Flyers' better effort still not enough
CHICAGO -- For most of this spring, the Philadelphia Flyers have taken up residence on the right side of that razor-thin line between winning and losing.
For the second straight game, the plucky Flyers kept the Chicago Blackhawks' top forwards, Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, off the score sheet and again found out it wasn't quite enough, dropping a 2-1 decision on Monday. Chicago leads the Stanley Cup finals 2-0.
Were the Flyers markedly better than they were in Saturday's 6-5 loss in Game 1? In many respects, by a country mile.
Although they were outshot 9-3 in the first period and gave up two goals in a 28-second span late in the second frame, the Flyers emptied the cupboard in the third and outshot Chicago 15-4 (Philly ended up outshooting Chicago 33-26 overall).
During the final 20 minutes, the Flyers forced the Hawks into giveaways and forced Antti Niemi to make a handful of terrific saves. Still, the Flyers must face the sobering reality that for all the forward progress -- and there was much of it -- they have taken a giant step toward seeing their dream of the franchise's first Stanley Cup in 35 years die.
"I thought we were way too conservative in the first two periods," Philadelphia forward Danny Briere said. "We didn't give them much, I understand that. But it's not really our type of hockey. We didn't forecheck. We didn't create much offensively. We didn't spend much time in their zone."
In Game 1, it was Briere, along with linemates Scott Hartnell and Ville Leino, who did most of the damage against Chicago. In Game 2, they were held without a point. The Flyers' other top line of Mike Richards, Simon Gagne and Jeff Carter did provide Philly's lone goal on the power play early in the third period, but they were also on the ice and did a poor job of clearing the puck on Chicago's first goal by Marian Hossa. That line is now minus-10 through two games and will have to be better if the Flyers have any hope of rebounding in Games 3 and 4, which are set for Wednesday and Friday in Philadelphia.
"It's obviously disappointing. We wanted to get a split here at least," Flyers defenseman Kimmo Timonen said. "Now, it's not time to panic. We've been here and we've done this before. Obviously, we've got to get better. We've got to get another gear."
History suggests the Flyers' task is nigh on impossible; teams that sweep the first two games of the Stanley Cup finals are 31-2. Pittsburgh roared back to win four of five against Detroit last spring and the Montreal Canadiens rebounded against Chicago to win the Cup in 1971.
The Flyers, of course, have defied history this spring, becoming only the third team in NHL history to erase a 3-0 series deficit and win a series, eliminating Boston in the second round. Still, with each passing moment in this series, that unlikely comeback seems more and more distant, and less relevant.
But defenseman Chris Pronger said there remains the same kind of confidence in the Flyers' dressing room as there was during that Boston series. "Absolutely," he said.
Pronger was once again a force, logging 27:52 in ice time, the most of any player for the second straight contest. After the game, he also got into a heated discussion with Ben Eager, who scored the winning goal for Chicago, and threw a towel at him. Eager described it as a "little postgame chat."
"He's been picking the pucks up after the game and I just told him he can keep it," Eager said.
Pronger was asked if he tossed a towel at Eager. "I don't know, did I? Wow. You're intuitive. Good for you. Next," he said.
Pronger would not elaborate on the conversation with Eager. "I don't speak that language, whatever he was speaking. I couldn't hear him," he said.
If the Flyers take their emotional cues from Pronger, maybe not all is lost despite what history suggests. He briefly faced the wrong way at the start of his postgame media scrum and then joked he wasn't in for any overtime when it came to answering questions. He agreed the Flyers needed to find a higher level of desperation for longer stretches.
"Yeah, I think we need to play with more desperation than we did, like the third period," he said. "We need to play with that passion, energy, drive, determination, like we did in the third through the whole game. It needs to be 60 minutes."
As with Game 1, Game 2 once again illustrated the high-wire act that is the playoffs, how success or failure is a picture painted by many tiny moments.
Philadelphia coach Peter Laviolette went back to netminder Michael Leighton, who was pulled in Game 1 after allowing five goals on 20 shots. Leighton was excellent through the first period and a half Monday, able to bring rebounds under control that mystified him in Game 1.
But it was a rebound that ended up behind him for the Hawks' first goal of the game. Then, Eager's high, hard shot from the top of the faceoff circle, which went past defenseman Matt Carle and escaped Leighton, was the killer. It was Eager's first goal of the postseason and second ever in the playoffs. It looked like it should have been stopped, although Leighton said he didn't see the puck.
"He used the D as a screen and made a good shot," Leighton said. "I didn't see him release the puck. I saw it when it went through my D-man. I'm not saying he's an Alex Ovechkin, but that's how [the Caps captain] scored a lot of his goals -- he drags it and then uses the D as a screen."
On Chicago's first tally, there was some question about whether Laviolette should have changed his defensive personnel on the whistle before the goal. Instead, Laviolette left his fifth and sixth defensemen, Lukas Krajicek and Oskars Bartulis, on the ice. Krajicek couldn't control Hossa around the loose puck and the Hawks' star took advantage. Chicago is now 8-1 this spring when it scores first.
"First, we have to trust in all of our defensemen out there," Laviolette said. "We look to keep them away from certain people when we can. But there's -- like I said, our coverage was there. We had man-on-man."
Now, the series shifts to the warm, fuzzy confines of Wachovia Center in Philadelphia, where the Flyers are 7-1 this spring. There they will try to find a spot on the other side of that razor-thin line separating winning and losing.
Scott Burnside covers the NHL for ESPN.com.