Commentary

The game winner that wasn't

For the first time in a long time, things didn't go according to plan for the Hawks

Updated: June 3, 2010, 9:49 PM ET
By Jon Greenberg | ESPNChicago.com

PHILADELPHIA -- Like hundreds of thousands of Blackhawks fans glued to their flat screens Wednesday night, Adam Burish thought he saw a 3-0 lead and a parade in the Loop flash before his eyes.

It was just like you draw it up. They make commercials off these types of plays. There was little Patrick Kane flying by the Flyers and easily beating Michael Leighton on the breakaway.

That shot, at 2:50 into the third period, looked like a winner. It felt like a winner. It sounded like a winner, deflating the raucous home crowd.

It wasn't a winner.

"I thought that was going to be the winner," Burish admitted with gritted teeth and a smile during a conversation with some reporters in the Hawks' locker room after the Flyers' 4-3 win in overtime.

Burish's moment of euphoria couldn't have lasted long. Twenty seconds after Kane's goal, Ville Leino tied it.

This game was a lot like Kane's goal. There were fleeting moments when you felt like the Hawks could steal it without outplaying Philadelphia, because they've done it before, but they were just that: fleeting.

[+] EnlargeIan Laperriere
Bill Smith/NHLI via Getty ImagesIan Laperriere and the Flyers showed plenty of grit in Game 3.

After Leino's goal, neither team could break through for the rest of the third period, with the Hawks being outshot 15-4 as Antti Niemi tried to be a hero again and nearly succeeded. The game went into overtime for the first time in a Stanley Cup finals since 2008. Claude Giroux ended it with a deflection off a Matt Carle pass coming off an odd-man rush as the Hawks changed personnel.

In a game that saw two Flyers goals reviewed -- one good, one not -- this is indisputable: The Flyers are no one's pushover.

"You kind of expect that type of game in a Stanley Cup final from a team down 2-0 and playing at home," Burish said. "Give them credit."

Philadelphia is back in the series after its win ended the Blackhawks' seven-game playoff winning streak. But the Flyers were never really out of it. The two-game lead for Chicago was weighted by its sweep of San Jose. It looked as if the Blackhawks were almost destined to win by virtue of a mix of luck and skill. And maybe the Flyers just peaked.

Sure, mathematical probability was -- and still is -- against the Flyers, but does this team look like it's book-smart? If you asked half the Flyers what comes after two, they'd probably say "cat." I guess that helped this team come back from a 3-0 deficit against Boston.

With their long hair, woolly playoff beards and a healthy dose of attitude from Chris Pronger, Scott Hartnell and others, this team is like Jared Allen on skates.

And I dig that. After all, this is playoff hockey, and that's supposed to mean something.

"It was normal hockey," Hawks winger Tomas Kopecky said. "Normal for this time of the year. We're not playing regular-season games. Each and every one of us knows what's on the line, and nobody wants to get outworked."

The Flyers dealt out 40 hits, nine more than the Hawks. Each team blocked 20 or more shots. The Hawks were ready to scrap several times, especially Dustin Byfuglien, who led the team with seven hits and two penalties, including one that came from a roughing penalty as the first period ended.

"I'm sure it will continue to get more physical," Burish said. "There was less chirping going on, that's for sure."

Pronger disagreed, naturally.

"There was a lot of talk coming from their side of the ice," Pronger said with a smile. "We were just busy playing the game."

Aside from Kane's beauty, the Hawks got a pair of goals from defensemen firing away in the second period. Duncan Keith's slap shot, coming off a Kane pass, scored via deflection, and Brent Sopel added his first goal of the playoffs with a shot off a faceoff that eluded Leighton.

It's nice to be lucky, but it's better to be good at the power play. The Hawks went 0-for-3 with a man advantage, after going 0-for-3 in their previous game. Chicago couldn't draw a penalty in its 6-5 opening-game win. The Flyers, conversely, scored two power-play goals Wednesday.

"We need more movement and to shoot the puck," Keith said. "We're trying to be a little too cute at times. Shoot the puck and keep it simple."

Despite Chicago fans' vain worries about closing out the series on the road Friday (I'm sure Game 5 ticket-holders were internally conflicted), the Blackhawks didn't seem devastated about losing Game 3.

"We didn't have that mindset," Sopel said. "Obviously they're a great team. They're here for a reason. Two-nothing didn't mean anything to us. Now it's 2-1 and we have to get ready for Game 4."

In the Blackhawks' dressing room, which doubles as the Villanova basketball team quarters, they slapped their famed Indian head logo right in the middle of Nova's giant V. Marking their territory, so to speak. The Hawks definitely feel at home on the road, having won seven straight away from Chicago before this game. The close-knit team is comfortable as the hated visitor, and they left the Wachovia Center bruised but unbowed. Game 4 is sure to be twice as physical and will likely be decided by one mistake or one hero moment. Game 4 is why you lived and died with this team since the fall. Game 4 can't come soon enough.

"Hey, you know, we like our position," Keith said. "At the same time, we're not happy about tonight. But we've got another game, and hopefully we can be better."

Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.

Jon Greenberg

Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com. He has lived and worked in Chicago since 2003, and is a graduate of Ohio University and the University of Chicago.

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