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Saturday, December 7

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Blackhawks Mon Jun 07 2010

One. More. Win.

Recaps and highlights are everywhere by this point, but a few thoughts on the Blackhawks 7-4 Game 5 win, giving them a 3-2 series lead heading back to Philly for Wednesday's Game 6.

While there will be a focus on some of the team's bigger stars (Dustin Byfuglien's 4 points primarily, but also Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp and Kris Versteeg's great games), the win last night was a total team effort, from top to bottom. The Hawks came out of the gate absolutely flying, and the 1st period may have been their best effort of the postseason, and definitely the first time all series they've played a game that everyone knew they were capable of. The Hawks were controlling the puck, dictating the tempo, and firing off shots at will, while also limiting in their defensive zone. While they let up at times in the final 2 periods, and the Flyers never stopped fighting, they were able to respond and keep the game in hand. With another performance like they had last night Wednesday, Philadelphia would need some major breaks to force a Game 7.

For all of coach Joel Quenneville's constant line tinkering throughout the season, the decision to break up Kane, Jonathon Toews and Byfuglien was necessary and gave the Blackhawks the spark they needed in the game. Chicago has the depth to attack every which way, but with the focus on the Flyers' shutting down the top line, and the Hawks' line of Dave Bolland, Versteeg and Andrew Ladd/Tomas Kopecky out primarily as a defensive factor on the Flyers top line, the Blackhawks were far too reliant on a single scoring line. The switches made Philadelphia rethink their matchups, while still giving Chicago firepower and backchecking on all 3 lines.

Power plays were key, and for once, in Chicago's favor. The Hawks went 2-for-4 with the man advantage while keeping the Flyers off the board in 3 attempts. The Blackhawks were able to stay disciplined, put Philadelphia on their heels, and get their power play connecting, as seen most obviously in the beautiful goal by Byfuglien that saw the puck go through every Hawks on the ice.

Chris Pronger had what was inarguably his worst game as a pro, going -5 on the night, and taking a penalty that led directly to Byfuglien's power play tally. After the much ballyhooed battle between Pronger and Byfuglien was going decidely in Philly's favor, the Hawks find a way to negate the looming defenseman by getting him moving across the ice and away from the top of the crease. Chicago's first goal went in off his skate as he was trying to get into the shooting lane, the 2nd saw him too slow to react to a bounce off the boards, and the 3rd saw Versteeg skate past him before unleashing a nasty wrist shot. The 4th goal was another puck off the skate, this time blocking Ladd's shot before he sent a pass over to a wide-open Kane, while the 6th saw him in a helpless position on a 3-on-2. Then, Byfuglien waltzed past him for the empty net goal to seal the game. Make no mistake, Pronger's game was absolutely horrifying, and there's no chance he'll repeat that on Wednesday. But after all the talk of him shutting down the Hawks, last night showed Chicago can also render Pronger as pointless.

Oh, and speaking of Pronger, there's always this:

Has yet to not put a smile on the face.

For the Flyers, Michael Leighton was pulled for the 2nd time this series after giving up 3 goals on 13 shots, but his replacement wasn't much better, as Brian Boucher gave up 3 more on 14 shots. It remains to be seen which goalie gets the nod in Game 6, but the Hawks have to feel confident that they can put the puck past either of them with an effort like they had Sunday night.

There's still work to be done, and despite the big win, the Hawks had their areas that need to improve. Antti Niemi picked up the victory, but was not in top form in giving up 4 Flyer goals, and the defense in front of him still lost their coverage and had trouble clearing the puck and transitioning too often, but the big 1st period lead seemed to calm some of those troubles. However, with the line change and road crowd in Philly looming, the defense needs to do a better job of locating men and clearing pucks, and Niemi needs to control his rebounds better and prevent 2nd chance attempts.

The win puts the Hawks on the cusp of the Stanley Cup, and with two days off, a lot of time to think about their position. The Flyers have proven all year that there is no quit in Philly, and Chicago will no doubt see everything thrown at them Wednesday night. If the Blackhawks can withstand the coming onslaught and not come out too tight, the first goal will be huge. The Hawks have currently lost 10 straight in the City of Brotherly Love, but with the season and the Cup on the line, all they need to care about is one win.

 
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Jack / June 7, 2010 2:32 PM

First of you have no chance in hell of winning in Philly for Game 6...let's get that out of the way right now...of course you would say Boucher didn't play any better than Leighton...the reality is he did and no goals could he be faulted for wheras with Leighton Bolland's garbage goal and Versteeg's shot should have been saved.
While the subject is on goalies ytour gut Niemi didn't exactly light the world on fire...average at best is what he was

JR / June 7, 2010 5:57 PM

Boucher let in just as many goals as Niemi, and one of those 2 goalies played the whole game, not just 40 minutes. So who's the more "average"?

Flyers fans always sound so *angry* in comments. Seems impossible to find any articles with any fully calm, articulate Philly responses; they're always 'F you' and 'you suck' and 'you won't win'.

The Hawks were at least gracious enough to say when they had a bad game. The best Levy and Pronger can do is to be jerks to the media and give backhanded compliments and attempt to play mind games.

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