CHICAGO – Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals?
It was hockey of the absurd, a preseason game masquerading as a championship tilt. Exciting for fans, sure, but excruciating for coaches and painful for players.
What was weird about the Blackhawks' 6-5 victory?
The Philadelphia Flyers weren't whistled for a solitary penalty. The Chicago Blackhawks' top line of Jonathan Toews(notes), Patrick Kane(notes) and Dustin Byfuglien(notes) went a combined minus-9. Philadelphia's first line wasn't much better, also going goal-less. The Flyers' fourth line, meanwhile, scored twice, including Blair Betts'(notes) first tally in 29 games (and it was a beauty, a Bossy-ian laser off the post and in).
Philadelphia goalie Michael Leighton(notes), the feel-good story of the playoffs, was unceremoniously yanked. There were five goals in the first period (3-2 Flyers) and then five more in the second (3-2 Blackhawks). Bad ice. Crazy bounces. Lead changes. Last-minute goals. The United Center, so loud during the anthem that you couldn’t hear the organ, fell oddly quiet as the puzzling contest played out.
Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals? It was more like pond hockey, all bumpy and flow-less and last-goal-wins. At least for the home side, they got that last goal, scored by Tomas Kopecky(notes), who only got into the lineup as a replacement for the injured Andrew Ladd(notes). That's the way this game went – you had to expect the unexpected and watch the depth guys rise up while the superstars were anything but.
"It was fun getting the win, that's about it," were the first words spoken by a monotone Kane, so obviously frustrated you'd think he was a Flyer.
"It’s a good one to steal, I guess," said linemate Toews when he finally emerged. "We're not happy with the way we played, especially in the first couple of periods. We're lucky to steal that one and we realize that."
That, of course, is the rub for the Flyers. This was the kind of game the visiting team, the underdog, is supposed to steal. And when it doesn't, it doesn't bode well for that team's Cup aspirations.
"That's what great about this team, if Toews and Kane aren't scoring, we've got other guys who can step up," said David Bolland, who did just that, scoring a short-handed breakaway goal in the first period when he stole the puck from Flyers defenseman Braydon Coburn(notes). The goal gave Chicago a 2-1 edge at 11:50, but Scott Hartnell(notes) and Daniel Briere, with 27 seconds left in the opening frame, put the Flyers up heading into the second. Like any lead in this game, though, it was short-lived as Patrick Sharp(notes) scored at 1:11 of the second.
"We've got to be happy with the win, but know we have to play better next game," said Sharp, one of the few 'Hawks with a smile on his face. Maybe he realized that if Chicago can win a game like this, it's completely in control of this series. The Blackhawks, after all, gave up five goals, didn't have a power play, saw their starting goalie struggle through the first 40 minutes … and still skated away with the victory, thanks to finally turning it on in the third.
"Both teams weren't happy with that showing," said Kris Versteeg(notes), who tied the game at 4-4 before the midway point. "Obviously we're happy with the win, but we can't be happy with the way we performed."
Boy, was that sentiment echoed throughout the 'Hawks dressing room.
"It wasn't the prettiest win, but we'll take it," said a stoic Byfuglien, whose lone contribution on the stat sheet was a game-high 10 hits. Not that that's necessarily a good thing.
"That just shows how much we were chasing the puck around," said Kane, who wasn't pointing fingers at Byfuglien, but rather the entire top line. "Sometimes it's good when he has a lot of hits, but we don't want him to have that many, we want to have the puck and be making plays."
If that occurs, if the 'Hawks put the nerves or rust or whatever it was behind them, Philadelphia better hope Brian Boucher(notes), who probably will start Game 2 after Leighton’s flameout, is at the very top of his game. Because the Flyers need a series-stealing goaltending performance to win, while the Blackhawks, apparently, just need one good period a game. And chances are, they'll deliver a lot more than that the rest of the way. Because this is, after all, the Stanley Cup Finals.
"It’s the greatest trophy to win because it's so hard," Kopecky said. "This time of the year, it's all about the battle of the will and who wants it more. Today, we wanted it more."