PHILADELPHIA – The team that has won Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final has gone on to win the most coveted prize in hockey 24 of the last 27 years.
And while that bodes very well for the Flyers, who won Friday’s pivotal swing game 5-3, it leaves Chicago, not just the Blackhawks, but an entire city that expected Lord Stanley to be in the building for Game 5 on Sunday, searching for answers.
Not just on why this series heads back to the Windy City tied at two, but what happened to a hockey club that coasted through the Western Conference with relative ease, only to lose any and all semblance of self-discipline on the biggest stage in the sport.
“Way too many mistakes tonight,” said Marian Hossa, who will undoubtedly hear chatter about his own personal demons over the next two days. “We can’t win going to the box like we did. We can’t win turning the puck over like we did.”
Sure, Chicago won the battle of the faceoff circle and outshot Philadelphia 34-31. They even mounted a third period charge thanks to a five-on-three opportunity that netted them their first special teams goal of the series. Yet Game 4, like the rest of this Stanley Cup Final, has been about Joel Quenneville’s club in an uphill climb against a worthy opponent and its own self confidence.
“It is obviously frustrating to be up two and now being tied up, but we’ve got to go home, regroup and go from there,” defenseman Duncan Keith said. ““If you had told me back when the season started that we’d be playing in a best of three for the Stanley Cup, I’m pretty sure anyone in the room would have taken it.”
The Blackhawks performance in Game 4 was littered with mistakes large and small, like Ladd, who found himself in the lineup for the first time in the series, getting called for taking down Braydon Coburn in front of goaltender Michael Leighton just 36 seconds in to the game. Then there was that foolish cross check by Tomas Kopecky on Danny Briere, that set up an unfortunate turnover by Niklas Hjalmarsson behind his own net, gift wrapping Mike Richards first goal of the series.
Pick your poison, the Blackhawks certainly did.
“It was a tough start,” Hjalmarsson said. “When you are in the game, you have to put that kind of mistake behind you. That’s what I tried to do.”
When Chicago did find success in the offensive zone, it was almost immediately negated by a miscue. After the Richards goal, the Blackhawks took control of the pace, peppering Leighton, who remained calm, cool and collected in front of traffic for nearly 10 minutes straight. When the foot came off the gas, and the Flyers managed to pick up another shot, it was Matt Carle knocking a loose puck by Antti Niemi for his first goal of the playoffs and the third of his career to make the score 2-0.
Not so bad for one of Peter Laviolette’s workhorse defenseman, who remain the key to this series.
“Nothing’s changed,” said Laviolette of his team’s performance here at the Wachovia Center. “I said when we left (Chicago) that I thought we could have won both games. I like our game. I like what we’re doing.”
Chicago’s play hasn’t been a series of freak accidents, but a dangerous pattern that will cost them the series if it keeps up. It has come in the form of numerous bad penalties, costly turnovers and that inability to seize momentum, like letting Ville Leino score less than a minute after Patrick Kane’s go-ahead goal in Game 3, a play that not only changed a game, but an entire series.
And it happened again in Game 4.
Patrick Sharp made the score 2-1 after getting thrown off of a draw that Coburn couldn’t clear with 1:28 to go in the first period. And instead of heading back to the dressing room with momentum in hand, Kimmo Timmonen found Claude Giroux behind an overcommitted Niemi some 50 seconds later for Philadelphia’s third goal in eight shots.
“I thought we were very generous in the first period on what we gave them as far as goals went,” Quenneville said. “We have to be smart and more composed in the discipline area as well.”
It was in that one moment where Chicago’s frustration came to the surface. Through four games of the series Jonathan Toews has yet to score a goal. Patrick Kane, even with an assist, registered a minus four and once again Dustin Byfuglien was kept in check by the Flyers physical play.
“Definitely give them credit,” Brent Sopel said. “They were relentless. They’ve been relentless all four games. We made a couple of costly mistakes.”
He’s right. Absolutely give the Flyers credit for forcing the Blackhawks to play their game. Give them credit for eliminating second and third opportunities in front of Leighton since game one. And give them credit for having the best player on the ice in Chris Pronger, not just physically, but mentally.
And yes, it is a 2-2 series, but if you look at how these first four games have been played, the Flyers have been the better team and it hasn’t even been close.
They just need to be the better team in two of the next three games.
“You have to start all over again in the next game,” Daniel Briere said. “It is a new game and I have seen it happen so many times before. We have to come up with a strong effort.”