PHILADELPHIA---Now it's a best of three.                     

                    The increasingly confident and opportunistic Flyers struck for three first-period goals---two unassisted as defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson was victimized---and  Philadelphia held off a unexpected two-goal rally in the final five minutes by the Blackhawks tonight for a 5-3 win to tie the Stanley Cup Final at two games apiece.

                     “It was our intention to come in and win two,” said Chris Pronger. “We got the first goal, we were relentless on the forecheck and we feed off that.”

                     After their second straight victory, the Flyers---who have jelled at the right time---now head to Game 5 Sunday at United Center, where the Hawks won the first two games.

                     “It’s got a little chippier, there’s a little more talking, but I don’t think things are going to change that much,” said goaltender Michael Leighton, who made 28 saves and is 6-0 as a starter at home.

                       The tone was set early. In perhaps their sloppiest period of the series, the Hawks fell behind 3-1 after 20 minutes. Five seconds into their second power play in the opening 4:30, Mike Richards stole the puck from Hjalmarsson behind the net, curled in front and slid a backhander under Niemi for a 1-0 lead. It was the captain’s first score of the series. The Hawks, who were overpassing in the offensive zone, failed to score on their first man-advantage, and are 1-for-8 in the series.  The Flyers are five for 16.

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                      An awful backhand clearing attempt by Hjalmarsson, alone in front of the crease, provided a gimme for Matt Carle, who easily potted his first goal of the playoffs, and the Flyers were up 2-0 on their fifth shot.

                       Leighton had absorbed everything until Patrick Sharp’s blast off a pass from Duncan Keith brought the Hawks within reach with 1:28 left, but the Flyers capitalized on another defensive blunder. With Niemi at the top of the crease, Claude Giroux, who scored the overtime winner in Game 3 here on Wednesday, was left alone at the left post and easily tucked in a pass from Kimmo Timonen with 37 seconds remaining. It was the 22-year-old’s tenth of the playoffs.

                         “I thought we were very generous,” said Hawks coach Joel Quenneville. “We played catchup all game. We’ve got to be smarter and more composed as far as discipline. And we’ve got to make them make plays to score goals.”

                       Down 4-1 after a goal by Ville Leino, the former Red Wing who set the team’s rookie record for playoff goals was  the Hawks scored twice late the third period, Dave Bolland on a five-on-three and then Brian Campbell with 4:10 to go. But Jeff Carter's empty netter with 25 seconds to play stifled the comeback. “Not the greatest way to finish the game,” said Richards, “but we closed it out.”

                   Hjalmarsson, a third-year defenseman who has played solidly in the post-season, remained confident after the worst game of his career. “It’s still 2-2-, it’s not over. We still have home-ice advantage.”               

                      But with the win, the Flyers guaranteed a return to Broad Street, where they are 9-1, for Game 6. The Blackhawks haven’t won at Wachovia Center in the last 10 games. The last victory was Nov. 9, 1996, the first year of this building.

                     And they will have to come back here on Wednesday.

 



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