Saturday, April 19, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

'Loose' Flyers lose grip in Chicago

CHICAGO – Just above the luxury boxes in an overhang that overlooks the ice, the United Center pays homage to its predecessor in the form of an illuminated red sign that reads “Madhouse on Madison.”

'Loose' Flyers lose grip in Chicago

Arron Asham, second from right, celebrates with his teammates after scoring late in the 2nd period to tie the game at 5-5. (David Maialetti / Staff Photographer)
Arron Asham, second from right, celebrates with his teammates after scoring late in the 2nd period to tie the game at 5-5. (David Maialetti / Staff Photographer)

CHICAGO – Just above the luxury boxes in an overhang that overlooks the ice, the United Center pays homage to its predecessor in the form of an illuminated red sign that reads “Madhouse on Madison.”

On Saturday night, the building lived up to the old Chicago Stadium moniker.

But it wasn’t because of the mind-numbing, 22,312 screaming fans in attendance. Or because of the Michael Jordan statue out front that was dressed in a Blackhawks jersey and helmet. Or because of the goosebump-producing rolling applause that occurs during the national anthem.

It wasn’t even a madhouse for the scoreboard, which tallied 11 goals by the time the final horn blared after Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals – even though that was a shock in itself.

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There were so many stunning moments it’s hard to even mash them all together after the Flyers’ 6-3 loss:

  • Neither team received a goal from a player on their top line (Patrick Kane, Dustin Byfuglien and Jonathan Toews - or – Simon Gagne, Mike Richards and Jeff Carter).
  • The Flyers were able to trade blows with Chicago’s lauded and feared offense.
  • The Flyers were not penalized once in the game.
  • Blair Betts and Arron Asham chipped in with goals and Scott Hartnell (3 points) may have played his best game as a Flyer.
  • Oh, yeah, Flyers coach Peter Laviolette yanked Michael Leighton after he gave up his fifth goal on 20 shots – which only made it 5-4.

None of those things, though, were as maddening as the Flyers’ play in the defensive zone – which was the staple of their run to Chicago. Flyers captain Mike Richards called it a “track meet” with the Blackhawks, one that Chicago’s speedy forwards will win almost every time.

“We were a little bit too loose in front of our net,” Laviolette said. “We left too many point blank opportunities, at times we had men there.

“We’ve got to be a little bit better defensively than we were.”

And the Flyers, as they have been throughout the course of the playoffs, echoed their coach’s thoughts in unison.

“At the end of the day, we made some mistakes and they were very opportunistic,” Mike Richards said. “The goals that went in were second opportunities, or opportunities right in the slot.

“We had a lot of mental lapses. Maybe it was nerves, maybe it was trying to do too much.”

The Flyers held leads of 1-0, 3-2 and 4-3 but coughed them up each time.

“That’s not our team,” Michael Leighton said. “We don’t play like that.”

Other than a chunk of time in the third period, the Blackhawks did not dominate a majority of the game.

Interestingly, their attack came at the Flyers in short, 15-20 second bursts - a lot of times coming off turnovers – rather than sustained offensive-zone pressure. But when the Blackhawks struck, they didn’t miss.

One positive for the Flyers was that Byfuglien – who did tangle with Chris Pronger at times – was held in check. He was never a huge force around the Flyers’ net as was predicted before the series.

And the Flyers were able to neutralize Kane and Toews with a 32-minute dose of Chris Pronger, who picked up two assists and was a plus-2.

The Flyers know, though, with the talent between Kane, Toews and Byfuglien, it has been an exception and not the rule to keep them off the scoresheet.

“Both teams made a lot of mistakes,” Danny Briere said. “It’s a matter of better coverage in our zone. We gave up way too many chances from the slot area. With the shooters that they have, we’re going to get hurt if we keep doing that.”

Tied 5-5 heading into the third period, the Flyers did not look like the same team that outplayed Chicago for large stretches during Game 1. It took them more than nine minutes to get their first shot of the period – and by that point, injury fill-in Tomas Kopecky was able to give the Hawks the lead.

Kopecky’s goal seemed to suck the life out of the Flyers.

“After being tied going into the third period, I think maybe both teams were trying to hold on a little bit,” Briere said. “No one wanted to make a mistake. And that’s not our style. It caught us. I think it was more what we didn’t do than what they did.”

Now, with Game 2 on Monday night, the Flyers don’t feel all that horrible about their position in the series – despite being in a series hole.

And we’ve heard that before, from this team, during this playoff run.

“For us, we realized that we can play, that we can score goals,” Briere said.

“It’s disappointing, the fact that it was right there,” Richards said. “It’s frustrating that we didn’t get the results. We had a lot of chances. We know that we can’t get into a track meet with this team. But we know it’s only one game. We have a lot of experience with losing games and bouncing back.”

Stat of the night
When was the last time the Flyers played a game without a single penalty kill? The last time Michael Leighton did not finish a game, back on March 16 in Nashville, when the Flyers lost, 4-3, to the Predators. Leighton left that game with a severe high ankle sprain, which ultimately kept him off the ice until Game 5 of the second round against Boston.

Score breakdown
FLYERS: led 1-0, 3-2 and 4-3 (total time: 4:57)
Blackhawks: led 2-1, 5-4, and 6-5 (total time: 19:53)
Tied: 1-1, 2-2, 3-3, 4-4, 5-5 (total time: 35:10)

Slap shots
The victor in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals has gone on to win the series in 54 of the last 70 seasons (77-percent) since the best-of-seven format was introduced in 1939 … The Blackhawks have won six straight games … Chicago won 63-percent of the face-offs … Both teams tied in shots with 32 … Blair Betts broke a 28-game scoreless streak … The last time 11 goals were scored in a Stanley Cup Final was June 1, 1992 – when Chicago lost 6-5 to Pittsburgh to be swept at Chicago Stadium … Saturday was Chicago’s first win in the Finals since 1973.

For the latest updates, follow Frank Seravalli on Twitter (http://twitter.com/DNFlyers).

About this blog
Frequent Flyers is your home for news and analysis of all things orange and black. Reach Frank at seravaf@phillynews.com.

Frank Seravalli Daily News Sports Columnist
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