Faceoff: We're going to Game 7
PHILADELPHIA/CHICAGO -- As the Stanley Cup finals shift back to Philadelphia, Scott Burnside and Pierre LeBrun check in and debate where this series between the Flyers and Hawks will end. Chicago leads 3-2 heading into Wednesday's Game 6.
Scott Burnside: Hello, my friend. How is Chicago in the aftermath of its crushing 7-4 win over the Flyers? The team you saw roll through the Western Conference playoffs finally showed up in force Sunday in Game 5. The Hawks have a chance to bring home a championship for the first time since 1961. Do you think their effort in Game 5 will carry over into Game 6 on Wednesday and bring the season to a close?
Pierre LeBrun: Scotty, I thought we were friends. I can't believe you left me behind in Chicago today. Oh, well there are worse towns to be left behind in! Speaking of which, talk about a town that's ready to explode. An Original Six franchise that's one win from erasing 49 years of waiting. But it'll be the Hawks' toughest win ever.
As the Red Wings found out last season and the Calgary Flames did in 2004, being up 3-2 does not guarantee a team Lord Stanley's mug. I expect the Flyers, who are so tough at home, to play their best game of the season Wednesday night. Having said that, I've seen these Hawks go into some really hostile arenas this spring and step on the throats of very talented opponents.
"We expect them to come out hard," Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said here in Chicago today. "I think we want to come out the same way we began the game last night. I think we have had some real good road games in these playoffs. Some of our best games in the playoffs were in Vancouver and San Jose, even in Nashville."
What did you hear from Peter Laviolette in Philly today, Scotty?
Burnside: Pierre, as always, Laviolette was relentlessly upbeat about his team's chances in Game 6. He couldn't quite pinpoint why his team had such a lousy start to the game Sunday night, but believes everyone will be a lot better Wednesday.
"I have no question that we'll respond. It was not a good game for us," Laviolette said Monday morning at Wachovia Center. "Again, you don't want to make excuses for it. There's no reason to have a game like that, certainly not under the circumstances. Chicago ramped up their game. They took advantage of us in the first period, and got on the board. We didn't respond to it."
Laviolette and his players were to meet for lunch; and although he hadn't told his netminders who was going to start in Game 6, he said he already has made up his mind. I have to believe he'll go back to Michael Leighton, even though Leighton was yanked for the second time in this series after giving up three goals on 13 shots. He didn't look good at all, but he's 6-0 at home this spring and has bounced back before. Do you think it's time to give Brian Boucher a chance, or do you maintain the status quo?
LeBrun: Well, Boucher didn't fare much better in giving up three goals in relief, and perhaps there's some rust there after missing a chunk of time with injuries to both knees. I think Leighton is the choice, given his home record.
But, to me, it shows you what happens when the Hawks pay the price to drive the net. They didn't do it enough in Games 3 and 4 and played too much of a perimeter game. They made Leighton look good. Sunday night, the Hawks buzzed around his crease like crazed bumblebees, and Leighton was somewhat exposed. On the flip side, Antti Niemi also looked shaky in Game 5 and has been ordinary since his terrific Game 2 performance. Quite the pedestrian goaltending we've had in these Cup finals, which in part explains the high scores.
"I think both teams are capable of scoring," Quenneville said. "I don't think we envisioned scoring at the rate we're scoring at. I think the thing I always try to stress with our team is 'defense first' in our approach. I still think that's an area where we can enhance and solidify going into the next game and try to be a little bit airtight around our net."
Burnside: One player everyone will be watching in Game 6 will be defenseman Chris Pronger, who had one of those nights to forget (he was minus-5 and on the ice for six of seven Hawks goals and in the box for the seventh). But you know he's going to bring his A-game Wednesday.
Laviolette said that it will be a mistake if the rest of the team simply looks to Pronger to be "the man" and that everyone has to be at that level. I'm guessing he'll be much better, although do you think Laviolette will try to get Pronger on the ice against the new No. 1 line from Chicago (Jonathan Toews, Tomas Kopecky and Marian Hossa), or will he use Pronger to try to neutralize Dustin Byfuglien, who had such a big night Sunday, roaming free (for the most part) of the menacing Pronger?
LeBrun: Here lies the beauty of what Quenneville did last night: Toews, Kane and Byfuglien on three different lines but only one man in Pronger to try to contain them. Laviolette started the game with Pronger on Toews' line, but it ended up being a bit of everything as the Flyers tried to find an answer for a Chicago attack that was coming from all four lines.
It's funny, Byfuglien had the four points and Kane added two more, but I thought Hossa and Toews were the most dangerous even though all they had was Toews' assist to show for it. There is no easy answer. If you put Pronger back on Byfuglien (playing with Dave Bolland and Kris Versteeg), then Toews will be allowed to run wild with Hossa and Kopecky, as will Kane with Patrick Sharp and Andrew Ladd (who, for my money, was one of Chicago's better players Sunday night).
It's really an impossible choice for Laviolette. What the Flyers need in Game 6 is for a forward line other than the terrific trio centered by Danny Briere to do something offensively.
Burnside: You are absolutely right; for me, if the Mike Richards-Simon Gagne-Jeff Carter line cannot get back on track (and those three shouldn't have to worry about playing against pest Bolland that much), the Flyers are cooked. Carter has been terrible, and even Laviolette, who is loath to talk about specific players' shortcomings, said he thought Carter was taking strides forward in his game until Sunday.
Claude Giroux, Game 3's overtime hero, has to be better along with linemates James van Riemsdyk and Arron Asham (unless Laviolette goes back to Daniel Carcillo in van Riemsdyk's place). The Flyers win Game 6 if all three lines force the Hawks into mistakes in their zone, taking penalties and crowding Niemi. Kind of like what the Hawks did in Game 5. OK, pressure time: What do we see in Game 6?
LeBrun: I just have the sense this is a homer series. Although I find it hard to believe the Hawks will backtrack too much from the A-game they finally produced Sunday night, I think the Flyers have shown us too much bounce-back ability this spring, especially at home, not to force a Game 7. I predict a Flyers overtime victory Wednesday night at a rocking Wachovia Center, setting up the second consecutive Game 7 in the Cup finals. What say you, my wise red-headed friend?
Burnside: Funny, I was talking to Pittsburgh GM Ray Shero and winger Bill Guerin this morning for a story and thinking about Game 5 last season, when Detroit crushed Pittsburgh 5-0 in a very similar series. I remember thinking there was no way the Penguins were going to get back up off the mat. They did, of course, and that's why I'm with you on this one.
I don't think the Flyers are done yet. I don't know whether they can win a game at the United Center, but I think there's enough will in the Philadelphia locker room to give us one more game to contemplate before we have a new Stanley Cup champion. Look for Briere to score the winner for the Flyers despite having had his face mangled by an errant Duncan Keith stick in Game 5.