Jonathan Toews takes the opening draw with Marian Hossa and Tomas Kopecky and they immediately have the puck moving the right way. This is a good change for the Hawks and early returns look promising despite the presence of the loser Slovak. Patrick Sharp's new line was next over the boards but not for long - once they see Mike Richards is on the ice, it's off to the bench and, good God, Joel Quennville! He's still going for that damned Bolland match. With Dustin Byfuglien! Didn't the Chicago guys tell me this guy needs protecting? Jesus. Nice interception though.
It's been all Hawks for the first eight minutes. Line after line is just dominating and the world is the way conventional wisdom had supposed except that they haven't scored and that's always a bit troubling. The Flyers just had their first offensive pressure of the game - big shocker here, it's against the damned Bolland line - and it ends with Dave Bolland in the box. I guess Ville Leino is really getting under his skin.
The PK was a bit scary. The Flyers had a glorious chance at the side of the net to steal the lead which would have been a real coup for Michael Leighton. Antti Niemi isn't looking good and Leighton has been fantastic. The Hawks are on the power play now and they had better keep the pressure on or this could be a long... GOAL! Off Pronger's skate. They deserved that one. Ambiguous pronouns are awesome. This has definitely been the Hawks' best period of the series but Leighton isn't going to give them much.
I was wrong. It's three-zip after one and Leighton just came unraveled. The goals got progressively more stoppable and his last save was a gong-show. This isn't really his fault though. The Hawks owned the puck that whole period and the Flyers look done. The Hawks were due for a big game so unless they go full-on shell the rest of the way or Niemi is awful, this one is finished.
Scoring chances and more after the jump.For those who'd like a definition: a scoring chance is defined as a clear play directed toward the opposing net from a dangerous scoring area - loosely defined as the top of the circle in and inside the faceoff dots, though sometimes slightly more generous than that depending on the amount of immediately-preceding puck movement or screens in front of the net. Blocked shots are generally not included but missed shots are. A player is awarded a scoring chance anytime he is on the ice and someone from either team has a chance to score. He is awarded a "chance for" if someone on his team has a chance to score and a "chance against" if the opposing team has a chance to score. And, of course, a big thanks to Vic Ferrari for making the whole damn thing possible with his awesome scripts.
The Hawks had a big game at even strength in the first two periods and the third saw both teams play heavily to the score with the Hawks again being a bit better - you're not going to lose too many three goal leads if you only allow five scoring chances (though Antti Niemi did his best). On special teams, it was an odd game. The Hawks scored twice on the power play and the Flyers not at all, but the Flyers looked a lot better on the plays that didn't end in goals. They've been the more efficient club all series on the power play which has got to be frustrating for a Chicago group that's been so good on the penalty kill all year. As for the plays that did end up in the net, the Hawks' second power play marker featured some truly awesome passing. The Hawks were "on" tonight, clearly the better team, and absolutely full value for the win for the first time in five games.
I made Bolland and Byfuglien sound pretty bad in the opening but this was definitely one of their better games. Anytime Bolland finishes on top in scoring chances, Chicago should win the game because he's going head-to-head with Philly's best line. Bolland ended up +3 -2 against Richards including the empty-net goal at the end of the game, so the two were about even throughout which is a trade I'm sure Joel Quenneville is happy to take any time. Byfuglien was a physical force all night and also scored four points. A real good game from both guys. Worth mentioning, they didn't get the short end of the stick too often with defensive zone draws. That gig was spread around nicely except that John Madden played almost all of his nine and a half minutes in the defensive zone, often coming on to replace a winger for draws so that Quenneville could have two centers on the ice. There were only three chances against him, but two ended up in the back of the net. Poor bugger. The new Toews line got Briere for the most part and hammered them something fierce. Toews was +7 -2 head-to-head on Briere which is a huge shift from how he was doing with Byfuglien and Kane. You'd think that it was because the match-up got him away from Pronger but as you can see by Pronger's numbers, getting away from him really wasn't necessary. Of course, with the Richards and Briere lines accounted for, this left Andrew Ladd, Patrick Sharp and Patrick Kane the dregs which ended in exactly the manner one would expect. Sharp was +4 -0 against Claude Giroux, including the two goals his line scored at evens. Kane has really struggled in the series but playing with good players against less good players, he can be very good and he most certainly looked good last night. For the Flyers? Pretty much everyone was outplayed.
Walking in the Law of the Lord
3. Kimmo Timonen - Pretty much everyone but Timonen. He had a really strong game for the Flyers with a solid +2 rating and two points including one of the four goals that brought the Flyers within two. He was also the only Flyer to play ten minutes at even strength and finish in the black with regard to scoring chances or Corsi. All of this despite starting six more faceoffs in his defensive zone than in the other end of the rink.
2. Patrick Kane - I enjoyed watching Kane tonight, especially the play where he dragged Pronger around the zone, and then spun off for a scoring chance. Once the puck came out of the zone, it was quickly relayed back to Kane at the blue-line who took the puck wide around Pronger with a second spin-move to draw a penalty. This perhaps says as much about Pronger being off his game as anything else, but it was still loads of fun to watch.
1. Jonathan Toews - He played with Hossa and Kopecky and they were very good. Personally, I'd rather see Brouwer, who barely played, take Kopecky's spot, but I doubt Quenneville's messes with something that worked so well. After being beaten up by Briere so badly in this series, this line really turned the tide. Toews had a couple almost-beauties in this one as well. My favourite rush was early in the first when he won the race race to a loose puck, skated in one-on-four and tried to go around the defender for a scoring chance. When the puck got knocked to the corner, he won the race again and controlled the puck for the Blackhawks. The shift eventually ended in Kopecky drawing a penalty and the puck never left the Flyers' zone. The Hawks may not have generated a scoring chance on that play, but it was exactly the way Toews plays when he's at his best
Worshiping the Golden Calf
3. Scott Hartnell - Bonus points for the dirty elbow to the back of the head. Personally, I hope the league suspends people for that kind of thing (isn't that what the head-shot rule is for?) but it's the Finals so that probably won't happen. Setting aside that piece, it was Hartnell's second minor of the game which doesn't do your team any favours. On top of that, when he was actually on the ice, his line was getting the cherry minutes (one DZ start vs. eight OZ starts) and they did very little with it. Given that context, (and I'm sure RO will be over-the-top in vigorously coming to my defense if there's even the slightest hint of dissent) I have no problem saying that line got crushed despite combining for 1-5-6, +3 in the more traditional counting stats.
2. Brian Boucher - I decided to only go with one goalie even though they were all pretty bad. I mean, I feel pretty confident in saying that Michael Leighton was the best goaltender tonight and he allowed three goals in one period. Boucher just couldn't come up with very many difficult saves. The Flyers got within two four different times and every time the Hawks managed to bring the lead back to three. These were not easy saves by any means but when you're trying to come back, you need your goalie to make some difficult saves: three goals on twelve chances suggest that Boucher isn't going to be good enough.
1. Bizzarro-Pronger - Good God. I don't know what happened here but I refuse to believe that this was Chris Pronger. Maybe Chris was sick and called his brother Sean. Now Sean Pronger is a much better writer than his brother but he's not nearly as good at hockey. Without Pronger on the ice the Flyers were +9 -6 in terms of scoring chances, with him they were +3 -13. Without Pronger, they had a Corsi of +8, with him it was -19. Without Pronger, the Flyers scored four goals and allowed none, with him they allowed four and scored none (plus the empty-netter), and you had better believe he had a hand in those goals. It was in off his skate, or off his bad pinch or because he was in the box or... you get the idea.