Chicago—The Chicago Blackhawks and Philadelphia Flyers brought little defense to the table which led to goals, goals, and more goals before Chicago made their final, game winning strike.
The Blackhawks are back in the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time since 1992 when they were swept at the hands of Mario Lemieux and the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Blackhawks haven’t hoisted the Cup since 1961, the longest drought in the NHL.
The Flyers haven’t taken the cup home since 1975, while their last appearance in the Stanley Cup Finals resulted in a defeat to the Detroit Red Wings in 1997.
Antti Niemi and Michael Leighton traveled adverse paths but are opposing each other in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals but as good as both goaltenders’ stories to get to the Cup Finals are, their first periods’ didn’t exactly go as both had probably planned.
“It’s a real emotional game with a lot of back-and-fourth, up-and-down, and you just try and stay composed, stay with it, and stick to the game plan,” said Troy Brouwer.
Ville Leino started the scoring for Philadelphia just over seven minutes into the first period when he banked a shot in off of a Blackhawks’ defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson.
The Blackhawks didn’t need long to respond as Brouwer knotted the score at one with a blast from the slot past Leighton’s blocker just 1:08 later. Marian Hossa weaved in and out of the Flyers’ defenseman and made a nifty backhanded pass to Brouwer, who one-timed the shot for the goal.
“Our line is playing well but not been able to finish off their chances, so for us, we wanted to go out, we wanted to be a dangerous line every time around on the ice,” Brouwer said of the Hossa-Sharp-Brouwer combination. The trio combined for six points on the night.
Chicago’s Patrick Kane was whistled for a slashing penalty at 9:58, putting the Flyers’ power play on the ice. It was Dave Bolland who stole the show on the penalty kill. Bolland picked Braydon Coburn’s pocket and raced in on Leighton all alone. Bolland snapped a shot that went off of Leighton’s stick and into the net to put the Blackhawks up 2-1.
The Flyers finished the first period on fire, totally taking the game over with two goals in the final three minutes of the first frame. The orange and white knocked in a pair of rebounds, courtesy of Scott Hartnell and Daniel Briere.
Hartnell’s goal came on the power play after a scrum in front of the net, while Briere’s came with just 26 seconds left in the period.
The Blackhawks turned things around early in the second period when Patrick Sharp came down on a two-on-one and snapped a quick wrist shot to the short-side over Leighton’s glove just 1:11 into the second to tie the game at three.
Blair Betts gave put the Flyers back on top at 7:20 in the second period when he picked up a loose puck in the Chicago zone and snapped a shot to the far-side past Niemi’s blocker for his first goal of the playoffs.
The seesaw continued to sway back and fourth, Chicago striking next at 9:31 in the second period. Tomas Kopecky carried the puck below the Flyers’ goal line and shoveled a backhanded pass out to Kris Versteeg. Versteeg one-timed the pass, which was stopped by Leighton, but then knocked his own rebound into the empty net for his fourth goal of the playoffs.
The Blackhawks upped the ante with 4:42 to play in the second period with the go-ahead goal from Brouwer. Hjalmarsson wrapped the puck down deep in the Flyers’ zone to Hossa behind the net. Hossa took a quick look and slipped a pass through a crowd of players in front to a wide open Brouwer for another one-timer goal.
“[Brouwer] is one of those power forwards that can be a factor and be dangerous, but that whole line with Sharpy and Hossa was dangerous tonight,” Quenneville said.
The Blackhawks’ fifth goal chased Leighton after he stopped only 15 of 20 shots through 35:18 of play. The Flyers called on another former Blackhawk goaltender, Brian Boucher in hopes of keeping the Blackhawks at five.
The Blackhawks didn’t enjoy the lead for long, just 3:31 to be exact. The Flyers rushed up the ice and then made four cross ice passes in the Blackhawks’ zone before Arron Asham one-timed a shot past a sliding Niemi for his fourth goal of the playoffs. Briere and Hartnell chipped in the assists on the play.
The beginning of the third period was dominated offensively by the Blackhawks as they hardly allowed the Flyers to touch the puck.
The pressure against Boucher continued to build up until Kopecky potted his second goal of the game to give the Blackhawks a 6-5 lead with 11:35 to play. Kopecky got a pass out of the corner from Versteeg, walked it in, out-waited Boucher, and eventually slid the puck into the empty net.
“We were just too loose in front of our net and we left too many point blank opportunities,” said Flyers coach Peter Laviolette about his team’s defensive performance.
After a pair of absentee defenses early in the game, both teams locked down late. Chicago was able to keep Philadelphia off the board and cruise to a 1-0 series lead with a wild 6-5 win.
“I still thought we improved as the game went on. I think that’s the kind of niche we want to do. We want to get better and better each game,” Quenneville said.
Game 2 is Monday at 8 p.m. ET in the electric atmosphere known as the United Center.