Published June 09, 2010
| Associated Press
The Chicago Blackhawks are Stanley Cup champions for the first time in 49 years, thanks to a wild ending to beat all wild endings to this most exciting series.
Patrick Kane, one of the young stars who helped build the Blackhawks into a winner from the bottom of the league, got the winning goal with a bad-angle shot that slid between Flyers goalie Michael Leighton's legs and stuck in the far back side of the net.
The play happened so fast and the puck slithered through such a narrow piece of ice that Kane and a couple of his teammates appeared to be the only people who knew the puck was in. Kane raised his arms in triumph right away, skating behind the net and around the other side of the ice.
The red light never flashed and the referees didn't signal right away, creating a chaotic, confusing ending to the game. The goal was reviewed while the Blackhawks celebrated, hugging each other and chucking their helmets aside before the announcement ultimately came that the goal was good and the game was won.
For the second time this series, we're going to overtime.
With 1:30 left in the third period, the Flyers had Antti Niemi on the ropes when Jeff Carter found a long rebound of his own shot. Niemi, the unflappable Finn, refused to give up on the play and moved his body forward to get in better position to thwart the second try from Carter.
The intensity extended into the final minute, when Chicago's Andrew Ladd hit Flyers defenseman Kimmo Timonen from behind during a scrum at the crease after goalie Michael Leighton had frozen the puck. A penalty could've been called, and Leighton angrily grabbed Ladd's stick and chucked it away. Flyers coach Peter Laviolette yelled at the officials from the bench as he chomped on his gum.
This has been a thrilling Stanley Cup finals, as anyone who's been watching will attest.
Scott Hartnell has brought the fans to their feet with his second goal of the game, getting leveled by Jonathan Toews right in front of the crease as he knocked a loose puck in to make it 3-3.
The Blackhawks were in full retreat mode there and got a little sloppy, and a little unlucky. Goalie Antti Niemi had just been making some impeccable saves, including one with his blocker to deny Michael Richards, when a sliding puck nicked off Brent Seabrook's stick, then glanced off Marian Hossa's skate before Hartnell knocked it in with 3:59 to go in regulation.
The Blackhawks hold a stunning 27-13 edge in shots on goal at this second intermission. What's more: The Flyers blocked 13 shots in the second period alone.
Clearly, the Blackhawks have got more energy and can almost taste that celebratory sip from the cup.
This, despite goalie Antti Niemi's trampoline-like pads giving up some long rebounds. For the Flyers to steal this game and force a decisive winner-take-all matchup on Friday night, they'll need to punch another rebound or ricochet past Niemi and find a way to keep the Blackhawks from keeping their forecheck at full tilt.
According to the announcers on NBC, the late-arriving Stanley Cup is in the building.
The Flyers just announced that tonight's attendance at the Wachovia Center set a new team record for a single home game: 20,327. That also gives the team a new single-season attendance record of 1,020,699.
That's a lot of tickets sold. The playoffs are so long in the NHL for the teams that advance, they can have a huge impact on a franchise's bottom line.
But the bottom line is this: It's about winning. And the Flyers need to win tonight to force a Game 7 on Friday night and win that one to get their parade and make everybody in Philly really happy.
That task just got more challenging, with another goal by the Blackhawks to make it 3-2.
Michael Richards skated away from Chicago defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson, giving him a clear shot. He let it fly, and Andrew Ladd — who was scratched due to injury for the first three games — tipped it in for the lead.
The period has ended, the second intermission has arrived, and the Blackhawks are 20 minutes away from a championship.
The second period started with another roar, with a breakaway by the Flyers' Simon Gagne and a smooth blocker save by Antti Niemi to deny him. The Blackhawks got a power play when Scott Hartnell, the guy responsible for this tie game after his late rebound, was sent to the penalty box, but the Flyers killed it off.
Then after a couple of quality shots by the Hawks, the Flyers took their first lead.
Chicago defenseman Duncan Keith's skate collided with Ville Leino's at the absolute worst time for the Blackhawks, causing Keith to lose his balance and fall down. That gave the Flyers a 2-on-1, which Danny Briere finished with a high shot past Niemi's glove side to make it 2-1.
The Flyers were winning despite a 22-9 disadvantage in shots on goal at that point.
This is Philadelphia, though. This long-suffering generation of sports fans, save for the 2008 World Series title by the Phillies, knows about letdowns. Flyers fans would never be so foolish to think winning the Stanley Cup, let alone sending the series back to Chicago, would be a lock.
Something could still happen, goes the typical dreaded thought.
Something just did — when former Flyers forward Patrick Sharp sent a shot that sneaked underneath Michael Leighton's left skate. That will go down as a bad goal for Leighton.
Here's a point to ponder at the first intermission: Who should be happier with this 1-1 tie, the Blackhawks or the Flyers?
The Blackhawks owned the first period, putting relentless pressure on the Flyers in their own zone and outshooting them 17-7 over the first 20 minutes. They clearly wore the Flyers down during their successful power play, when Dustin Byfuglien scored, and so far have shown an edge the home team didn't have — frustrating Chris Pronger into those two penalties.
On the other hand, the Flyers — as they've done so well this period — responded to the goal given up with a knocked-in rebound by Scott Hartnell to make sure they were even when they headed into the locker room. Without many quality scoring chances, they were still able to avoid falling behind.
This is not a repeat: Chris Pronger found himself back in the penalty box.
This time he didn't get away with it.
Pronger's high-sticking infraction, just a few minutes after his holding call, gave the Blackhawks a power play opportunity they promptly converted. Just like in Game 5, Pronger's archrival Dustin Byfuglien took advantage of his absence on the ice.
Byfuglien was anchored in front of the crease, then quickly popped out to face the net and one-time a pass from Jonathan Toews past Michael Leighton for a 1-0 lead with 3:11 left in the opening period.
If there was any doubt about how tight this game was going to be called, well, the Flyers drew a power-play chance of their own right after Byfuglien's goal. That expired, but then they got another one.
Scott Hartnell knocked in a rebound given up by Antti Niemi, tying it at 1 just before the first period expired.
A lot of action in that one.
Two more periods to go.
With the midpoint of the first period not yet nigh, Chris Pronger found himself back in the penalty box.
The bad boy of these finals was all over Marian Hossa in the corner, putting the Blackhawks forward in a bear hug at one point and finishing their tussle with an elbow to Hossa's face. Pronger was barking on his way off the ice after the holding call, but he didn't have much to argue about.
There were a few of those famous Philly boos coming from the crowd, but probably more perfunctory than passionate.
The Blackhawks had some prime chances on their power play, including one slap shot that ricocheted off the post, but the Flyers killed off the penalty and returned to even strength.
After Lauren Hart's hearty rendition of "God Bless America," a staple at every Flyers game, we're under way at the Wachovia Center. No surprises in the net: Antti Niemi for the Blackhawks and Michael Leighton for the Flyers.
After pulling Leighton from Game 5, the second time he's given him the hook in this series, Flyers coach Peter Laviolette faced questions about whether he'd stick with Leighton. Though declining to announce his starter before the game, Laviolette all but revealed his choice yesterday.
"Our goaltender has the best numbers in the playoffs. I didn't think I had to announce it," Laviolette said. "I'm very confident in Michael. He's played excellent in the playoffs. His home numbers are terrific."
Leighton has won six straight games at Wachovia Center.
The sixth game of the Stanley Cup finals is about to begin at Wachovia Center, and the Chicago Blackhawks are on the verge of their first championship since 1961.
If they're victorious tonight against the Philadelphia Flyers, the Blackhawks will get the chance to hoist one of the most precious prizes in sports — on unfriendly ice.
There's a sentiment around the game and around Chicago that it would be best for the Blackhawks to win the series at home, but the players insist they're not picky. They want to win it, wherever they can.
In an interview with NBC, Blackhawks forward Dustin Byfuglien sure had his game face on. He never cracked a smile and wouldn't even acknowledge the presence of the silver cup in the building, when asked about the anticipation.
Trailing 3-2 in the series isn't fazing the Flyers, though. They've faced the threat of elimination for two full months, barely making the playoffs in the first place.