FLYERS _ After a clumsy first period in which they were back on their heels, the Flyers regrouped and outplayed Chicago for a good portion of the last 40 minutes Monday night.
Why, then, were they on the wrong end of a 2-1 final, one that gave the Blackhawks a two-games-to-none lead in the Stanley Cup Finals?
Simply put, Niemi stole the game.
Niemi made 32 saves, including 15 in the second period and 14 in the third period.
In the final 20 minutes, the Flyers outshot the Hawks, 15-4, but managed just one goal despite several point-blank chances.
“We just have to bear down a little bit stronger on the net and get the puck up,” captain Mike Richards said.
Niemi allowed a total of seven goals in the sereies against San Jose. All seven were scored from the waist up.
“Honestly, I don’t think we tested him enough,” center Danny Briere said. “I thought we made him look good with outside shots way too often.”
That may have been the case early in the game, but not in the final period, when the Flyers swarmed the net.
Which begs the question: Where was that desperation early in the game?
The Flyers, coming off a 6-5 loss in Game 1, lost the game by not setting the tone early. They had just three shots in an awful first period.
“We all talked about tightening up defensively, but tightening up defensively doesn’t mean no forecheck and no offense,” Briere said of the opening period. “I thought we sat back on our heels a little too much.”
If they plan on hosting the first Cup parade in 35 years, the Flyers need to seize the moment. For three periods.
“We need to play for 60 minutes like we played in the third period,” defenseman Chris Pronger said.
“We’re not leaving Chicago feeling we can’t win,” Briere said. “Both games, I thought a bounce here or there going our way and this series could be tied, 1-1. We’re down 2-0 and we can’t change that … Just like the Boston series, we’ve got to move forward. We have to find a way to create our own bounces now.”
“I'm not sure we should be frustrated,” coach Peter Laviolette said. “I don’t think we got outplayed…We probably outshot them and outchanced them.”
They just didn’t outscore them. For that, they have to give credit to Niemi, Chicago’s unassuming rookie.
But they also have to blame themselves for not playing with urgency right from the start.