CHICAGO -- The Flyers scored five goals against the Blackhawks, had the lead in the game three different times, didn’t take a penalty and still managed to lose. Which means that Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final was the working definition of a wasted opportunity.
Which means that after everything that has happened this season, we all now get to wonder if the Flyers have one more comeback in them.
As defenseman Chris Pronger said, “The world is not ending and the sun came up today. It’s a long series. We’re looking at it as a long series. We played a decent game, but not our game (Saturday), and I think we understand that. That mistakes that were made can be easily corrected and that’s what we’re looking at.
“So I don’t think anybody is hitting the panic button or rushing to do anything rash here. We just need to stay focused and play probably a little more relaxed.”
Flyers coach Peter Laviolette, international man of mystery, would not tell the media and take questions about who his starting goaltender would be for Game 2. Laviolette pulled starter Michael Leighton in the second period of Game 1 after he allowed the fifth of six Chicago goals, replacing him with Brian Boucher. While it’s true he didn’t make a big save all night, it still just felt like Leighton would get the start until Laviolette decided to keep it all a big secret. Then we all wondered -- until, hours after leaving practice at the United Center, Laviolette announced through the team public relations department that Leighton would start after all.
Goaltending obviously gets the headlines and always will. But beneath that, there was an interesting subtext to some of the Flyers’ comments. Both Pronger and Danny Briere had a take on the notion that the Flyers are significant betting underdogs in the series. They both acted as if Game 1 -- in which they skated with the Blackhawks but suffered with their defensive zone coverage and with their goaltending -- somehow turned those betting odds into a lie.
Briere, as is his custom, was sincere:
“Every loss is big in the playoffs -- I'm not going to lie about that,” he said. “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, last 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.”
Pronger, as is his custom, was sarcastic:
“Favorite to who? To you guys? This crew in here?” he said to the assembled media. “All that matters is what we think in that locker room. And that's it. Whether the world is picking them as favorites, we've all seen probably one of the most heavily favored Super Bowls, St. Louis against the New England Patriots. That didn't turn out very well, did it? A lot of people lost money on that one. I don't really buy into the favorites, underdogs, all that. I think from the get-go, we believe we can beat that team. Do we need to tighten up a few things and play better defensively? Absolutely. That's why it's a best of seven series.”
Underlying everything is a fundamental question. It has to do with the pace of Game 1. You can say it was way too loose defensively and everyone on both teams would agree. You can say it was too fast, though, and that is where the debate begins.
Pronger said, “I think we just got off track and started to play a little bit their game, a little bit of run and gun, and that fed into their hand a little bit.”
Laviolette, though, did not appear ready to concede that point.
“I don't mind the fast game,” he said. “Like I said, when we went back and looked at the chances, there weren't a lot for them. I think after two periods there were six or seven quality chances. Five of them ended up in the net.
“The game is going to be fast. We're not going to change the way we play, as far as the speed, and try a countering game all of a sudden. We got here because we play an aggressive game. They do the same thing. They send their forwards hard into the offensive zone. They look to counter quickly. The game went back and forth pretty good. If they tried to change it, or we tried to change it at this point, I think you would get yourself into trouble.
“The one area -- I'm sure they're not happy giving up five goals. I know we're not happy giving up six. We need to tighten it up defensively. They're probably saying the same thing.”
They are. In their dressing room, the Blackhawks wore the day-after smiles of train wreck survivors. They know they got away with one. They wouldn’t say it out loud, but they know that their goaltender, Antti Niemi, could have been pulled just as easily as Leighton was. It was just that kind of game.
And now we get to see if the Flyers have one more comeback in them. It is fair to say that they are not rattled, not nearly, not yet. They have been in worse spots, much worse.
“What it does is it gives us confidence that we know we can come back, that it's never over until it's completely over,” Briere said. “We hear that cliche all the time. I feel it's never been more true as it is with this team. So, yes, even being down 1-0, to us, we know there's still a long way to go in this series, and we feel confident that we can come back.”
Whoever the goaltender and whatever the pace of play.