Chicago—The back-and-fourth series so far has had a lot to do with a pair of potent offenses, but even more to do with sub par goaltending and panicked defensemen. Game 5 was no different.
The Flyers took all of the momentum into Game 5 after a pair of wins at the Wachovia Center that weren’t as close as the scores indicated. The Flyers outplayed the Blackhawks but had some help from the Hawks’ defensemen and their turnovers. The Hawks didn’t have the same luck with the Flyers’ blueliners early in the series.
“They don’t give you much defensively. They seem to plug things up and they do a good job of obstructing and getting in your way,” said Chicago winger Patrick Sharp before Game 5.
The first period of Game 5 seemed to be read from a different script. The Hawks came out with fresh, new line combinations that seemed to click almost immediately as Chicago was in the driver’s seat in the first frame, capitalizing on Philadelphia’s lapses.
With 7:43 to go in the first, Brent Seabrook opened the scoring on the power play with his fourth goal of the playoffs. After Scott Hartnell was whistled for high-sticking, Kris Versteeg came out with the puck after a scrum in the corner. Versteeg found Seabrook, who snapped a shot off of Chris Pronger’s skate and past Michael Leighton.
“The first one I thought was huge by Seabs to get us going. I thought we were playing pretty good but to get some results off of that was pretty nice,” said Chicago winger Patrick Kane.
Chicago extended their lead to two less than three minutes later when Brent Sopel took a shot from the point that was re-directed wide. Dave Bolland picked up the rebound behind the net, threw the puck in front and it hit the back of Leighton’s skate and dribbled in.
As the Hawks continued to push, the Flyers gave up more and more ice. After a Philadelphia dump into the Hawks’ zone, Chicago broke the puck out of their zone with ease. The puck eventually found Versteeg, who cut across the ice and snapped a low shot past Leighton’s blocker to give the Hawks a 3-0 lead.
“That’s the pace we’ve been looking for this whole series,” said Hawks’ Coach Joel Quenneville about his team’s first period effort.
The Hawks took the three-goal lead into the first intermission and that capped Leighton’s night as he stopped only 10 of 13 shots. Brian Boucher stepped in net for the Flyers to start the second period and he got some early support from his offense.
After being completely neutralized in the first period, the Flyers wasted little time getting on the board in the second period. Ville Leino had the puck in the corner and drove to the net for a stuff attempt. Antti Niemi stopped the shot but the rebound lay in the crease for an easy tap-in by Scott Hartnell just 28 seconds into the period.
The Flyers started to control the pace of play but the Hawks answered right back less than three minutes later.
Patrick Sharp slipped a pass to Andrew Ladd in the neutral zone. Ladd skated in with a two-on-one odd man rush. Ladd took a shot that was blocked by Chris Pronger and bounced right back to Ladd who then slipped the puck over to Kane for the empty net goal.
Reminiscent of Game 1, Philadelphia answered back almost immediately. The Flyers’ drove to the Hawks’ net, putting the pressure on Niemi and the Chicago defense. Niemi was sprawled out when a failed clearing attempt went right to Kimmo Timonen at the point. Timonen snapped a high shot over the pile and into the net.
The Hawks closed out the scoring in the second period on the power play. Pronger was called for hooking and the Hawks needed only 27 seconds with the man advantage to slip one by Boucher.
Duncan Keith made a slap pass across ice to Jonathan Toews on the left faceoff dot. Both Flyers’ defensemen slid to cover Toews, which left Dustin Byfuglien wide open in front of the cage. Byfuglien tapped the pass through Boucher’s legs to give the Hawks the three-goal lead back.
“I think we got out worked pretty good. We got out battled, they were quicker to loose pucks, quicker on the forecheck,” said Flyers’ Coach Peter Laviolette.
The Flyers narrowed the gap with a goal from James Van Riemsdyk at 6:36. Van Riemsdyk picked up the rebound from a Timonen shot from the point and slipped it by Niemi.
The scoring touch went numb for a little less than ten minutes when the Hawks came down on a three-on-one break. Kane walked into the zone and found the late trailer, Patrick Sharp right in the slot at the hash marks. Just as Sharp has done all series long, he buried his opportunity for his tenth goal of the playoffs.
The Flyers, almost as if on call, tallied 1:16 later. Keith had his stick shatter in his own zone and Leino raced up the ice, gained the Hawks’ zone, and cut across as Simon Gagne drove to the net. Leino slid the puck through traffic to Gagne for the backdoor goal.
Laviolette pulled Boucher for the extra attacker but Byfuglien muffed that play when he got a pass from Versteeg and shot the puck into the vacant net from center ice. The goal gave Byfuglien four points to finish off his breakthrough performance in this series.
“I think Buff has been a big factor as he’s gone along here in these playoffs. Maybe everybody said he was quiet but I still thought he was a presence in the first two games,” Quenneville said. “I thought he made a big imprint on the outcome of the game tonight.”
There has been no shortage of goals in this series, that’s for sure. The Flyers’ goaltenders never really got into a rhythm. Boucher didn’t fare much better than Leighton as he allowed three goals on 14 shots.
When was asked about who the starter would be for Game 6 in Philadelphia, Laviolette said “I don’t have an answer to that question right now.” His answer might show the fault in the goaltending throughout the series.
The Hawks know they’re going into a hostile environment but they also know what to expect and know what it’s going to take to hoist the Cup.
“Our pace was as high as it’s been all series,” Toews said. “But we know there’s still another level we have to get to if we want to get that fourth win.”