How to describe last night's Blackhawk 6-5 home win over the Flyers in Game One? Unpredictably offensive. Never have I seen so many goals on such a big stage. You had to love it if you were an NBC exec. The exciting, edge of your seat opener earned the best rating in 11 years with the 2.8 turned in bringing back flashbacks of Sabres-Stars (3.7) on Fox. Heck. It was 12 percent higher than last year's Pens-Wings rematch. Sidney who?
The two traditional markets kicked off this year's Stanley Cup Final with a bang, combining for 11 goals and six lead changes with unsung hero Tomas Kopecky getting the last laugh by outwaiting Brian Boucher for the deciding marker with 11:35 left in the contest. The key sub was in for Andrew Ladd and paid huge dividends, giving Chicago its first win in the Final since 1973 when they fell in six to Montreal. Nearly two decades later, they were swept by the Super Mario Pens. Oddly enough, Pitt's Cup clincher to repeat was an identical 6-5 margin. Last night marked the first time that many goals had been scored since. Hopefully, a franchise that hasn't won Lord Stanley in 49 years will net a different result. If you didn't get enough of the goalfest, Puck Daddy's Greg Wyshynski has all 11 broken down.
“A lot of action. Shootout at the OK Corral,” deadpanned Chicago coach Joel Quenneville. “Things settled down as the game progressed. Certainly, I don’t think anybody envisioned 5-5 heading into the third period.”
Queeneville's deep club did it despite getting zilch from the top line of Dustin Byfuglien, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, who went a combined minus-nine with Big Buff losing his first battle against Chris Pronger- who fared better tallying two assists, five shots, four hits, two blocked shots and finished plus-two in over 32 minutes. Despite not playing close to their best, Chicago still showed enough resiliency to pull it out thanks to big performances from Kopecky (G, A), Troy Brouwer (2-1-3), Marian Hossa (2 A) and Dave Bolland (SHG, A), Kris Versteeg (G, A) and Niklas Hjalmarsson (2 A, 4 blocked shots). The Hawks' biggest edge showed up, overcoming a four-point night from Daniel Briere (10th G, 3 A), who was the best player. With 27 seconds left in the first, he followed up his own rebound putting the Flyers ahead 3-2. Late in the second, it was his brilliant cross-ice pass to Arron Asham which tied it at five.
It still wasn't enough. The Blackhawks responded with a much better third, using their puck possession and speed to control the tempo. Eventually, it led to the winner. Thanks to an unreal diving keep by Brent Seabrook, the puck stayed in where Bolland and Versteeg combined to set up a wide open Kopecky, who calmly went around Boucher and hit the net. Great composure shown by the ex-Wing who played a whale of a game with Ladd out, also assisting on Versteeg's tally that made it 4-4 halfway through. From there, Antti Niemi shook off a poor first 40 minutes turning aside all six Flyer shots in the third, including a nice glove save on a long Briere try from 50. With Boucher pulled, a Pronger one-timer went wide as the final seconds ticked off giving an ecstatic United Center of over 22,000 strong victory.
Despite falling, the Flyers did many things well including establishing their physicality (40 hits to 37) while connecting once on four power plays while failing to take a single penalty. Though you'd definitely get some argument from the Hawk faithful. They did miss a couple. And as NBC's Doc Emrick noted, kinda odd that the road team got the only PP's. Don't expect that for Game Two tomorrow. But then again, can we really get a duplicate of the fun chaos that ensued last night? The Blackhawk stars weren't alone with the Flyers getting nothing from Mike Richards, Jeff Carter and Simon Gagne, who were a combined minus-seven. Claude Giroux wasn't any better going minus-two without a shot. Peter Laviolette's club got strong games out of Scott Hartnell (G, 2 A), Wing castaway Ville Leino (G, A), the aforementioned Briere, Pronger and Asham (G, A). Even former Ranger Blair Betts scored his first postseason goal since '06 when he rang one off the post and in from the right circle. Nice to see unless you're John Tortorella.
Not so nice was the performance of Michael Leighton, who was chased from the net after permitting five on 20 shots. Even if the last wasn't his fault, the journeyman's off day forced Laviolette to go to Boucher, who in his return since a Game Four injury versus Boston two rounds prior was solid, making 11 saves. Does the Cup experienced coach stay with him or go back to a shaky Leighton? We're banking on Bouch.
Hartnell is hoping the ice will be better.
“It’s really chippy. A lot of snow accumulates really fast, so after the first couple of minutes you don’t see those nice crisp passes and things like that. It’s hot outside and humid and stuff like that so hopefully they’ll be able to do a better job for Game 2, the ice guys.”
"It’s so hot outside, I don’t know if you could do anything about it,” echoed Versteeg while noting the difference after the first 10 minutes had been played.
“The last 10, it heats up a bit. There’s nothing they can do about it. They’re not going to change the temperature or anything like that. They’re not going to tell the people to stop screaming and opening doors.”
But as Hartnell's experienced 'mate Pronger points out, it's something he's accustomed to.
“I don’t think it’s any worse than it was in Anaheim or Carolina. As you progress in the playoffs, the ice gets a little bit softer.”
Regardless, it's the same for both sides. Let's drop the puck for Game Two!