Quenneville described the 60 minutes of offense as “Shootout at the OK Corral.”
When high scoring lines are shut out on the scoreboard, it always seems an unheralded player skates into the spotlight. In Game 1, it was Tomas Kopecky’s turn. Assigned to watching five playoff games from the press box earlier, Kopecky scored the game-winner against Boucher at 8:25 of the third period.

The Danny Briere-Scott Hartnell-Ville Leino line made up for the lack of production from Richards’s line. Briere contributed a goal, his team-leading 10th of the playoffs, and three assists. The revived Hartnell had a goal (his fourth) and two assists. Leino delivered a goal (his fifth) and an assist, raising his playoff point total to 14. Pretty impressive for a guy who was a healthy lineup scratch early in these playoffs.

Arron Asham continued his welcome offensive additions for the Flyers with his fourth goal that tied the game 5-5 late in the second period. Blair Betts also chimed in, scoring his first goal of the playoffs. Scoring by sometimes overlooked players such as Asham and Betts displays the Flyers depth.

Adding to the surreal nature of the game, the Flyers had four power-play opportunities to none for Chicago. Three Flyers power plays were in the first period, with Hartnell scoring the only man-up goal.

“The power play created some momentum for us,” Richards said, “but we made some mistakes, and they are very opportunistic on their chances. All their goals were second opportunities, or opportunities from the slot.”
These Stanley Cup playoffs have been a roller coaster. Remember Leighton shutting out Montreal in the first two games in Philadelphia, then giving up five goals in Game 3 in Montreal? What happened next? More Leighton lightning in Game 4: another shutout.

When the Flyers kept seizing the lead, as late as their 4-3 edge, I started thinking “They’re going to steal this game.” That it didn’t happen proves what a dangerous offensive group Chicago is. In case Flyers fans still had any doubt, Chicago is a formidable team. The Blackhawks have won six consecutive playoff games and are 9-1 in the last 10 games.

The Flyers had three one-goal leads in Game 1. That’s the kind of game an underdog team needs to win. If the Flyers lose again Monday night and return to Philadelphia trailing 2-0 in the series, can they still win the Cup? Absolutely, but it will be very, very difficult.

Please note that the views expressed in this column are not necessarily the views expressed by the Philadelphia Flyers Hockey Club.

Bill Fleischman is a veteran Philadelphia Daily News sportswriter. He was the Flyers' beat reporter for the Daily News in the 1970s, and continued to cover games in later years. A former president of the Professional Hockey Writers and the Philadelphia Sports Writers Associations, Fleischman is co-author of "Bernie, Bernie," the autobiography of Bernie Parent. Fleischman also is co-author of "The Unauthorized NASCAR Fan Guide." Since 1982, he has been an adjunct professor in the University of Delaware journalism program.

He is a graduate of Germantown High School and Gettysburg College.
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