May 31, United Center, Chicago
Blackhawks 2, Flyers 1
SOMEWHERE BETWEEN GAMES 1 AND 2 THE TRACK meet at the Stanley Cup finals slowed from a mad dash to an exhibition in racewalking. The second match looked nothing like the wide-open first game in which hardly any defense was played.
In Game 2 both teams banged, dumped and chipped through 37 scoreless minutes until the Hawks got goals on consecutive shifts by the overdue Marian Hossa and the unlikely Ben Eager. Then Chicago clamped down and played not to lose for the game's final 22 minutes, relying on Niemi to clean up the mistakes its prevent defense couldn't prevent and surrendering only one third-period goal.
With Chicago's top line hushed for the second straight game, a struggling star got the Hawks rolling. Snakebitten for the better part of the spring, Hossa converted the second rebound off a shot from Patrick Sharp while crowding the slot with Brouwer. "It's been a long time [between goals]," said Hossa, who hadn't scored in eight games. "I've been trying to work hard. I've been trying to create chances, trying not to get frustrated, but it gets in your head."
The Hossa goal may have also gotten into the head of Leighton. Quenneville sent out Chicago's fourth line after Hossa scored, and 28 seconds later Eager, a former Flyer, fired a wrist shot from the right circle into the top corner over Leighton's glove. "Pretty exciting," said Eager, who had been without a 2010 playoff goal. "[Our line] has been working hard this postseason. It was definitely a nice feeling to see that one go in. Hoss's goal got the bench going. We got out there and got a nice bounce."
For much of the night the Flyers had themselves to blame for the lack of rubber they put on Niemi. "We talked about tightening up defensively," said Brière, whose team unleashed just three first-period shots, "but that doesn't mean no forecheck and no offense. We sat on our heels too much."
That changed in the third period, when the Flyers pinched their defensemen, sent two forwards into the Chicago end and forced the Hawks into a timid series of chip-outs and icings. Philadelphia outshot Chicago 15-4 in the third and got a power-play goal from Gagné at the 5:20 mark.
Niemi, who held strong against the final barrage, made one of his best stops on Gagné who was on the doorstep with 30 seconds left. "We asked a lot of our goaltender tonight," Hossa said. "He's the reason we're up 2-0."