Flyers beat Blackhawks to even series
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 the Blackhawks' two-goal rally in the final five minutes Friday night for a 5-3 win that tied the Stanley Cup Finals at two games apiece.
"It was our intention to come in and win two," defenseman Chris Pronger said. "We got the first goal, we were relentless on the forecheck and we feed off that."
After their second straight victory, the Flyers head to Game 5 Sunday at United Center, where the Blackhawks 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 31 saves and is 6-0 as a starter at home.
The tone was set early. In perhaps their sloppiest period of the series, the Blackhawks fell behind 3-1 after 20 minutes. Five seconds into the Flyers' 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 Antti Niemi for a 1-0 lead. It was the captain's first goal of the series.
The Hawks, who over-passed in the offensive zone, are 1-for-8 on the power play in the series. The Flyers are 5-for-16.
An awful backhand clearing attempt by Hjalmarsson, alone in front of the crease, provided a gimme for Matt Carle, who easily notched 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 a goal 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 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 10th goal of the playoffs.
"I thought we were very generous," Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "We played catch-up 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 at 6:43 of the third period, the Hawks scored twice late in the period. Dave Bolland's came on a five-on-three and then Brian Campbell scored with 4:10 to go, making it 4-3. But Jeff Carter's empty-netter with 25 seconds to play stifled the comeback.
"Not the greatest way to finish the game," Richards said, "but we closed it out."
Hjalmarsson, a third-year defenseman who has played solidly in the postseason, remained confident after the worst game of his career. "It's still 2-2, it's not over,'' he said. "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 the building.
And they will have to come back here Wednesday.