A can't-miss series
These Stanley Cup finals have a little of everything, a lot of excitement
CHICAGO -- Two games into the Stanley Cup finals and the NHL can already edit it into a great promotional ad for the game.
Two games in and this series has something for everyone. For those who dismissed the Blackhawks' 6-5 victory over Philadelphia in Game 1 as a great display of pond hockey, we give you Monday's Game 2.
The Hawks' 2-1 win was scoreless for nearly 37 minutes until Chicago's Marian Hossa poked in a short slap shot with just under three minutes remaining in the second period.
Perhaps, if you hate sports altogether.
At the United Center, where it's not uncommon after a deafening national anthem for the place to go quiet for stretches, even in the postseason, fans were in a perpetual nervous frenzy when they weren't roaring their approval at bone-crunching checks and fearless goaltending.
This was championship play at its best for much of the night, two teams with distinctly different styles and personalities, through with feeling each other out, definitely finished with any compulsory niceties, going at each other both on the ice and on their coaches' whiteboards with all the ferocity we should expect.
Twenty-eight seconds after Hossa made it 1-0, Hawks forward and resident enforcer Ben Eager scored the goal that proved to be the game winner; it was Eager's first goal of the postseason and only his second in 33 career playoff games, a 38-foot wrist shot that eluded the glove of the otherwise much-improved Michael Leighton.
The Flyers made sure things stayed interesting with a third-period power-play goal by Simon Gagne with 5:20 remaining in regulation, then kept the pressure on Hawks goalie Antti Niemi, the 26-year-old rookie who stopped 15 shots in the second period and 14 in the third using his gloves, his pads and his body to smother shot after Philadelphia shot.
At one point in the third, several of the Flyers simply piled on top of him before one of Niemi's stalwart defenders, Brent Sopel, emerged looking both for oxygen and his helmet.
Penalizing Carcillo, suspended twice during the regular season for unsportsmanlike conduct, is a little like throwing out teammate Chris Pronger for pushing. Officials did get Pronger and Eager for 10-minute game misconducts after the game ended, which means nothing but was also fun to watch -- Eager apparently telling Pronger what to do with the game puck he likes to collect after each contest, and Pronger sending a red Hawks' rally towel Eager's way via wrister.
Asked what exactly Eager said to him, Pronger responded, "I don't speak that language, whatever he was speaking."
Asked about his towel shot, not much more info was forthcoming. "I don't know, did I?" Pronger said to his inquisitor. "Wow, you're intuitive. Good for you. Next."
But beyond the chippiness -- described by Patrick Kane as "just kind of yapping back and forth, nothing I can really say in front of you guys but good stuff, for sure" -- it was good hockey, entertaining, tough, suspenseful. Fun for fans. And at least in one dressing room, for players, too.
"Any time you're playing in the finals, it's fun," said Hawks center John Madden. "We're not going out there saying, 'Boy, we have to play well so the fans get a good look.' These are tough games, they're hard-hitting, they're fast-paced, there are chances at both ends, the goalies are making saves. They're coming at us, we're coming at them, so it has all the makings for a great hockey game from the fans' perspective too."
Proving they can play at any speed and style, the Hawks appear to be in control of the series, though a 2-0 lead against the Flyers hardly ruffles a team that came back and defeated the Boston Bruins after being down 3-0.
"As an offensive player, you always like high-scoring games, but especially at this time of year, you play whatever hockey you have to in order to win," said the Hawks' Kane, who has been uncharacteristically shut out in goals and assists along with Jonathan Toews in the first two games.
"I know I haven't contributed more in the first two games, but we're 2-0 so I can be one of happiest guys in the locker room."
He can't be any happier than those who have tuned in to this series so far.
Melissa Isaacson is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.
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