-- Defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson, who has been so steady for the Chicago Blackhawks
throughout the Stanley Cup Playoffs, will likely spend the next two days doing everything he can to forget a pair of game-changing mistakes during the first period of Game 4 of the Final.
Hjalmarsson turned over the puck twice in a span of 10:13 to set up a pair of unassisted goals by the Philadelphia Flyers
. The Blackhawks never climbed out of the 2-0 hole as the Flyers went on for a 5-3 victory on Friday night that evened the best-of-7 series at 2-2.
"It's a tough start," said Hjalmarsson, who to his credit faced the media after the game. "I just tried to forget about that first period and tried to play as best as I could. I think I was all right after those two incidents. I just felt like I let the team down."
With the Flyers on a power play, Hjalmarsson was picked clean behind his net by Flyers captain Mike Richards
, who spun in front of the net and backhanded a shot through the legs of a surprised Antti Niemi
just 4:35 into the game.
The Flyers made it 2-0 on another goal that was set up by Hjalmarsson. Claude Giroux
wheeled and wristed a shot from the left circle that handcuffed Hjalmarsson near the crease and came to a stop. He tried to clear it -- but instead, he put the puck right on the tape of Matt Carle
, who scored into the gaping net.
"Obviously there are some plays there he'd like to have back," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville
said. "But you have to commend the kid in how he's competed all year and how he plays. Some nights, some tough things can happen. His character and his perseverance is what we look for, and we look for him to bounce right back."
"I thought I had more time on the first one there on the PK," Hjalmarsson said. "Richards did a good play and scored one there. On the second one, I thought I had a guy behind me. I tried to shovel the puck away and I just gave it to another guy."
Quenneville said he never lost faith in Hjalmarsson after the two gaffes. But the 22-year-old, who had been averaging about 22 minutes per game during the Stanley Cup Final and 21:04 overall in the postseason, played only 15:21 in Game 4.
Still, no one in the Blackhawks' locker room was pointing fingers at Hjalmarsson, who had 4 assists and was a plus-4 in his past eight games before Wednesday.
"I thought he played pretty solid," said fellow defenseman Duncan Keith
, who registered a massive 30:41 of ice time in Game 4. "Sometimes the puck bounces and takes a weird bounce. The one goal he was in great position to clear the puck and hits his stick and goes right to the guy. I mean, that's nothing to get down about."
"It wasn't just him," said Brent Sopel
, noting there was plenty of blame to go around on Philadelphia's four non-empty-net goals. "You take a look at things, and there's always more you can do. If one guy makes a mistake, there's four guys on the ice that can help him out and be in the right position. It just wasn't him."
Hjalmarsson, who trails only defensive horses Keith and Brent Seabrook
in playoff ice time for the Blackhawks, will need a short memory. Quenneville will be counting on him for Sunday's Game 5 in Chicago.
"It's still 2-2," Hjalmarsson said. "It sounds like the series is over and it's still 2-2. We still have home-ice advantage. We're looking forward to going home to the (United Center) to play a good game and take it from there."
Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DLozoNHL