Is their situation dire after a
2-1 loss in Game 2 at the United Center put them in an 0-2 hole in the Stanley Cup finals? No doubt. But there’s a reason why this Philadelphia team should have lamps attached to their helmets. The Flyers have done their best work while digging themselves out of deep holes, which is what they will have to do again to make this a series.
The Flyers winning a shootout in the final game of the regular season to qualify for the playoffs is already legend. That they rallied from an 0-3 deficit to eliminate the Bruins is the type of statement few teams can make.
This is the toughest spot they’ve been in yet, however. They have lost to the Blackhawks in a high-scoring shootout that Chicago’s Brent Sopel described as “pond hockey with a tennis ball.” They lost a low-scoring affair they could not afford to lose in Game 2.
The Blackhawks, if you recall, have been much more vulnerable at home during these playoffs. On the road, they haven’t lost since a Game 3 defeat in Nashville in their first-round playoff series, an amazing string of seven straight that ties a NHL record. Most damning of all is this stat: 31-2. That’s the all-time record of a home team when its sweeps the first two games.
Don’t expect the Flyers, who host Game 3 on Wednesday, to fold, even if a lesser team might. These Blackhawks have the look of a team of destiny. When the final frantic moments of the third period ended here on Monday night, it felt as if the series was winding down, as well.
The Flyers have never played a team as fast and skilled as these Blackhawks. To beat them, they will have to dig themselves out of this hole and then climb a mountain.
“Now is not the time to panic,” the Flyers’ Kimmo Timonen said. “We’ve been here and done this before. Obviously, we have to get better. When we go home we have to get better and find another gear.”
Desperation trumps momentum. That’s what Pete Laviolette preached before the game. The Flyers coach was desperate enough to make several changes before Game 2 in an effort to change the chemistry. It wasn’t enough. The Flyers played their best hockey of the series — easily the best hockey played by either team thus far — in the third period and it wasn’t enough. They threw shot after shot at Antti Niemi only for the Blackhawks goalie to turn them away with one athletic save after another.
“We’re still confident,” Leighton said. “Like I said, we played the third period like we should. We dominated the third period, and we just couldn’t get a bounce and get a goal. If we put 60 minutes together we can beat any team. We’re going back home and looking forward to it.”
The only thing Laviolette didn’t do is all that he has left to do — make a change in goal. It seems the obvious move after Leighton, playing the biggest game of his life after allowing five goals and being yanked from Game 1, surrendered the goal that could cost the Flyers their first Stanley Cup since the Bullies ruled Broad Street.
Sticking with Leighton seemed to be paying off until late in a second period that saw both teams struggle to get find any cohesion on the offensive end. Leighton made several solid saves before Marian Hossa jammed a bouncing puck past him to give the Blackhawks a 1-0 lead with 2:51 left in the second period.
Flyers officials have said that Leighton, an unrestricted free agent who has never been a full-time NHL goalie, would be part of the team’s future. His Game 1 performance, coupled with the goal he allowed to give the Hawks the 2-0 lead, might change that.
After Hossa’s goal, hard-hitting former Flyer Ben Eager was on the ice to provide energy. Twenty-eight seconds after Hossa scored, Leighton let an Eager shot sail over his glove on the short side. It was a stunning goal, the kind a goalie can’t make in the Stanley Cup finals, especially if he wants a new contract.
Thanks to Niemi, the Flyers were only able to halve the deficit.
If there’s a glimmer of hope for the Flyers it’s that even though the ‘Hawks held on for the win they came unravelled in the third.
“Right now, going into their building, it’s going to be really important how we start out Game 3,” Chicago’s Marian Hossa said. “It’s going to be on of the most important games we play this year, definitely.”
If the Flyers don’t start digging and climbing soon, it may also be one of their last.