Wacky? Wild? Game 1 was both
CHICAGO -- A Rembrandt or Van Gogh? Hardly. More like Doodle Art.
But on a night when their top line was a combined minus-9 with just two shots on goal, and they gave up five goals, the Chicago Blackhawks will take their first win in a Stanley Cup finals game since 1973 and be happy.
"A lot of action, a shootout at the O.K. Corral," Chicago's Joel Quenneville said after his squad produced a 6-5 victory over Philadelphia in what was his first Stanley Cup finals game as a head coach.
Wacky? You bet.
The Flyers led 1-0, 3-2 and 4-3, didn't take a penalty and still lost.
In fact, without being too harsh, if starting netminder Michael Leighton had come up with even one big save, the Flyers might be heading into Game 2 on Monday with a 1-0 series lead. But he didn't and was given the hook by Flyers coach Peter Laviolette with 4:42 left in the second period after Troy Brouwer scored his second of the game to give the Blackhawks a 5-4 lead.
Even then, this pond-hockey exhibition could have gone either way.
Arron Asham scored with 1:11 left in the second to tie the score at 5, and the Flyers nearly scored again before the second frame ended.
"I came out after the second period and we were starting in the third and I looked up and it's 5-5 and I was like, 'Holy crap, what is going on,'" said Chicago forward Kris Versteeg, who scored midway through the second period to make it 4-4. "It was obviously a bit different than what we were used to and the way we want to play, but we've got to really sit down and talk about how we're going to be better next game."
As a kid, Versteeg said he's played many Stanley Cup finals games in his driveway, but even those paled in comparison to the ice rodeo the packed United Center was witness to Saturday night.
"I don't think as many goals got scored in the driveway as did tonight," Versteeg said. "But it was definitely exciting, and it wasn't the way we wanted to play, though, in the end. I think the third period was the way we wanted to play, and we came out and played strong, but we've got to be a lot better next game."
John Madden won a Stanley Cup with New Jersey in 2003. In the finals against Anaheim -- one of the worst Cup finals series of all time -- it would have taken a week for those teams to combine for 11 goals. The goal production in Game 1 was the most in a Cup finals game since Game 4 of the 1992 finals, which coincidentally marked the last finals appearance by the Blackhawks.
Madden sure isn't expecting the rest of this series to follow the pattern established in Game 1.
"I hope not. From a fan's standpoint, I'm sure it's exciting, and if you're watching at home, it's great. But from a player's standpoint, it's not the type of games you want to get into, just run-and-gun, high-scoring games," he said. "In that case, it could be anybody's game, so we want to take more control of the game. We can play 100 times better than we did tonight, and I'm sure they're saying the same thing over there."
He was right.
The Flyers refused to blame Leighton for the loss (he was pulled in the second period after allowing five goals on 20 shots), and promised they would also be a different team in Game 2.
"We have to do a better job taking time and space away from them. Six goals is way too much for us to allow," said Scott Hartnell, who had his best game of the playoffs with a goal and two assists. "I'm sure NBC is happy for the ratings with all the goals. It's real frustrating with how it ended up."
While Hartnell, Daniel Briere and Ville Leino were easily the best Flyers forward line in Game 1, the team's top unit of Simon Gagne, Jeff Carter and captain Mike Richards was nullified by the Blackhawks' top checking unit centered by Dave Bolland.
Not only did that Philly trio not register a point, Bolland scored shorthanded in the first period and his linemates, Versteeg and Tomas Kopecky, also scored. Kopecky, in the lineup because of an injury to Andrew Ladd, scored the winner before the midway point of the third period.
"You know, you lose a game, the first game of the Stanley Cup final, it's hard to sit here and thumb through the positives right now," Laviolette said. "We'll take a look at it tonight and tomorrow and we'll be ready to go."
Naturally, the Blackhawks were pleased to have come up with the win regardless of whether it scored on style points or not. Beyond that, they were especially happy with how the final 20 minutes turned out. After the frenzy that produced 10 goals through the first two periods, the Blackhawks more closely resembled the tight, disciplined team that swept San Jose in the Western Conference finals.
They got a goal from their third line to win the game on a night when their dynamic forward line of captain Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane or Dustin Byfuglien was held pointless. Toews' goose egg snapped a franchise-record 13-game points streak.
"We have a lot of depth. That's one of the things we pride ourselves on, we have all year," Madden said. "So we rolled four lines in the third and we were able to produce another goal, that's the way it is. The top line's not going to score every night of the week and you've got to be able to pick them up, so we did it tonight."
Scott Burnside covers the NHL for ESPN.com.
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