Going into Game 5, the Flyers had all of the momentum and the Blackhawks (and their fans) had all of the doubt. There were all kinds of question marks surrounding the game and depending on how they were answered, we’d know who was going to be playing for Lord Stanley on Wednesday. After a 7-4 win, it looks like the Blackhawks answered just about all of the questions loud and clear.
I’m not sure that any of us thought that the “History Will Be Made” moment from Game 5 would read: “What if Pronger wasn’t on the ice for 6 goals against?”
1. Will Chicago get a bump from the home crowd at the beginning of Game 5? The Flyers have owned the 1st period so far in this series—will the Blackhawks be able to get off to a better start in Game 5?
The scoring chances were 10-0 before the first TV timeout. No, that’s not a hyperbole; they were really 10-0. The Blackhawks took a penalty to slow down the momentum for 2 minutes—but outside of the Flyers goal, they absolutely dominated the other 18 minutes of the 1st period. It was easily the best period of the entire series for the Hawks.
2. Will Patrick Kane pull his head out of his ass now that the series is even?
Well, that all depends on how you define, “pull your head out.” He scored—but then again, so did every other long-haired woman wearing a Hawks jersey in United Center last night. He certainly played much better than he has over the entire series, but he was dropped off the Toews line, wasn’t matched up against Pronger most of the game, and wasn’t expected to do as much. So take it for what you will.
3. The Flyers have been GREAT in the “priority shifts” after Chicago scores a goal. Will the Blackhawks be able to sustain momentum when they grab it in Game 5? Or will the Flyers be able to stem the tide and minimize any damage as they were able to do in Games 3 and 4?
The only negative to scoring 7 goals for the Blackhawks is that it would give the Flyers 7 opportunities to suck the Chelsea Dagger loving life out of the United Center. Twice the Flyers were able to immediately respond to a Chicago goal by scoring one themselves within 85 seconds of playing time. Of course, it doesn’t hurt as badly when you’re already winning by 3 goals—but clearly it’s an issue that the Hawks haven’t quite figured out. If Game 6 is closer, then those quick responses would be much more magnified.
4. Will Chris Pronger be able to continue to fly under the radar with the referees?
Once again, this is a mixed bag. Pronger was called for his second minor of the series with a fairly weak hooking call in the 2nd period. On that note, Blackhawks fans should be happy that they finally got a call against the guy that plays half the game. On the flip side, he wasn’t called for any roughing, interference, or cross-checking calls in front of the net that easily could have been called. Even though he sat in the box for Chicago’s 5th goal, he’s still managing to get away with some stuff that most other players would not.
5. Joel Quenneville made some changes to his line combinations for the 3rd period of Game 4 and had a little bit of success. Here’s how they started Game 5:
Will Coach Q’s new line combinations for the start of Game 5 make any difference?
If the last few answers were a mixed bag, then this as overwhelming as it gets. By mixing up the lines, Quenneville was able to both energize his own team as well as get some scorers away from Pronger to create opportunities. Even though Pronger was on the ice for 6 of the 7 goals against, the Blackhawks were able to create plenty of momentum when he was on the bench. Overall, the line-changes were the #1 key to the game.
6. The Blackhawks were very good on the PP and PK through the first 3 rounds of the playoffs (22.6% on the PP; 86.6% on the PK), but have struggled through the first 4 games of the Cup Finals (11.1% PP; 68.8% PK). Will they be able to turn that around in Game 5?
Talk about flipping the script. For the first 4 games of the series, the Hawks couldn’t score on the power play and the Flyers couldn’t stop scoring. In Game 4, the Hawks scored twice as many PP goals (2) as they had all series (1). Just as important as the two goals they scored, they were able to build momentum on their first power play of the game. Even though they didn’t score, they peppered the net and it ended up leading to their 1st goal of the game. Earlier in the series, the Flyers would have taken the opportunity to suck some of the life out of the building with a strong kill. On the other end of the ice, they finally pulled it together and managed to keep the Flyers off the specialty teams stat sheet. Not a bad accomplishment when you realize they were clicking at just over 31% for the series.
7. Who is going to be able to win the battle in front of the net? In Game 2, Chicago won the battle and was able to win the game. In Games 3 and 4, the Flyers were able to own the front of the net and predictably won each game. So who owns the front of the net in Game 5?
Perhaps for the first time in the series, the Blackhawks looked like they wanted to play with the big boys down low in front of the net. They were able to create havoc in front of the Flyers net and engage sustained pressure for once. They made life difficult for both goaltenders—making it difficult to see the initial shot and peppering rebound opportunities in the direction of the flailing goaltender. This might have been the single biggest benefit from the line changes as well. The Blackhawks had much more success crashing the net against Timonen/Coburn than they have had all series. They might not have scored on all of those instances, but the tone was set as they simply rolled lines and created scoring chances.
8. Going into Game 5, Michael Leighton was sitting on a .897 save percentage, but was widely regarded as having a good series. So which will it be in Game 5? A guy who has a .897 save percentage or a guy who plays well?
Leighton was the only reason that it wasn’t 3-0 after the first 10 minutes of the game. I can honestly say that he was the best player on the Flyers for the first half of the 1st period. Unfortunately for him (and Philadelphia), he didn’t make it out of the 1st period after giving up 3 goals. I have a hard time faulting him for giving up the 3 goals (first was a deflection off of Pronger), but the fact of the matter is that he gave up 3 goals on 13 shots and got pulled. The Flyers could have used one or two more big saves from Leighton—but he could have used a little help from his defense corps.
9. Are we going to notice Dustin Byfuglien at all in Game 5?
I honestly wrote this question BEFORE the game. Byfuglien was an absolute monster in Game 5. He had 2 goals, 2 assists, and 9 hits. Physical play on the forecheck (as well as in front of the net) was what made him the talk of the playoffs in the Vancouver series. If you didn’t notice him in Game 5, you were probably watching the Lakers/Celtics game.
10. Will the Daniel Briere/Scott Hartnell/Ville Leino line be able to continue being the best line in the series?
After the Blackhawks absolutely owned the first 8 minutes of the game, it was the Briere/Hartnell/Leino line that got enough pressure to create a scoring chance, draw a penalty, and take the pressure off. At that point in the game, the constant pressure was almost as important as getting a goal. Unfortunately, that was only momentary respite from the onslaught that was to come. Really, the line was still the best line for the Flyers and one of the best in the game—but the Flyers desperately needed some help from the Richards/Carter/Gagne line. For all the talk about how the Flyers were able to match Chicago’s depth with 4 lines, Game 5 put a little dent in that theory. I’m not sure Philadelphia can ask for anything more from the Briere/Hartnell/Leino line, though. Once again, they were spectacular with 6 points and a combined +5.
And so here we are. The bad news for the Flyers is that Chicago was able to right the ship once they got home. The good news is they’ll get the chance to do the same in Game 6 at the Wachovia Center. Remember, we saw the exact same pattern last year until Pittsburgh finally won a road game in Game 7. Who knew that Philadelphia fans would be looking towards Pittsburgh for hope?