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2010 Final courting history for tight games

by John Kreiser
This year's Stanley Cup Final has been nothing if not close -- maybe on the way to being historically close.

Wednesday night's 4-3 overtime win by the Philadelphia Flyers makes the third time in as many games that the margin of victory was a single goal -- Chicago won Games 1 and 2, 6-5 and 2-1, respectively. Playing three consecutive one-goal games at the start of the Final might not seem like a big deal, but it hadn't happened in 12 years -- since Detroit and Washington did it in 1998. The Wings won all three on the way to the last sweep in Cup Final history.

In fact, this is the first time in the expansion era (since 1967-68) that the first three games of a series were decided by one goal in a series that won't be a sweep. The only other Final to begin with back-to-back-to-back one-goal games came in 1976, when the Montreal Canadiens won all three on the way to sweeping Philadelphia, and 1968, when the Canadiens did the same to the expansion St. Louis Blues.

You have to go all the way back to 1964 -- 46 years ago -- to find the last time two teams combined to start the Final with three one-goal games that weren't all won by the same club. Toronto began that series with a pair of one-goal wins at home, and Detroit came back with a 4-3 victory at the Olympia in Game 3 of what turned out to be a seven-game series won by the Leafs.

A fourth consecutive one-goal game would move the Blackhawks and Flyers into rarified territory in terms of playing tight games. Not since 1968 have teams started a series with four one-goal games (Montreal won all four games against St. Louis in the only series sweep comprised of one-goal victories). The only other time it's happened was 1951, when Toronto beat Montreal in five games -- all of which went to overtime.

Not only have the games been tight at the finish, they've been close all the way through. Through 185:59 of playing time, the teams have been tied or within a goal of each other for all but 7:43. That's the span in which the Hawks led by a 2-0 score in Game 2 before Philadelphia got a goal from Simon Gagne to cut the margin in half. Neither team led Games 1 or 3 by more than one goal.

Tight fit -- The overtime loss Wednesday by the Blackhawks spoiled their perfect record in close games during this year's playoffs.

Chicago entered Game 3 with a 5-0 mark in one-goal games and a 10-0 record in games decided by one or two goals. Oddly enough, the Hawks are just 4-4 in "blowouts" -- games decided by three or more goals. During the regular season, the Hawks were a League-best 23-5 in such games. Chicago was 23-17 in one-goal decisions during the regular season.

In contrast, the Flyers are just 6-4 in one-goal games -- but 6-2 when the margin of victory is three or more goals. The Flyers were 17-15 in blowout games during the regular season.

Speaking of overtime -- The Flyers' victory in Game 3 improved home teams' overtime record in this year's playoffs to 11-6. But it was just the fifth win by a home team in the last 20 overtime games played in the Stanley Cup Final.

Home teams are 5-15 in OT in the Final over the last 20 years. Before Claude Giroux's goal gave the Flyers their victory, the last home team to win a Final game in overtime was the 2003 Anaheim Ducks, who won Games 3 and 4 against New Jersey on goals by Ruslan Salei (3-2 in Game 3) and Steve Thomas (1-0 in Game 4). Tampa Bay and Calgary exchanged road wins in Games 5 and 6 in 2004, Edmonton won at Carolina in Game 5 of the 2006 Final, and Pittsburgh avoided elimination with a triple-OT win at Detroit in Game 5 two years ago.

The Hawks' OT loss was their first in the Final since 1944, when Montreal's 5-4 victory completed a sweep, and their first overtime game in Final since a 2-1 double-OT win against Montreal in Game 1 in 1971. Chicago also won two OT games from Montreal in the 1931 Final and two more from Detroit three years later. In contrast, the Flyers had lost their last four overtime games in the Final since winning their first one -- a 3-2 victory against Boston in Game 2 in 1974.

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