June 02, 2010
Wednesday night is Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Finals; you might know it by its increasingly popular alternative title, "Gateway To The Sweep."
Yes, there are reasons to believe that the Chicago Blackhawks have one hand on the broom, as they're up 2-0 without hardly any contribution from the Kane/Toews/Byfuglien line and with what appears to be a distinct advantage between the pipes.
But the Philadelphia Flyers are down two games because they failed to score two goals. The margin of victory is as miniscule as they come. The action shifts to the real madhouse in Philly on Wednesday night, where the Flyers are 7-1 in the postseason (although Chicago is 7-1 on the road).
Can the Flyers make this a series again? Sure they can, and here are five keys to victory for the orange and black.
1. Torture Niemi
We've got to put more pressure on their goaltender. He's a rookie goaltender playing in the Stanley Cup Finals. We have to get on the board here tomorrow night and put a little bit of doubt there. Our team is capable of scoring a lot of goals, put a lot of pressure on him. It's a tough position, goaltending. He's representing a city that hasn't won a Cup in 50 years. We have to give him a crack of doubt.
Crack of doubt, crack across the mask with an elbow, crack across the wrist with a stick ... whatever gets the job done. Laviolette's clearly talking about offensive pressure, but Niemi's proven to be rather unflappable in that regard. We've yet to see him get knocked around a bit.
Both teams protect their keepers quite well, but Niemi's been in a comfort zone for most of the postseason; the juxtaposition between his unscathed play in the Canucks series and Roberto Luongo's(notes) pummeling was stark. The Flyers jostle him — bumping, "wiping out" on rushes to the net that result in collisions — it'll be interesting so see how he responds.
2. Keep Toews and Kane in check for one more night
Logically, this can't last: The Blackhawks' two most dynamic offensive players, silenced for the majority of the Stanley Cup Finals. Yet the defensive charge led by Chris Pronger(notes) has done just that, which is as good a reason as any why we've seen a pair of one-goal games thus far.
Have the Flyers squandered their chance to take a game from Chicago while Jonathan Toews(notes) and Patrick Kane(notes) are non-factors? Perhaps. But if the formula can work for another game, the first on Philly's home ice, then again we'll be faced with a nail-biter in which one weird bounce means a tie or a victory.
3. Win the chess match
(Note: This was written before the Flyers practiced, so no word on injuries for Game 3.)
In Game 2, Mike Richards(notes) and Jeff Carter(notes) started with Simon Gagne(notes), and against the Dave Bolland(notes) line and the Duncan Keith(notes)/Brent Seabrook pairing for the Blackhawks. When Dan Carcillo was added to the Flyers' top line, Keith and Seabrook were shifted over to defending the Danny Briere(notes)/Scott Hartnell line.
The theory on NBC was that the Blackhawks were protecting Keith and Seabrook from that madman Carcillo. Our theory: Shifting Gagne off the Richards line made it less dangerous, and Joel Quenneville decided he could better use his top two defensemen against the Flyers' second line, which generated most of their offense in Game 1.
In fact, when Gagne/Richards/Carter were reunited in the third period, Keith and Seabrook skated against them on nearly every shift.
The Bolland line has been the best shutdown unit in the playoffs, and Keith/Seabrook have been fantastic in this series. Laviolette has the last line change, and it's essential he gets the Richards group away from the Bolland line if he wants to get them rolling.
To that end ...
Carter had five shots on goal and two misses in Game 1; he had four shots, four shots blocked and one miss in Game 2, though he earned a power-play helper in Simon Gagne's goal. It's not enough to fire the puck; the Flyers need goals, and Carter is a primary candidate to give them one.
Rob Parent had a good piece on Carter as the catalyst for the comeback, citing his return as a right-winger after injury because Richards and Briere had played so well up the middle. From the DelCo Times:
Carter has to be put back at center. He's a shooter, not a corner grinder. And he can draw traffic in front of Hawks goalie Antti Niemi easier from that position.
Here's Laviolette on Carter from Wednesday's presser:
Their line was out for a lot of those chances in the third period. Richards, Carter and Gagne. Carter figured in a lot of them. Typically that tells me when a player starts to figure into the chances like that, it's only a matter of time before they explode.
Parent also has some Carter-centric advice about getting Claude Giroux going, as the young forward has yet to register a shot in the series despite being a point-per-game player in the previous three rounds. Again, from the DelCo Times:
As for Carter, he's not yet up to full speed. He needs to have physical wingers by his side. That might happen at third-line center, with Arron Asham(notes) and Giroux there (or Carcillo if the top line needs Giroux's presence). Giroux is said to be better at center than wing, but given the attention Carter would garner, Giroux could likely find enough of an outlet for his creative tendencies.
Gagne played down with Giroux in Game 2, and the line didn't click. Carter, Asham and Carcillo might seem like a waste of Carter's abilities on the surface; then again, it could create some space and turnovers in the offensive zone to get him rolling.
5. Finally, bring the nasty
The Blackhawks could feel the tone of the series shift in Game 2, according to center Dave Bolland:
It's changed. It's a real playoff game now. From that first one that we played, it got more nastier, and just little things after the whistles and everything's happening.
That has to continue for the Flyers. What they seem to lack in offensive depth (which is a change from previous rounds) they can make up for in blunt-force trauma.
Carcillo, Asham, Laperriere, Hartnell, Pronger, Coburn ... they need the wrecking crew on call Wednesday night, feeding off the energy of the Orange Crush.