Flyers face another uphill battle
CHICAGO -- The strong temptation in the wake of this dog's breakfast of a game by the Philadelphia Flyers is to write them off.
Thanks for coming out Simon, Chris, Scott and Daniel don't let the United Center doors hit you on the way out.
That's how ugly things were in the Chicago Blackhawks' crushing 7-4 victory over the Flyers on Sunday night, a score that mightily flattered the visitors in orange.
"Maybe we got a little cocky and might have thought we just had to throw our sticks on the ice. Obviously it's not the case," a downcast Philadelphia captain Mike Richards said after the game.
"That was probably the worst period we played throughout the postseason," added Philadelphia defenseman Kimmo Timonen. "I don't really know what happened. It looks like we sat back, kind of wanted to cut through that first period, but that's not the way it works. I've got a lot of credit for them; they were skating hard, they were winning one-on-one battles, they were beating us to the pucks and they were better in the first period. This time of year, it's not acceptable."
After the Flyers dominating the Blackhawks in Game 4, all of the focus was on preseries favorite Chicago and whether it could answer the call in the face of a relentless Flyers forecheck. The Blackhawks answered, scoring three times in the first period, dominating time of possession and making the Flyers look lost and tentative.
Now, thanks to the NHL's schedule makers, the Flyers will have to endure two off days of answering questions about their lack of discipline, struggling goaltending, lack of jump and failure to capitalize on opportunities as they prepare for a must-win Game 6 on Wednesday night in Philadelphia.
"We seem to like to make things difficult on ourselves," Flyers defenseman Chris Pronger said. "This is no different."
The towering blueliner, who has been so much of the story of the Flyers' success this spring, was coming off a tour-de-force night in Game 4, when he was plus-4. In Game 5, he suffered one of the worst nights of his career. He was on the ice for six of seven goals and in the penalty box for the other. His minus-5 rating was the worst of his career.
"Oh, thanks, real nice of you," Pronger joked when asked by a reporter about the stats.
What did he think of his game?
"Well, I think you just stated it. I guess there's really not much else to say," Pronger said. Later, he described himself as being "day to day with hurt feelings."
If the playoffs are about living one day and then throwing it away, the Flyers will need to find a large receptacle for the mess they made in Game 5 and summon extraordinary will to ignore the stink of this one with their season on the line.
"It's one thing I've learned along the way about the playoffs is, one game is only one game. There's usually not a carryover effect from game to game," Philadelphia coach Peter Laviolette said. "You know, this is just one page of the story. Tonight, it was their page. A couple of days off here, [we'll] go back to our building where we have had a lot of success. We'll look to win a hockey game and force [Game 7]."
It's not like the Flyers haven't traveled the road that borders the playoff abyss regularly this spring. They were down 3-0 to the Boston Bruins and won four straight elimination games, including a Game 7 in which they were down 3-0 in the first period. The Flyers were down 3-0 by the end of the first period Sunday and quickly scored in the second frame to make it 3-1, but that was where any similarities to that fateful night in Boston ended.
The Hawks pounded home a fourth goal less than three minutes after the Flyers' first marker. Then, when the Flyers had made it 4-2 on a Timonen goal, summoning images of Game 1's wild and wooly 6-5 spectacle, the Blackhawks scored again to turn "Hmm, let's see what will happen next" into "Hmm, this is quite a shellacking."
Much of the storyline for the powerful Chicago performance will surround the line changes made by coach Joel Quenneville. Every tinker he made turned into gold in Game 5. Between now and Wednesday, Laviolette will have to decide what, if any, changes he will make to try to keep this series and his team's dreams of a Stanley Cup alive.
After stepping up his game in Game 4, Richards was a non-factor in Game 5, and he continues to be dragged down by the lethargic play of linemates Simon Gagne and Jeff Carter. The trio is now a combined minus-16 in the series.
Gagne did score his first of the series when the game was out of reach at 6-3 and, yes, Gagne and Carter are coming off foot injuries. Nonetheless, they have been invisible in a series that now has taken the Flyers to the brink, and it says here they cannot win this series if their indifferent play continues. If Carter is that banged up, he shouldn't be in the lineup. If his poor play isn't related to his injury, he has much to answer for a level of play that suggests a preseason game, not a Stanley Cup finals series.
Laviolette will have to determine whether to go back to the combustible Daniel Carcillo with the Cup in the building Wednesday night or stay with the young van Riemsdyk.
And what of the goaltending? For the second time in this series, Michael Leighton was lifted, this time after allowing three goals on 13 first-period shots. The first, a Brent Seabrook wrister, glanced off Pronger and then somehow snuck between Leighton's skate and right post with the Hawks on the power play. He was out of position as Dave Bolland snuck a rebound off Leighton's skate into the net just 3:09 later. Less than three minutes later, the netminder looked bad after he was beaten to the long side on Kris Versteeg's hard wrist shot from the slot.
The waiver-wire pickup, who has been so good for so much of the past three rounds, has given up eight goals on 33 shots in the two games in which he's been shown the door in the Cup finals. Still, Leighton will almost certainly start in Game 6 because he has shown a propensity for bouncing back after poor outings and has been terrific at home this spring (6-0 at Wachovia Center).
He better be a whole lot better than he was Sunday night. But that sentiment can be spoken about virtually every member of the Flyers' lineup.
"I'm very disappointed because we all know how big that game was and what that meant for us, but now it's over," Timonen said. "We didn't play that well, so we made them look better than they are, I think. It was a big game, but we lost that and now we've got to move on. The way things have gone this postseason, we haven't done anything the easy way."
Just for fun, we went back to our Game 5 column from last season, when the Red Wings flattened the Penguins 5-0 to take a 3-2 series lead heading back to Pittsburgh. This series has mirrored that one in that Chicago won the first two games at home while Philadelphia held serve in Games 3 and 4.
A year ago, the Penguins looked so badly beaten in Game 5, it was hard to imagine they could deny the powerful Red Wings a second straight Stanley Cup. They did, of course, as the Penguins won Game 6 and stole Game 7 in Detroit.
The Flyers have until Wednesday to prove they can once again rewrite history, and prove they aren't history themselves.
Scott Burnside covers the NHL for ESPN.com.
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