Saturday, June 5, 2010

Stanley Cup Final Game 4: Best of Three Now

As a Ranger fan, walking towards the elevator after the final buzzer this evening was hell. Orange hell. Flyer fans chanting, high fiving ... being happy. Overjoyed even. It was vile and it was all our fault.

Philadelphia held off a late surge by Chicago to tie the series at two with a 5-3 win. It is quite easy to lay the blame for the Philly fun on the Rangers - after all, we let them in the playoffs. But, you know, grudgingly I have to give credit where it is due: we opened the door but the Flyers are walking through and heading right to the Stanley Cup.

Coach Laviolette has them playing simple power hockey and it has carried them to within two wins of the Cup. Sure it is a best-of-three series now but the momentum is all Philadelphia's going into Game 5. Coach Quenneville can say that things are wide open all he wants but until he can figure out the Philly forecheck and motivate his players to pay the price down low, it is nothing more than lip service.

Some notes out of my scrambled train of thought:

*It certainly appeared that the Hawks were too scared of making mistakes while the Flyers went balls to the wall.

*My favourite moment of the three Cup games I went to last year was in Detroit with the Red Wings fans singing along to Journey in unison. This year it may just be the roar of the Wachovia Center when they played a clip from Rocky in the third period - Adrian asking Rocky to win. The place went insane.

*Just under an hour prior to puck drop, the WC aired a Flyers montage on the big board set to ... Guns 'n Roses' "Paradise City." Philadelphia. Paradise City. Right.

*Media scrums of the Stanley Cup scale are truly epic. You have to figure a hundred or so journalists and cameramen cramming into locker rooms meant for 23 players. Healthy scratches walk out unmolested, foreign players have small clusters of foreign press and the rest get surrounded like the Alamo, outnumbered dozens to one.

*Sorry I didn't have a better photo to go with this post, I was trying to soak everything in, hoping the Hawks pulled it out so they could end the series on Sunday. Whoops.

*Jonathan Toews has picked an awful time to go cold. He has one goal in his last nine games and none in the last six. Toews had three great chances - two back-to-back early - and couldn't get the puck past Leighton. He won 24 of 33 faceoffs but didn't record a single hit or blocked shot - he was invisible for much of the evening. Just for the record, his counterpart Mike Richards had one goal in nine prior games but scored in this one, had three blocked shots, four takeaways and two hits.

*Andrew Ladd played nearly 11 minutes and was quite ineffective. Putting him back into the lineup was one of Coach Q's many mistakes on the evening. The Hawks were listless after going down 3-1 and Adam Burish's energy would have been a great weapon to yield. Ladd had several bad turnovers and looked positively tentative at times.

*Chicago, as a whole, tried to play cute hockey for two and a half periods and found that dangles don't work against grownups, I mean, the Flyer defense. Philadelphia crowded the slot and cleared rebounds - two things the Hawks couldn't do in their own end.

*Brent Sopel pointed out that the Hawks need to do a better job protecting the front of their net and it couldn't be more true. As good as Duncan Keith is, he is not Chris Pronger. The Flyers drive in with or without the puck and Sopel believes that better puck movement is key to get out from under the forecheck, as is play as a unit. Both are true when you already have possession but when the disc is off your stick, you have to keep your guy from getting into scoring areas.

*Super Nintendo Hjalmers (Niklas Hjalmarsson) certainly had trouble in front of Niemi, handing Philly two goals himself. It would be easy to jump all over the mental mistakes but it should be understood that the Swede is 22 years old playing his first full season in the NHL. That being said, bad timing for the kid. Bad, bad, bad timing.

*The doors for these Cup games have been two hours before puck drop. It gives fans more time to spend their money on concessions and memorabilia but it is just a bit too much. I saw one guy walk in, take his seat and take a nap.

*Finally, sadly, I'm not heading to Chicago for Game 5. Boo. But I should be back in Philly for Game 6 ...

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