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Wednesday, June 9, 2010
Five things to watch for in Game 6


PHILADELPHIA -- Here are five things to watch for in tonight's Game 6 of the Stanley Cup finals:

1. Home sweet home: Yes, we are the masters of the obvious, but home ice has been golden thus far in the series (5-0 for the home club). Can the Blackhawks buck that trend and win their first Stanley Cup since 1961 in orange-clad enemy territory? Or do the Flyers, 9-1 at home this spring, take advantage of the Wachovia Center buzz (and of the last change for coach Peter Laviolette) to force a seventh game in Chicago on Friday?

"I think if you're nervous and you go on the ice, you probably won't be effective," Laviolette said Wednesday morning. "In saying that, there will be a lot of energy in the building, and we'll certainly need a lot of energy.

"We need to harness that energy. It's a fine line, I think, between energy and nerves. Certainly you don't want to go out there and be nervous and play that way. You want to grab the energy in your building and play at the highest tempo possible."

2. Waiting on Leighton: The last time a goaltender was given the hook twice in one Cup finals series was in 1991, when Minnesota North Stars netminder Jon Casey was yanked twice against Pittsburgh as the Pens won their first of back-to-back Cups. The last time a goalie was pulled twice in the finals and won was in 1984, when Andy Moog and Grant Fuhr split duties for the Oilers.

Flyers goalie Michael Leighton has been pulled twice in this series, both times in Chicago, and boasts an ugly 4.01 goals-against average in this series. But -- and this is crucial -- Leighton is 6-0 at home this spring and has shown an ability to bounce back after soft outings. He will have to in Game 6. He'll also need to show, especially early on, that he's in the groove in order to give his teammates confidence, or this one could be over early.

3. Triple dose of trouble: We finally saw the full potential of the Blackhawks' deep, talented forward corps in Game 5 after coach Joel Quenneville juggled his line combinations. In splitting up Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Dustin Byfuglien, his top unit for most of the spring, he came up with three potent offensive groups that kept the Flyers on their heels in Game 5.

With Marian Hossa, Tomas Kopecky and Toews leading the charge and Byfuglien having a monster night with four points, there wasn't a clear matchup for top defenseman Chris Pronger and partner Matt Carle as there had been through the first four games, when they played mostly against the Toews-Kane-Byfuglien trio. If the Blackhawks can get pressure and production from all three lines again in Game 6, it could be a long night for the home side.

4. The big man: Speaking of Pronger, Game 5 ranked as one of the worst statistical nights of his long and successful career. Pronger was minus-5, on the ice for six goals and in the penalty box for the seventh. Ugly. But this is a man who will be a serious Conn Smythe Trophy candidate even if the Flyers lose Game 6, and you sense he will bounce back in a huge way tonight. If he can get back the snarl that marked his play through the first four games, the Flyers' chances of forcing a seventh game go up dramatically.

5. Special night: The Stanley Cup will be in the building tonight. Whether it gets taken out of its carrying crate will depend in large part on which team is able to win the special-teams battle. Early in the series, the Flyers owned the Hawks, shutting down Chicago's power play and managing to chip in goals when they had the man advantage.

In Game 5, however, the Blackhawks scored twice with the man advantage and denied the Flyers on all three of their power-play opportunities. If the Flyers can stay out of the box and force the Blackhawks into penalty trouble, it will open the door to victory. If the Blackhawks come out fast and draw a couple of penalties and capitalize, the Cup will be theirs.