Why Game 2 is so pivotal
CHICAGO -- Forget the carnival on ice that was Game 1 of the Stanley Cup finals. For all intents and purposes, the finals begin with Game 2 on Monday night and we are already at a crossroads in the Series of the Drought.
Both teams spent Sunday trying to push aside the images and memories of Saturday's 6-5 rodeo won by the Chicago Blackhawks.
We were reminded of Denis Lemieux, the fictional Johnstown Chiefs goaltender from "Slap Shot" after both the Blackhawks and Philadelphia Flyers essentially said they felt shame about what had transpired at the United Center in the highest-scoring finals game since 1992.
Chicago captain Jonathan Toews was minus-3 in Game 1 and held off the score sheet for just the third time in these playoffs.
"Again, as a team, I'm very thankful as a team we found a way," he said Sunday. "But again, I think we can all treat it as kind of a loss. We all know it wasn't our best game, so we will prepare to play much better tomorrow night. I think both teams are putting that game behind them."
Toews thought perhaps both teams were reacting to the buildup of hype and emotion leading up to Game 1. The Blackhawks have not won a Cup since 1961, the longest drought in the NHL. The Flyers have not won a championship since 1975. Both teams carry a heavy burden of expectation from their long-suffering cities and fans, burdens that sometimes make players play out of character. Game 1 was certainly out of character on many levels.
"It's been such a long week that there's a lot of moments during that week when you're just sitting around and you're really thinking about it and you try and keep your TV off and you don't want to read the newspapers and stuff like that, just to kind of treat it as just another game and we're playing hockey," Toews said. "But everyone knows what's at stake here, so it's tough not to get excited about it.
"I think both teams maybe realized that maybe a little bit too much last night. You could definitely see that there was definitely some jitters early on."
So Monday night promises to be a better indication of what kind of personality this series is going to adopt. In that way, it becomes a crucial test, especially for the Philadelphia Flyers.
The Blackhawks would like to replicate what they did in the third period, when they limited the Flyers to six shots on goal and zero goals while getting the winning tally from third-line winger Tomas Kopecky. The Blackhawks have proved to be an opportunistic bunch throughout the playoffs and were so again in Game 1, scoring five times on just 20 shots to drive Philadelphia starter Michael Leighton from the nets late in the second period.
If, as the Blackhawks believe, it would be difficult for them to play any worse defensively, then they have an opportunity Monday to seize control of this series and make short work of the Flyers.
"I think tomorrow's going to be a better game from our side and I think Philly's going to play better too, so it's probably going to be a pretty good game tomorrow, but I don't think it's going to be high-scoring," predicted Chicago defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson.
Yes, we read the memo: The Flyers became just the third team in NHL history to rebound from a 3-0 series deficit to beat Boston in the conference semifinals earlier this spring. That is simply another reason they must absolutely win Game 2 if they are to have a chance to win this series. Teams falling behind 2-0 in the Cup finals almost never come back (they do so less than 13 percent of the time). Yes, Pittsburgh did it last season against Detroit, but like the Flyers' remarkable comeback against Boston, there is simply no way to expect miraculous events to continue to happen to one team.
How many times can the Flyers expect to tempt the hockey gods and still emerge victorious? We think the margin for such error is none. If the Flyers fall behind 2-0 in this series, they are done. Not that anyone in the Philadelphia room will go so far as to say so.
"Well, I look at it as an opportunity to steal home ice and tomorrow's not a do-or-die situation by any means," said Flyers defenseman Matt Carle, who logged 28:08 in ice time in Game 1. "Win or lose, we're going to be ready to go for Game 3 back in our barn, but we certainly want to try and steal home ice and that's the objective."
The Flyers must hope to get some goaltending help, regardless of whether it's Leighton or Boucher (we're guessing Leighton), and they must continue the good work of creating traffic in front of Hawks goalie Antti Niemi, pouncing on loose pucks and creating turnovers in the Chicago zone.
We have seen them do so effectively throughout the playoffs; now they must return that effort in Game 2.
"We've been good at having that short memory no matter what happens with our team," said James van Riemsdyk, who was minus-2 in Game 1. "That's something you've got to have at this time of the year because obviously it's just one game at the end of the day. Whether you lose 6-5 or 6-0, you've got to start fresh in Game 2. We're going to have to play a hell of a lot better."
In the days leading up to this series, the Blackhawks were established as prohibitive favorites. In Game 2, they will get the opportunity to justify that faith. Meanwhile, the Flyers were a loose bunch Sunday, hooting and hollering, playing soccer in the hallways of the United Center and exuding confidence in dealing with the press after their workouts.
"Every loss is big in the playoffs. I'm not going to lie about that," said Danny Briere, one of the best Flyers in Game 1 with four points. "But at the same time, coming in, everybody was talking how good the Blackhawks were. And not too many people -- I haven't heard anybody giving us a chance to win this series.
"What I liked is, [Saturday] night, we proved we belong with them. You know, maybe not to all the hockey experts, but in our room, I think we realize we can play and we can stretch the series and definitely come back in it."
Scott Burnside covers the NHL for ESPN.com.
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