FLYERS at BLACKHAWKS
TV: NBC (HD), CBC (HD), RDS
(Best-of-seven series tied, 2-2)
Big story --
The Stanley Cup Final is hanging in the balance at the moment. Each team has won both its games at home so far and the winner of Sunday night's game will take a commanding 3-2 lead in the best-of-7 series. This final has been incredibly even. In fact, Jeff Carter's empty-net goal Friday night that provided the final margin of victory is the only thing that keeps these teams from being completely equal as Philadelphia has out-scored Chicago, 15-14, in the first four games.
Philadelphia believed it could hold serve at the Wachovia Center and turn an 0-2 series deficit into a best-of-3 series heading back to Chicago for Sunday’s Game 5. Then, it proved that confidence wasn’t misplaced by winning in OT in Game 3 and holding on for a 5-3 win in Friday’s Game 4.
Now, however, the Flyers know they will have to win away from the City of Brotherly Love in order to have any hope of completing this incredible journey through the spring as Stanley Cup champions.
"We're going back to Chicago and we have to win a game there eventually," Philadelphia goalie Michael Leighton
said. "So, (Game 5) is going to be the most important game for us. Tonight was obviously a big win for us. We have to go into Chicago and give the same effort and, hopefully, get the same results."
The Flyers were able to pull out wins in Games 3 and 4 because they were the more physical, more disciplined and more opportunistic team during the series' first stay in Philadelphia.
Also, their penalty kill has dominated the series. Chicago scored its first power-play goal of the series to kick start their third-period comeback. It ended a streak that had seen Philadelphia kill off every Chicago power play in this series and 27 of 28 kills entering Game 4.
Philadelphia knows it will need to continue to stay out of the box whenever possible -- a Scott Hartnell
unsportsmanlike conduct penalty contributed to the 5-on-3 on which Chicago scored -- and kill off the opportunities it does concede if it wants to keep the high-powered Blackhawks offense in check.
"I think all year we have had a great penalty kill," Leighton said. "We obviously got the top four D that are doing a great job blocking shots and keeping pucks away. Our forwards, the work horses, are blocking shots up top and clearing pucks really well.
"That's kind of been our MO all year. We took a lot of penalties throughout the year, but we also had a great penalty kill. That's why we're here right now."
After losing both games in Philadelphia, Chicago is looking for answers.
Most importantly, the Blackhawks need to figure out how to get their top line on track. Dustin Byfuglien has not been effective in the power-forward role he played so well against San Jose and Vancouver. Captain Jonathan Toews
and high-scoring winger Patrick Kane
have only been good in spurts.
In fact, things have gotten so bad that Chicago coach Joel Quenneville spent the second half of Friday's game 4 mixing and matching lines as he tried to find a spark to ignite his stars.
"Sometimes you try to mix it up a little bit, whether it's a matchup or to get some energy going in the lines," Quenneville said. "We didn't like some things. Sometimes you try some things. I thought the energy came."
But the Blackhawks have bigger problems than just their mostly off, occasionally on, top line.
Goaltender Antti Niemi is no longer the fortress he was earlier in the series. He has allowed a low-scoring Flyers team to get five goals twice in this series and during a nine-shot stretch from the overtime winner by Giroux in Game 3 and another goal by Giroux in the waning seconds of the first period of Game 4, Niemi allowed four goals.
Finally, the Hawks need to figure out how to counter Philadelphia's puck-hounding forecheck, which has forced Chicago into a number of costly turnovers.
Yet, the Blackhawks insist they are not at the panic point. After all, they are heading home where they are extremely comfortable, and if they can win Game 5 they know they will once again seize the momentum in this series.
They believe if they can recapture the magic that led to two goals in the second half of the third period, they will find the formula to win.
"Obviously, we have to take the positive from the last ten minutes of the third," defenseman Brent Sopel said. "We started moving our feet well and getting the pucks in deep. That's something we need to do for 60 minutes.
"You have to get better every game. You have to dig deeper every game. Final two wins we're going to have to dig really deep."
Who's hot --
Nobody's hotter than Ville Leino. The rookie Finnish forward scored the game-winning goal in Game 4 and, in the process, set a couple of Flyers records.
The tally was Leino's seventh goal and 16th point of the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs, moving him past Mel Bridgman (6 goals in 1976) and Brian Propp (5-10-15 in 1980) in those respective categories on the Flyers playoff lists. His 16 points are the most by a NHL rookie in one postseason since Jeremy Roenick tallied 18 points for Chicago in 1990.
Leino, who suffered some back discomfort after absorbing a big hit from Brian Campbell at center ice, says he does not feel like a rookie. The midseason acquisition from the Detroit Red Wings certainly is not playing like a first-year player.
"I'm 26 now," he said, adding that the boys in the room are riding him pretty hard about his rookie status. "I played in the Final last year (with Detroit) and the playoffs last year. I don't really feel like a rookie. I guess rules are rules."
Injury report --
The Blackhawks returned Andrew Ladd to the lineup in Game 4, fulfilling a pre-series promise by Quenneville that the power forward would play in the series despite suffering an undisclosed injury in Game 4 against San Jose last round.
Ladd, who won a Cup with Carolina at the start of his career, replaced Adam Burish in the Game 4 lineup, but had a mixed-bag of a night. He had a primary assist on the goal by Brian Campbell that made it 4-3 and finished a plus-1 in a little more than 10 minutes of action. But he also took an unnecessary offensive-zone penalty for interference just 36 seconds into the game, which helped put Chicago on its heels for the rest of a period that ended 3-1 in the home team's favor.
"Obviously, it was tough watching," Ladd said, "especially at this point of the season. It was nice to get back in there. Obviously, we didn't do a lot of little things, especially defensively in the first period. We got behind the eight ball."
Chicago made another change, replacing Jordan Hendry with Nick Boynton on defense. Boynton was minus-1 and also took a penalty in a little more than 8 minutes of ice time.
The Flyers also made a lineup change, returning the healthy Daniel Carcillo
to the press box in favor of James van Riemsdyk
, who was a healthy scratch the past two games. Van Riemsdyk, a rookie, assisted on the game-winning goal and finished plus-1.
Stat pack --
The Flyers ran their home winning streak at Wachovia Center to seven games and improved their League-best home record in the 2010 playoffs to 9-1. In six home starts, Leighton is 6-0 with two shutouts, a 1.48 goals-against average and .949 save percentage, stopping 169 of 178 shots.
The 29 goals scored in this series are the most through the first four games of the Stanley Cup Final since 1981. Philadelphia has scored at least one goal with the man advantage in each of the four Stanley Cup Final games and is 5 for 16 this series. Toews, Chicago's No. 1 center, was 24 of 33 on faceoffs in Game 4, a 73 percent winning percentage. For the series, Toews is winning faceoffs at a 67 percent clip, going 67-33.
Puck drop --
It's hard to figure out exactly what will happen in Monday's Game 5 after the unpredictability of the first four games. Certainly, there is no way to predict who will win.
But, most likely, the game will be close; it will be hard-hitting and could very well be decided by special-teams play.
Regardless of the outcome, it appears that these two times are committed to providing a back-and-forth Final series full of excitement and entertainment.
"I'm not sure, I mean, we have two teams that are great hockey teams playing," Flyer captain Mike Richards said. "Obviously, it's not going to be an easy task for us. Some nights you're going to play well and lose, and some nights you're going to play well and win. I think that's what's happened in the first four games. They've all been close, one-goal games -- overtime last time.
"We're not expecting an easy series. I'm sure they're not expecting an easy series. We have both even teams going at it and playing hard. I think it shows that on the ice with the product that we're throwing out there."