In a wild one, Hawks take Game 1

Gallery Image 186331 - Hille
Danny Briere scores with seconds left in the first period to make the score 3-2.

CHICAGO - Flyers captain Mike Richards slammed his stick across the crossbar, shattering it in half late in Saturday night's wild Stanley Cup Finals opener.

Tomas Kopecky's goal was the reason for his disgust.

Added to the lineup because of an injury to left winger Andrew Ladd, Kopecky scored after skating inside the left circle and beating Brian Boucher with 11 minutes, 35 seconds left.

The goal snapped a 5-5 tie and paved the way for the Chicago Blackhawks' 6-5 victory in Game 1 at the frenzied United Center.

And so the Flyers - who wasted a four-point effort by Danny Briere - will need to dig out of a hole if they are going to win their first Stanley Cup in 35 years. Game 2 is Monday night in Chicago.

The Blackhawks, trying to capture their first Cup since 1961, chased starting goalie Michael Leighton (five goals on 20 shots) late in the second period.

After defenseman Brent Seabrook kept the puck in the zone with a nice play at the blue line, Kris Versteeg found Kopecky on the left side for the game-winner.

"Koppy did a great job of stepping up," said Chicago center Dave Bolland, who scored a shorthanded goal and helped the Hawks keep Richards' line scoreless.

Hawks goalie Antti Niemi had a difficult night, but he was flawless in the final period, and he made the critical save on Briere's ticketed drive from the high slot with 2:06 left. Niemi finished with 27 saves.

The Flyers have lost six straight Finals games since 1987, when they defeated Edmonton, 3-2, on late goal by J.J. Daigneault in Game 6 at the Spectrum.

"We realize we can score goals, but it's a matter of better coverage in our own zone," Briere said after collecting a goal and three assists. "That's why we lost the game."

Flyers coach Peter Laviolette said he expected his team to be hyped up when they took the ice Saturday night.

"Anxious is OK. You don't want them to be nervous," he said before the game.

The Flyers were hoping their eight veterans who are age 30 and older would have a calming effect.

"You can't wave a magic wand," Laviolette said. "The hype of the game is here, and it's Game 1, the Stanley Cup Finals. You wait your whole life to play it."

Briere waited 12 years before he played in the Finals, and he made his first appearance an impressive one. The 32-year-old center gave the Flyers a 3-2 lead when he scored on a rebound from the low slot with 26.1 seconds remaining in the first period.

"I kind of missed my shot and the puck, somehow, I don't know how, bounced back to me, and I had the empty net," Briere said.

It marked the first time since 1982 (Vancouver vs. the Islanders) that teams had combined for five goals in the first period of a Finals game.

Chicago, which was undisciplined as it committed the game's first four penalties, tied it at 3 when former Flyer Patrick Sharp beat Leighton on a high shot to the short side after 1:11 of the second period.

But another of the Flyers' veterans, Blair Betts, gave his team a brief 4-3 lead when his shot from the right circle caromed off the left goalpost and into the net with 12:40 to go in the second. Arron Asham tied up defenseman Brian Campbell in the corner, enabling Betts to pick up the loose puck and get off a quick shot.

A little over two minutes later, Versteeg tied it at 4 by scoring on his own rebound.

Some loose defensive play allowed Troy Brouwer to be left alone in front, and he beat Leighton for his second goal of the night with 4:42 remaining in the second. That gave Chicago a 5-4 lead.

Exit the shaky Leighton.

Enter Boucher, who was dressing for the first time since he injured both knees against Boston on May 10.

The Flyers tied it at 5 as Asham, set up by Briere, scored on a laser from the left circle with 1:11 left in the second.

Earlier, Ville Leino, one of the Flyers' top playoff performers, gave his team a 1-0 first-period lead with a goal from the right circle after 6:38.

But the momentum lasted all of 68 seconds.

That's how long it took Chicago to tie the score on a blast by Brouwer from the high slot. It was a goal Leighton would like to have back.

With the Flyers on a power play, Braydon Coburn lost the puck to Bolland at the Flyers' offensive blue line. Bolland scored on the shorthanded breakaway, putting a shot off Leighton's pads and between his legs, giving the Blackhawks a 2-1 lead with 9:10 left in the period.

"Leigh-ton . . . Leigh-ton," chanted the mocking Chicago fans of the ex-Blackhawk.

After that goal, the Flyers took control. They outshot the Hawks, 14-2, in the final 10-plus minutes of the first period, and they tied the score at 2 on a power-play goal by Scott Hartnell with 3:23 to go.

Hartnell knocked in a rebound off Chris Pronger's drive - earlier in the shift, the defenseman rattled a shot off the right post - as the Flyers cashed in after failing on their first two power plays.

About three minutes later, Briere's team-high 10th goal of the playoffs put the Flyers ahead, 3-2.

But there would be a lot more goals, a lot more bad defensive play, a lot more physical play by massive Chicago winger Dustin Byfuglien (nine hits but minus-3 after two periods). There would also be more subpar goaltending - on both sides - as the teams tried to take an important first step toward the Cup. Since 1939, teams winning Game 1 have captured 54 of the 70 Stanley Cups. That's 77 percent.


Find in-game chats, blog updates with news and analysis, postgame video reports, and photo slide shows at www.philly.com/flyers.


Contact staff writer Sam Carchidi at 215-854-5181 or scarchidi@phillynews.com. Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/BroadStBull.