Hockey writers might need to dust off a thesaurus or two to describe this one. What’s the correct variation of “strange” to describe this one? Should people refer to it as bewildering? Bizarre? Maybe a car wreck? All of those labels apply, but I think I’ll go with Brandon’s “sloppy” or maybe up the ante to flat-out “inept.”
Whatever way you slice it, though, the Chicago Blackhawks managed to eke out a 6-5 win that should leave the Philadelphia Flyers kicking themselves tonight.
Chicago Blackhawks 6, Philadelphia Flyers 5
Blackhawks lead series 1-0
Perhaps the Game 1 clincher was a microcosm of the game itself. Tomas Kopecky was considered more or less a throw-in when the Chicago Blackhawks signed Marian Hossa this summer; some wondered if the team acquired him simply to give Hossa a friend to talk to. He performed that way at times, too; after all, the reason he played (after being a healthy scratch for five straight playoff games) was because Andrew Ladd couldn’t suit up thanks to an injury.
Kopecky’s game winner was a buffet of everything right and wrong with this game. While the tally earned high marks for entertainment value, it came on the back of leaky defense on the part of the Flyers and a poor bit of positioning by relief goalie Brian Boucher. Here’s video of the goal, for your own perusal.
Neither team should be particularly proud – or, really – distinctly worried. The Flyers came out booming to the surprise of many, out-shooting the Blackhawks 17-9 for a stunning 3-2 lead in the opening frame. They dominated the Blackhawks in the faceoff circle (40 to 24) tonight and managed to score one PP goal in four chances while staying out of the box completely.
That’s right: the Flyers – a franchise once known for the sort of brutality that can occasionally give the sport a PR black eye – went a full game without sitting in the penalty box. I’d say that Dave Schultz is rolling in his grave right now, but “The Hammer” is still alive.
Down 0-1, the Flyers face plenty of questions. Is there a brewing goalie controversy after the team (justifiably, in my eyes) pulled struggling starter Michael Leighton? What happened to their stars who were held pointless in this contest? (Carter: -2, Richards: -2, Giroux -2 and Gagne -3. Yikes.) Was tonight a confidence booster or a missed opportunity?
The most troubling factor for Philadelphia – but also quite a sobering thought for Chicago – is that the Blackhawks big guns failed to show up, too. Dustin Byfuglien (0 pts, -3) was “out-buffed” by Brillo-headed goof ball Scott Hartnell, who provided a great net presence along with one goal and two assists. Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews were worse than invisible, as they took away from the table with matching -3 ratings. It’s fantastic that the ludicrously deep Blackhawks won without their stars contributing, but how often can they expect two goals from Troy Brouwer?
On some level, the Flyers can take a little confidence away from this game as even amid all the chaos, their forecheck flustered a nervous Chicago team into a near-loss. I cannot help but wonder if this game will be the best chance Philly has, though, as the Hawks out-shot the Flyers 23-15 in the final two frames. Chicago played its best hockey in the third period, when even the beleaguered Antti Niemi made some huge saves when it really mattered. Games like this might not make Niemi a legend … they just might make him a champion.
It wasn’t pretty hockey, really, but it sure was intriguing. One thing’s clear: it will be hard to top Game 1, at least when it comes to absurdity.