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2010 Stanley Cup Finals, Game 2: Once again, Niemi the difference for Hawks

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Niemi7.jpgBefore the postseason started, there were many early favorites for
who would be the recipient of the Conn Smythe at the end of the Stanley
Cup Playoffs. Of course, these would be dependent on the rest of their
team as well, but I doubt that anyone had Antti Niemi at the top of
their pool before the playoffs started.

Yet with the Chicago
Blackhawks two wins away from hoisting the Stanley Cup over their heads
Niemi has been the consistent difference maker for his team, coming up
gigantic at the most crucial moment in games and always making the big
save when his team needed it most.

In Game 1, Niemi allowed five
goals in the first two periods as his team struggled
uncharacteristically on defense and he fought with his own confidence in
net. He didn’t resemble the consistent goaltender who played so great
against the Sharks, perhaps needing 40 minutes or so to get back in the
flow of the game after having some time off after the Conference finals.
Whatever reason it was, Niemi turned it around in the third period and
while he wasn’t tested a lot he made several big saves to preserve the
win for the Hawks.

Tonight, he looked very much like himself once
more. He was compact in his stance and playing forward in his crease,
challenging the shooters and tracking the puck through traffic much
better than in Game 1. He wasn’t truly tested until the second period,
when the Flyers started to really put the pressure on but it was in the
third period that Niemi truly shined.

The Flyers, facing a 2-0
deficit heading into the third, came alive and used their relentless
forecheck to knock the Blackhawks back on their heels. The pulled within
one goal when Simon Gagne’s slapshot hit a stick down low and knuckled
over the shoulder of Niemi and in. After that, Niemi was perfect as he
turned away shot after shot from the Flyers including several prime
scoring chances in the final minutes of the game.

He was calm and
collected in net, and with the Blackhawks once again struggling with the
offensive pressure of the Flyers he proved to be the difference maker.
He would finish with 32 saves on 33 shots, and ensured that the Flyers
would need to complete yet another miraculous comeback if they hoped to
win the Stanley Cup.

Before the series started, Jonathan Toews was
clearly the favorite for the MVP. With Toews completely shutdown so far
against the Flyers, and despite allowing five goals in Game 1, there
should be no doubt who the new leader is for the Conn Smythe. He hasn’t
always been perfect, but he has made the big saves and had the great
game when his team needed him most.

After the game, several of the
Flyers players stated that they didn’t feel they really tested Niemi
and they didn’t give him all they had. It’s tough to argue with that
statement, even when you consider the 15 shots on net they put up in the
third period.

Forget the amount of shots or the actual pressure
the Flyers were producing. Focus on the actual types of shots they were
putting on net. One thing the San Jose Sharks proved in the Western
Conference finals was that Antti Niemi is at his best when the puck is
shot low. He’s a traditional butterfly goaltender, and is nearly
unbeatable when he is on and the pucks are shot at his pads.

Don’t
you think the Flyers would see that, and think that perhaps the best
way to beat Niemi is up high? He doesn’t have the best upper-body
reflexes, not that great a glove hand. Yet in Game 2, the Flyers
consistently fired the pucks low, and Niemi turned them all aside. Now,
the Blackhawks defense has something to do with this as well but I can’t
explain my frustration while watching puck after puck being shot
directly into Niemi’s pads.

Niemi had a great game no doubt, but
the Flyers certainly helped.2

2010 Stanley Cup Finals, Game 2: Blackhawks stun Flyers in 2nd period

End of 2nd: Chicago Blackhawks 2, Philadelphia Flyers 0

Blackhawks lead series 1-0

No sooner had I finished published the last update, extolling how the Flyers were back to normal thanks to the out of control nature of Dan Carcillo and the great performance by Michael Leighton, before the Chicago Blackhawks unleashed their fury upon the Flyers and scored two goals mere seconds apart.

It started with a scrum around the Flyers net, with the Blackhawks converging on a rebound in front of Michael Leighton. Marian Hossa, who has been beleaguered all postseason long, kept pounding away at the puck before bouncing it over Leighton and into the net.

It was a garbage goal, an unfortunate one to allow by Leighton who had been playing so well, and one you could almost forgive. You’d hope for better coverage in front, but it was essentially a bad bounce.

Then Ben Eager carried the puck into the zone, and the entire feel of the game changed.

Just 28 seconds after Hossa’s score, Eager pulled off a nifty toe drag to pull the puck right into his wheelhouse and into a position where Leighton would be perfectly screened by his defender. Eager unleashed a wicked wrist shot that exploded off his stick, painted the top shelf and was buried over Leighton’s shoulder.

Until that point, you could say the Flyers had been playing one hell of a game. They were putting the pressure back on the Blackhawks and only a number of tremendous saves by Antti Niemi kept the Flyers from taking the lead. Leighton looked calm and comfortable in net.

In the span of just 30 seconds, it all fell apart.

2010 Stanley Cup Finals, Game 2: Carcillo, Flyers back to normal

2nd period: Chicago Blackhawks 0, Philadelphia Flyers 0

Blackhawks lead series 1-0

Peter Laviolette decided to put Dan Carcillo back in the lineup in an effort to get the Flyers back to playing the style of hockey that was so successful for them in the first three series of the playoffs.

After 30 minutes, I can definitely say that Carcillo has made a difference.

Game 1 was a sloppy, undisciplined game with 10 goals scored in the first two periods. With Carcillo giving his team some energy and some attitude, the Flyers buckled down and got back to playing the frustrating, defensive hockey that got them to this point. It wasn’t all great, however, as Carcillo took things a bit too far as he haphazardly threw his body around but the effect the Flyers were going for was achieved.

The Blackhawks worred about Carcillo just a bit too much, and while they dominated the shots on goal in the first period (9-3) they walked away scoreless.

Michael Leighton looking much more confident helped as well.

In the second period, the game has calmed down a bit and the Flyers have killed off a couple of penalties. The Flyers have also evened up the shots on goal and the scoring chances a bit, finding a counterattack while still locking down Toews, Kane and Byfuglien.

This is a much closer, much more physical game than we witnessed in Game 1 and it’s exactly what I expected to see. It’s no less entertaining, however.

2010 Stanley Cup Finals, Game 2: Pre-game quotes from Flyers, Blackhawks

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Chicago Blackhawks vs. Philadelphia Flyers

Stanley Cup Finals, Game 2

Blackhawks
lead series 1-0

Live on NBC, 8 p.m. EDT

Join us for a live chat for tonight’s game @ 7:45
p.m.

As we gear up for Game 2, here’s some quotes from the Flyers and the
Blackhawks from today.

Flyers coach Peter Laviolette, on Dan Carcillo’s attitude and
approach:

“Danny Carcillo has done an excellent job with his discipline when
he’s been in the lineup, so he plays an aggressive game. He can agitate
a little bit. He’s physical. And I think he’s done an excellent job
of controlling his game and keeping it legal.”

Laviolette, on the decision to start Michael Leighton:

“We haven’t had to make a decision in a long time, I said that
yesterday, just based on injury. We just wanted to go back and talk
about everything.

“Michael Leighton, his numbers have been excellent for us in the
regular season. They’ve been excellent in the Playoffs. His bounceback
coming back here. Game 3 in Montreal was kind of the same scenario
that we were in last night. We played — we need to play better in
front of him. Everybody could be better. Our goaltending, we said that
yesterday, our goaltending, defense, forwards, our game can be better;
and we all seemed to respond as a team in Game 4.”

Simon Gagne, on Carcillo’s return:

“He’s a guy that — you know he’s not a big guy, but he’s going to
bring some physical aspect. He’s going to run around, I think, finish
every check that he’s able to do, and at the same time, he’s got some
skills too. He’s a guy who can make some plays and score some big goals
for us against Jersey in the first round.”

Ian Laperriere on the attitude of the Flyers:

“Very confident. We’re relaxed. There’s no panic, nothing. We know
we made mistakes. That’s what cost us the first game; and we did a lot
of good things and we did a lot of bad things. That’s why we came on
the wrong side of the game last game. Everybody is pretty relaxed and
just enjoying our free time in Chicago, I guess.”

Chicago coach Joel Quenneville, on Dustin Byfuglien’s struggles in
Game 1:

“I still think he was a factor last game. He’s a presence
physically. I think — I know he finishes checks. I think the player
receives it, knows he’s around. I think Buff — we didn’t get enough
pucks at the net when he was there.

“I think he’s tried to get to the front of the net. He was there
sometimes when the puck didn’t arrive. I still think he’s a factor when
we do get a power-play that he can make an imprint in that area. I
still think he’s useful in a lot of ways.”

Jonathan Toews, on whether the nerves of the team have calmed a
bit:

“I think so. May have been the same thing for both teams. It’s a
big stage. A long week just to sit there and think about it. If you’re
kind of — just got a couple of days and you go in that first game,
maybe you pick up where you left off in the previous round a little bit
more.

“But, you know, now I think as a team we feel we’re back in the
routine, back in the swing of things. We can go out there and play
hockey and focus on the smaller details of our game.”

Dustin Byfuglien, on whether he’s willing to pay the price to get
room in the crease, going against Pronger:

“Definitely. You go out there and stand with him and do what you
have to do. It’s part of the game. When they get a power-play they
really stand around and be there with their presence. I’ll be there
until the end of it.”

2010 Stanley Cup Finals, Game 2: Is Carcillo's return good for Flyers?

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Carcillo5.jpgChicago Blackhawks vs. Philadelphia Flyers

Stanley Cup Finals, Game 2

Blackhawks
lead series 1-0

Live on NBC, 8 p.m. EDT

Join us for a live chat for tonight’s game @ 7:45
p.m.

The Flyers lost Game 1 by just one goal, and were able to walk away
knowing that at least they have the ability to keep up with the Chicago
Blackhawks. Still, there’s no doubting that the Flyers were nowhere near
as good as they could have been and never came close to using the
attitude, physicality and perseverance they have become known for in the
postseason.

In an effort to get back to what had worked so well
before, the Flyers will be playing Dan Carcillo for the first time since
Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals. The Flyers lacked energy and
an overall aggression, something that Carcillo will certainly work to
provide in an extremely important Game 2.

If there is one player
on the Flyers that can instantly change the direction a game will take,
it’s Dan Carcillo. The small yet fiery player has the ability to be the
emotional spark the Flyers need, especially after spending the last
month of the season and the first two series of the playoffs becoming
something of a cult hero among the Flyer faithful.

Carcillo was
benched against the Montreal Canadiens to make room on the roster for
Jeff Carter, something that Carcillo understands as a move that was
needed for the team.

“Peter pretty much told me exactly why [I was
going out], and it’s a no
brainer – Carter comes back, he’s a 40-goal scorer, it’s pretty easy for
you guys to figure out, too.”

Yet it wasn’t easy for Carcillo to
just sit back and watch his team play without him. He’s an emotional
player, a guy who loves nothing more than to get out on the ice and stir
the pot. Yet he was relegated to watching the games from the box, not
being able to be there for his teammates.

“It’s probably the
hardest thing I’ve had to do in my career,” Carcillo said. “I’m a guy
who kind of wears his emotions on his sleeve and you always want to see
the team do well, and you’re still a part of the team, but it was a
tough pill to swallow.”

One thing the Flyers did excel at in Game 1
was playing a disciplined, in control game that never allowed the
Chicago Blackhawks offense to get rolling with the man advantage. With
Carcillo back in the lineup, there’s bound to be some penalties doled
out as he does all he can to shake things up with big hits and some
incredibly antagonistic approaches along the boards. Still, Carcillo
isn’t expecting to be so out of control that he’ll hurt his team.

“I’m
just going to play my game,” he said. “Running around, being
physical and not taking any penalties to put the team down. And staying
out of the stuff after the whistle.”

So is Carcillo’s return
something the Flyers need? He’ll be replacing rookie James van Riemsdyk,
so it’s not likely that the Flyers will be missing any big offense.
Carcillo also isn’t likely to see anything over ten minutes of ice time,
and will be used primarily as a means to give his team the mental and
physical edge they lacked in Game 1.

All in all, if Carcillo is
able to keep from doing anything dumb you have to see this as nothing
but a positive for the Flyers. They’re getting a player back in the
lineup that everyone on the team is happy to see back on the ice,
someone capable of providing emotional and physical support while having
the ability of scoring some timely goals as well.

As far as dumb
plays go, we could see some fireworks between Carcillo and the resident
agitator on the Blackhawks Adam Burish. Burish stated that he has no
prior history with Carcillo, although he added “maybe after tonight we
will.”

Carcillo might not be too thrilled with Burish after his
hit on David Krajicek in Game 1. It was a dangerous hit from behind,
although Carcillo isn’t expecting anything to happen with Burish.

“He’s a college guy. He’s not going to fight,” he
told Darren Dreger of TSN.

I’d say with
Carcillo, the Flyers are getting exactly what they’ll need: attitude.