Skip to main content

Top lines regroup after empty Cup finals opener

NHL.com @NHL

CHICAGO (AP) -Chris Pronger played more than half of the series-opening game for Philadelphia, a 6-foot-6 wall of willpower helping keep Chicago's talented top line in check.

Blackhawks stars Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Dustin Byfuglien went without a point and combined for a minus-9 rating, thanks in part to ol' Pronger's usual hard work on the blue line.

The Flyers, though, still gave up six goals and lost Game 1 of the Stanley Cup finals. If the Blackhawks were able to steal a win at home when they were mostly outskated, well, that must not bode well for the Flyers and their 35-year run without a championship.

Try telling that to Pronger and his confident teammates, though, this group that overcame a slew of injuries throughout the season and a near-impossible three-game deficit in the conference semifinals.

"I think from the get-go we believe we can beat that team," said Pronger, who played 32 minutes, 21 seconds and recorded five shots on goal, four hits, two blocked shots and two assists during the 6-5 defeat in Game 1 on Saturday. "Do we need to tighten up a few things and play better defensively? Absolutely. That's why it's a best-of-seven series."

More startling than the frenetic pace between the Blackhawks and Flyers that produced 11 goals in the highest-scoring final-round game in 18 years was who was missing from the score sheet. Not only did Kane, Toews and Byfuglien have a fruitless game, but Jeff Carter, Mike Richards and Simon Gagne were absent in action as well.

"I think all three of us know it's not as much what they did as it was what we didn't do on the ice," Toews said.

After practices at the United Center on Sunday, both teams stressed the importance of tightening up their defense, cutting down on their turnovers and simply doing a better job of clearing pucks out of danger to make it easier on their goaltenders.

Pronger, for his part, helped keep the bruising Byfuglien from having his way around the net.

"I think teams allowed him to just go stand there," Pronger said. "You have to force a guy like that to work. He's a big guy, but he's got to exert some energy and work to get into position. That tires guys out that aren't used to it."

Richards experienced some of the same frustration against the Blackhawks defense and checking line centered by Dave Bolland.

"I thought we had good looks last night. We just didn't score, and did anything but. I think persistence is something we need to have as a line and not get discouraged by one or two bad bounces," Richards said.

Troy Brouwer had two of Chicago's goals from the second line and Tomas Kopecky scored the winner off an effective third line that also got goals from Kris Versteeg and Bolland on a short-handed breakaway.

Who cares where the offense comes from, as long it comes, right?

"Some nights they're going to go dry a little bit," Bolland said. "May not find the back of the net like they want to every game, but you know what? As long as the other guys on the team are picking up the slack and helping out, then that's all you can ask for."

Flyers coach Peter Laviolette decided to stick with goalie Michael Leighton, who was pulled after yielding five goals in less than two periods for Brian Boucher.

Leighton was 6-1 with three shutouts prior to the Stanley Cup finals, but he stopped only 15 of 20 shots on Saturday. His teammates insisted the problem was theirs, not Leighton's or Boucher's.

"The chances we gave, the shots we gave in dangerous areas, we haven't done that too many times in the playoffs," center Danny Briere said, adding: "Not too many goalies are going to be successful when you give point-blank chances to score the way we did."

Leighton proved he can bounce back, surrendering five goals in the Game 3 loss to Montreal that followed his consecutive shutouts to start the conference finals. He responded with another shutout in Game 4 and a two-goal allowance in the decisive Game 5.

"We're confident in all of our players. We wouldn't be here if we weren't," Laviolette said.

Laughs and lighthearted groans came from a small group of Flyers players on Sunday, while they youthfully warmed up for practice by kicking a soccer ball around a circle they formed in a basement corner of the arena.

The day after their frustrating loss to start the Stanley Cup finals, these whimsical sounds bounced off the cement walls. It was hardly an uptight picture of pressure.

"It's never over until it's completely over," Briere said, "and we hear that cliche all the time. I feel it's never been as more true as it is with this team."

View More