Game six of the Final tonight with the Chicago Blackhawks looking to close the series out and win their first Stanley Cup since 1961, while the Philadelphia Flyers are hoping to turn around their play from Sunday and extend the series to a seventh game.
This has been a final loaded with drama for sure. From Flyer defenceman Chris Pronger taking game pucks from the first two games, even though the Flyers lost. Each team’s top line struggling to make a difference, resulting in Chicago changing their lines altogether. The battle of Big Buff and Pronger. The home team winning all their games so far. And of course the officiating.
But one thing that has stood out almost like a sore thumb is everyone’s viewpoint of the goaltending. Antii Niemi of Chicago and Michael Leighton of Philadelphia have been average at times, misreable at others, and victims of unfortunate bounces and defelections as well. Tonight, one of them is going to have to play their best game of the series.
With Chicago coming out like white on rice Sunday at home, they jumped out to a three to nothing lead, and played their best game of the series so far. Leighton was chased after giving up three goals on 13 shots, all of which I think he’d like back. Brian Boucher wasn’t much better giving up three more to go along with the empty netter scored by Byfuglien.
Antii Niemi on the other hand, gave up four goals on 27 shots and would probably like to take a couple back himself. There was the goal that slid across the line which was tapped in, and the goal that seemed to go off Scott Hartnell who was laying in the crease. Which could ahve been a goalie interference call.
The momentum may now have swung the Hawks way. Philly is a confident bunch however, and head coach Peter Laviolette is talking as though he’s not worried, as he should be. The cat and mouse game of who’s starting in net was the buzz of the day Tuesday. When asked about naming the the starter, he commented, and I paraphrase, “We have the goalie with the best numbers, why should I have to say anything”. Well that was followed by additional questions with Laviollette commenting that he doesn’t talk about lineups.
It was then announced all over the place that Leighton was starting, which after about an hour of Twitter reactions, was then recanted. The Flyers official Twitter account made the erroneous announcement, which was then retweeted by anyone in the media who saw it. As of this writing, no starter has been named.
As for the Hawks, unless Niemi passes out, he’s the man. While he didn’t play spectacularly in game five, he made the saves he needed to, and was resilient enough to keep the Flyers in check. We’ve been saying all along that when he has a bad game he bounces back with a super game. In this series, that hasn’t happened yet, but tonight could be the night.
Two full days off, coming off a win at home, and knowing that tonight’s game is a clincher, could put Niemi and the Hawks in the driver’s seat. They will have to play with the same intensity and desperation they did on Sunday. Getting under Pronger’s skin will also be a tactic that they want to accomplish.
No matter what, tonight’s game will be eagerly anticipated by both clubs and the house in Philly will be rockin’. It may not be such an advantage to the Flyers though as the Hawks played in similar arenas and noise levels. It won’t be easy for either team, and I’m kind of hoping for a real solid game with minimal mistakes.
Here’s a stat that you may not have seen yet. In the last two years, when the Hawks have a chance to close a series, they are 5-0.
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