Flyers, Blackhawks have much to improve for Game 2
The Flyers and Blackhawks are too good to have another subpar outing
Game 2 will be won or lost in the trenches with top lines deciding the outcome
The Hawks must be concerned about turrnovers; the Flyers, lack of backline depth
The prevailing sentiment is that Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final will feature better goaltending, sharper play from the top lines, and a much tougher, grittier tone. Why? Because Game 1 was devoid of those attributes on both sides and the Blackhawks and Flyers are too good to have a follow-up subpar performance on so many levels. Rebound performances are part of the reason why both teams are in the final, with the Flyers unfathomable run setting the standard for bounce-back capacity.
In goal, Michael Leighton's most recent test in coming back from a dismal display came in the Eastern Conference Finals when the Canadiens scored five times in Game 3 en route to their lone victory of the series. In Game 4, Leighton returned to top form with one of his three shutouts in the series. At the other end of the ice on Saturday night, Chicago's Antti Niemi also gave up five goals -- but in a win -- and he seemed to steady himself as the third period unfolded. Still, he is dealing with more traffic at the top of his crease than in any other series, so he must yet prove that he can push to the spot, stop the shot and control his rebounds. If he does, the Flyers will have a hard time evening the series in Game 2.
The Blackhawks' bigger issue is the play of their top line. Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Dustin Byfuglien struggled in Game 1, on the ice for three even-strength goals against. Counterbalancing their inability to get things done were the same struggles of the Flyers' top line of Mike Richards, Jeff Carter and Simon Gagne. That trio likewise failed to make their mark offensively while looking scrambled defensively. Both teams' top lines will be center stage and well centered today. Look for them to decide the game's outcome.
Both teams will focus on tightening up defensively, with more physical play in evidence. That will make for a game won or lost in the trenches, rather than the open ice affair of Game 1. To that end, the Flyers' Braydon Coburn has to be better. His minus-3 only quantified his struggles. The eyeball test, however, may have been more damning as Coburn looked tentative and scattered. He didn't use his size, or his speed to his advantage.
The other issue for the Flyers is their thinning depth on the backline. Lukas Krajicek left Game 1 after a late hit from behind by Adam Burrish sent him head-first into the boards where Krajicek fell awkwardly. The Flyers are already playing Chris Pronger and Matt Carle for almost half the game, so a depleted, over-taxed D-corps needs everyone playing at peak performance.
That leaves the matter of who will dictate style and pace of play. If it stands to reason that both teams will get to their respective games earlier and more consistently, the question becomes which one will be able to dictate for longer stretches?
For the Blackhawks, it means cleaning up the turnovers that plagued them in Game 1 -- something they did well in the third period -- so they already have a sense of what their game looks like against the Flyers when they are having success. On the other side, the Flyers' forwards have to pressure the puck to force turnovers in both the neutral zone and on the forecheck. Then they must make those turnovers count, as they did three times in Game 1. The balance they seek, though, is that the up-ice pressure can't compromise the forwards' ability to pressure on the backcheck.
So much to look for and it is only Game 2.