|ESPN.com: NHL Playoffs 2010||[Print without images]|
PHILADELPHIA -- Now we'll really find out about these young and talented Chicago Blackhawks.
We'll find out if they can cope with the pressure of being the favorites in these Stanley Cup finals.
We'll find out what kind of character they have.
|The Blackhawks led the Cup finals 2-0 before Games 3 and 4 in Philly. Now they head home with the series tied at 2.|
We'll find out if they drop their sense of entitlement and finally start physically paying the price to score goals.
Because all we know through four games of this series is the Blackhawks are lucky they're not down 3-1 to the Philadelphia Flyers.
Undisciplined play, poor defensive-zone coverage, brutal special teams -- these are not ways to win a Stanley Cup. That ugly hat trick was on display again Friday night in a 5-3 loss to the Flyers, which tied the series at 2 and handed the Hawks their first back-to-back losses since late March.
Oh, and Dustin Byfuglien? Feel free to show up any time now. The series started May 29. You may remember that date. That's when Chris Pronger rendered you almost useless.
Hawks captain Jonathan Toews played his most inspired game of the Cup finals Friday night, but he didn't have enough teammates on board with him, and certainly not his linemates Byfuglien and Patrick Kane, who were again passengers. By the third period, Kane was replaced on the top line by Andrew Ladd.
Chicago coach Joel Quenneville needs production from his top players and needs it starting Sunday night in Chicago in what will be the biggest game in decades for the Blackhawks' franchise.
Toews said it's time for the top forwards on the team to get going.
"It's frustrating, but what are you going to do? You're not going to sit there and cry about it," said the Hawks' captain. "You keep going out there the next shift and you try. You do a lot of good things out there, but it doesn't mean nothing if you don't produce, if you don't score, and we know that."
Yes, the Hawks made it interesting Friday night with a frenzied effort in the third period, scoring a pair of goals that made the Flyers sweat before Jeff Carter's empty-net goal with 25 seconds left. But a loss is a loss, and until the Hawks clean up those three areas listed above, the Flyers may very well duplicate Pittsburgh's comeback effort last year (the Penguins erased a 2-0 series deficit against the Red Wings to win the Cup).
"We all can pick up our play and our desperation level," said defenseman Duncan Keith (for our money, Chicago's best player Friday night). "This is it. It's a best-of-three now. There's nothing to save it for, there's nothing to conserve your energy for. It's full-out every shift, and that's the way it should be."
So how does Chicago turn this around?
First, discipline. Patrick Sharp's slashing penalty on Pronger in the second period is the poster moment for this series. Pronger is driving the Hawks crazy and they're retaliating.
"We can't whack back," said Toews. "Retaliation penalties [are] definitely what stands out, especially to the officiating. We have to try our best to get under their skin and make sure they're whacking us back instead of us taking stupid penalties."
The Hawks have handed the Flyers 16 power plays compared with their nine. The Flyers have five power-play goals to Chicago's one. It's a recipe for disaster.
"We know that, we're not happy about it," said Toews. "We've got ourselves to blame and that's it. It's one of those little details that you can look at and say, 'It's going to make a world of difference if we clean that up and get rid of it and get it out of our game.'"
Another area the Hawks have to clean up is their defensive play. How red-hot Flyers forward Claude Giroux can be allowed to stand alone at the side of the net and tap in the easiest goal of his career is beyond comprehension. Chicago's defensive coverage in the first period was atrocious.
"I thought we were very generous in the first period on what we gave them as far as goals went," said Quenneville. "The goals were all the type of goals we don't generally give up. I thought they came rather easily. ... We have to make them make plays to score goals."
Giroux's goal came just 51 seconds after Sharp opened the scoring for Chicago. Just like that, the Hawks' momentum was gone.
"It's just stupid," said Toews. "We shouldn't be giving up a goal like that right after we get one. We should be going into that first intermission just down a goal. To give up that goal is a tough thing to come back from."
And finally, the Hawks have to get their nose dirty and fight their way through Philadelphia's excellent defensive shell to get to goalie Michael Leighton. He has not had to make enough second stops over the past two games. Crash the net, accept the lumber coming your way and look for rebounds. It's what Philadelphia has been willing to do in the Chicago end, and that's the way the Hawks will get back out front in this series.
The work ahead is not for the weak of heart. The Flyers are bubbling with confidence, feeding off the underdog role with the "Rocky" theme song seemingly humming in their heads.
The Hawks? Well, are they rattled?
"I don't think so," said Keith. "Obviously we're not happy about coming in here and being up 2-0 and now it's 2-2. But you have to be positive. It's a good opportunity to go home. We've got home-ice advantage, two of the next three. We knew it would be a battle all along. We knew this wouldn't be a sweep like San Jose. Those guys [the Flyers] have done a heck of a job throughout the playoffs.
"It's going to be a challenge and battle, and if it wasn't like that, it wouldn't be worth it."
Pierre LeBrun covers the NHL for ESPN.com.