The Toews-Kane-Byfuglien line finally showed up in the finals.... only they weren't playing together.
In an 11-goal game that mirrored the first of the series, coach Joel Quenneville channeled his inner Mike Babcock from the 2010 Vancouver Olympics and made the necessary line changes to pull his team out of a much-discussed funk. And with those moves, Sunday's 7-4 win for the Chicago Blackhawks continued the unwavering trend of home-ice success in the Stanley Cup Finals (home teams are now 5-0).
And another much-discussed topic — the Pronger/Byfuglien battle — saw a heavy swing of the pendulum as well.
In Game 5, Chris Pronger(notes) was on the ice for every single goal against for Philadelphia, save for Dustin Byfuglien's(notes) power-play goal, for which he happened to be the man in the penalty box. Finishing minus-5, with no points and two penalty minutes, Philadelphia's No. 20 saw his nemesis in red pile up two goals, two assists, four shots, nine hits and a plus-3 rating in just under 19 minutes of ice time.
Struggling Blackhawk captain Jonathan Toews(notes) found himself playing between the also-struggling Marian Hossa(notes) and Tomas Kopecky(notes). And playing with a belly full of fire, the Hawks' new mix of numbers found themselves out-chancing the Flyers 9-0 in the first 10 minutes of opening-period action, earning themselves momentum and two of the game's first three power plays.
Flyers goaltender Michael Leighton(notes) came out equal to the task early in the game, making a number of big saves before having a Brent Seabrook(notes) shot re-directed past him off the shin of Chris Pronger. And, just like that, the floodgates flew open.
Leighton challenged on a point shot from Brent Sopel(notes) minutes after, which missed the net and bounced hard off the end boards — seeing Leighton still out on the shot, Bolland quickly pushed the puck into the trouble area behind the Flyers' keeper, intentionally re-directing a shot off the goaltenders skate to put the Hawks ahead 2-0.
When Kris Versteeg(notes) scored less than three minutes later on a 3-on-2 rush, it seemed like the hook was starting to be extended towards Leighton's neck. And, when the second period started, we saw it had already reached him. Laviolette had seen weakness, and Brian Boucher(notes) finished the game between the pipes.
Laviolette's switch seemed to work for a bit — the Flyers came out of the gates humming in the second period, with Scott Hartnell(notes) pushing home a near-freebie to bring the score to 3-1. With the momentum in Philadelphia's favor, Boucher stopped a Hossa breakaway, and Flyer fans started to see a glimmer of hope.
But just then, Quenneville's line changes paid off again. One of the best players on the ice in Game 5, Patrick Sharp(notes), hummed around for half a shift before sneaking a slick neutral-zone feed to Andrew Ladd(notes), moving with a head full of steam. After getting his initial shot blocked, his second attempt was a pass to new linemate Patrick Kane(notes), who was sneaking uncontested to the back door, courtesy a Game 1-style puck-staring moment from defensive question-mark Daniel Briere.
And while not all-world on the D-end, much like Game 1, the Briere-Hartnell duo was an offensive menace for the Flyers in Game 5, repeatedly threatening to make the game considerable closer than the final score would indicate.
The Blackhawks' lines (even the somewhat ridiculous ones like Eager-Kane-Madden) seemed more effective for the Hawks than anything we've seen in the past two games.
Whether the Blackhawks decide to stick with their units in Game 6 or change it up is anyone's guess — but you can count on one thing: none of us have any idea what to expect in Game 6. This year's edition of the Stanley Cup Finals are less predictable than the line combinations Quenneville was pulling out of his hat.