Commentary

Kopecky's moment worth the wait

After five games on bench, Hawks winger delivers winner in Game 1

Updated: May 30, 2010, 4:07 PM ET
By Melissa Isaacson | ESPNChicago.com

CHICAGO -- Tomas Kopecky didn't plan his winning-goal celebration Saturday night any more than he planned his winning goal.

Both kind of just came to him.

[+] EnlargeTomas Kopecky
Bill Smith/Getty ImagesA healthy scratch for the past five games, Tomas Kopecky got his chance with Andrew Ladd out thanks to an upper-body injury and delivered in Game 1.

When the Hawks needed it most after a wild and woolly evening at the United Center, the Hawks winger accepted a perfect pass from Kris Versteeg, waited just long enough for Philadelphia Flyers goaltender Brian Boucher to come out of the net and slid the puck past him for the decisive score at 8:25 of the final period in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup finals.

Then he let impulse take over.

"I just go with what comes to me right away," Kopecky said of his face-pressing, glass-banging moment. "It was great, there was an older lady and she was trying to get off the bench, and once she did, she started banging on the glass, so it was pretty exciting."

Kopecky, a healthy scratch for the past five playoff games, had not played since Game 5 of the second round against the Vancouver Canucks on May 9 and played Saturday only because of an injury to Andrew Ladd. When we last saw Kopecky, he was playing left wing on a line with Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa. This time, he was back playing on the right side with Versteeg and Dave Bolland.

"Kopy has been there before, he's done it, and he knows what it takes," Versteeg said. "And I think sitting out sometimes ticks guys off a bit. … They want to come back in and make a difference, and I think Kopy did that tonight."

Although Ladd is more physical, Kopecky has a nose for the net with four goals this postseason.

"Bolly and Steeger are great players," Kopecky said. "They find you, you just have to get open and go in the net, and there's a lot of rebounds."

Hawks coach Joel Quenneville told Kopecky he would be playing on Saturday morning and had one bit of advice.

"He told me to try to keep it simple and don't do anything fancy," Kopecky said. "I knew you don't try to do fancy things after you're sitting out five games, especially right now in the finals. So just keep it simple, work hard and compete every shift."

The Kopecky-Versteeg-Bolland line began the game against the Flyers' top line of Simon Gagne, Jeff Carter and Mike Richards. But it wasn't until Versteeg tied the game at 4 in the second period, a goal he assisted on with Duncan Keith, that Kopecky settled down, he said.

"I was a little nervous the first couple shifts, but we stuck with it, and the nervousness came down a little bit," Kopecky said. "When Steeger got that goal, everything was kind of back to normal. You just can't think, you just have to go out there and react. That's when you're comfortable."

With the Hawks' top line of Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Dustin Byfuglien uncharacteristically dormant, the second and third lines' play was critical.

"The third-line guys clamped down and got us back to what makes us a good team, checking first and battling out there," Sharp said. "When Kopy scored that goal, I thought we played our best hockey going forward."

Scoring the winning goal in a Stanley Cup finals game was a "top-three" moment, Kopecky said. But that was as far as he would go.

"I wouldn't say hero," he replied when the word was used. "We have 23 heroes here. Everybody was pulling today, the penalty kill [was good], [Hawks goalie] Antti [Niemi] was unbelievable again and it's not about one guy right now."

Just the same, he would enjoy the Hawks' 6-5 victory and his part in it.

"I was excited to jump in," he said. "Obviously, the Stanley Cup finals, lots of players play for a long time and don't even get there, so it's an exciting time of the year, and you just have to live in the moment and enjoy it and work hard."

And if that moment just happened to scare a lady in the process, well, so be it.

"He probably did with that mustache of his," Bolland said. "I liked that. When they were showing it up on the JumboTron, his face was right in the camera. He looked pretty funny." Said Versteeg, "He was screaming so loud. I'm pretty sure they heard him in the upper deck."

Melissa Isaacson is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.

Melissa Isaacson

Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
Melissa Isaacson is a columnist for espnW.com, ESPN Chicago and ESPN.com. The award-winning writer has covered Chicago sports for most of her 31-year career, including at the Chicago Tribune before joining ESPN in 2009. Isaacson has also covered tennis since 1986.

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