So I guess I'm on for the wrap tonight (sorry, McClure, didn't get your message until late, but it's not like I have normal sleep hours anyway).
How 'bout that -- looks like we've got a real series now. If there's one common thread running through the first three games of this Stanley Cup Finals, it's the theatricality of the proceedings. If Game 1 was a foot chase down dark alleys, and Game 2 devolved into trench warfare, then Game 3 resembled something like a gladiator fight, furiously entertaining from beginning to end.
And just who are the heroes, anyway? Yes, Kane scored his first in six games -- a really pretty one, too, assisted by Captain Marvel and Eager (his second point in the series when playing with members of the top line). Briere notched one on the PP for the Flyers, as well. But look at the other scorers: Duncan Keith scored his first since the Nashville series, Sopel scored his first since the Mesozoic Age, and Giroux's OT winner was his first in four games.
That's what makes this series so epic: Both teams are tough to play against because, like Whack-a-Mole, you can't smack them all down at the time. May it continue.
Observations & bitching
- Big Buff may have finally met his match in Pronger, not just physically, but in terms of Machiavellian shamelessness. Unlike previously conquered defensemen such as Weber, Bieksa, and Blake, Captain Elbows don't give a fuck what the rules are, what people think, what the press writes, what the refs notice or ignore, what his mom thinks. He's going to slash, hook, pitchfork and cross-check until the refs can no longer turn a blind eye, and guess what, when he gets out of the penalty box, he's going to come out on his next shift and slash, hook, pitchfork and cross-check even harder. That gap in his front teeth isn't a genetic accident; it's bodily proof of the moral abyss in which he exists.
- Sopel's been posting some abnormally high minutes in this series. At the end of Game 2, I attributed it to Coach Q playing prevention defense, trying to hold on once the Flyers made it a one-goal game, even though nine and a half minutes of Catfish seemed excessive. But last night was much of the same: Sopel saw an ass-ton of playing time alongside not only Hendry (who didn't hit double digits in TOI), but also Hjammer and even Keith. You can play around with the shift charts if you don't believe me. At one point in the second period, Catfish actually led all D-men in ice time. Let that sink in: OUR #5 DEFENSEMAN WAS GETTING MORE SIGNIFICANT MINUTES THAN MARLBORO 72. Although Keith and Seabrook ate up a majority of the third period, Sopel's overall ice time is still a bit nightmarish.
The only explanation I can think of for this unfortunate phenomenon is, Q is trying to protect Campbell from the aggressive physicality of the Flyers forecheck, either because of the lingering effects of his injury, or because Q simply doesn't trust him to log big minutes in his own zone against one of the top two Philly lines. If it's the former, that's fair enough. If it's the latter, that would be disappointing.
Whatever the case is, playing Sopel for 20+ minutes a game has had the following effects on the blue line: Hjammer has posted negative Corsi and Fenwick in two straight games, something that doesn't happen when he's paired with Campbell, and you can tell it's affecting #4's game a little. His clearances tonight seemed more desperate, less poised. He couldn't look toward his D partner for an outlet pass, because his D partner was Sopel. Shit like that limits the puck possession game, which has malfunctioned for large chunks of the last two games; it's like laying out a VIP invitation for the Flyers to swarm around inside the Hawks' zone, which is a shitty thing to have to watch.
- ... Fine. I guess Sopel did score that goal, which, credit to him, was a well-struck one-timer with like a triple screen in front of Leighton, and it evened the game late in the second, which was huge for the Hawks.
- The Hawks didn't help their own cause, experiencing some major problems clearing pucks, especially on the PK. One missed clearance (by Brouwer) directly led to Briere's PP goal, and countless others kept the Hawks pinned inside their own zone for unpleasantly long intervals.
- This is one where Q's OCD about line match-ups had mortal consequences. After Kane's goal that put the Hawks ahead, the lines for the ensuing faceoff were: 2-7 36-32-82 against 20-25 28-22-45 (checkers out against the third line). After a quick dump-in, Q immediately yanked them and sent out 5-6 10-81-22 (third D-pairing and second line), ostensibly to try and take advantage of the situation. Instead, the Flyers entered the zone, the puck went off Hendry's skate, and Leino tied the game on the rebound, 20 seconds after Kane's goal managed to quiet the FU crowd.
The other fuck-up, of course, came on Giroux's goal in OT. Faceoff in the neutral zone had 2-7 36-32-82 out against 20-25 28-48-45 (checking line out against the third line). Bolland lost the faceoff (naturally), and the Flyers short-passed the puck through the neutral zone while Kopecky and Versteeg peeled off for the quick change. The top line wingers managed to get onto the ice (Bolland was backchecking like he was supposed to, because the Flyers had numbers inside the Hawks zone), but they could only serve as distant spectators to Giroux's game-winner, which was a completely uncontested tip-in from right out in front. Here's a screencap and breakdown of the play:
A) Bolland must have thought he had support from the other forwards covering Carle, otherwise he shouldn't have been double-teaming Briere with Seabrook already there. Balls for him, he didn't. B) Seabrook, who was facing the play the entire time, should have noticed this as well, or at least communicated with Bolland so they weren't both covering the same guy. C) That left Keith floundering in piranha-infested Bermuda Triangle waters. At that point, if he defended Giroux, that would give Carle license to hold the puck longer and take a shot closer to the net, or else pass to the right circle where Asham was waiting for a potential one-timer. He chose to drift up and defend Carle, who, to his credit, made a smart play by snapping the puck toward net instead of holding onto it and letting Keith get further into the lane. Giroux was left unattended just outside the crease, game over.
- Faceoffs need to be way, way better. Good things happen when you win faceoffs, like goal-scoring opportunities, or crucial zone clearances on the PK, or unhurried, SUCCESSFUL line changes. But only Toews managed to crack even last night, and the numbers overall were pretty appalling up until OT. They were also 40% in the defensive zone, which is just playing with fire. Thankfully, the Hawks seem to rebound nicely after bad faceoff games (we've had at least one in each series), so let's make sure it's a one-time thing.
- Sharp had an off night -- he was credited with three giveaways, and looked terrible playing point man on the PP, although he did produce some nice stick work on Carle leading up to Keith's goal. Hey, these things happen, and his gaffes generally weren't of the egregious sort.
- We might be missing Ladd. After three games, the Kopecky experiment has passed its delightfully wacky stage and moved on to the head-meets-wall stage.
- Shit, I didn't mean to be a complete downer about this game, even though I think the Hawks sort of pissed it away with some untimely mistakes, but they also played pretty damn well at times, too. Hossa was boss, as usual, the d-men got involved on the forecheck, and Daydream Nation finally had a good night. Figure out what the hell is going on with the defense, tighten up the PK, and get back to work for Game 4, it's not much more complicated than that.
Player of the game
Lil' Peekaboo made a sleek feed on Keith's goal to make it 1-1, and later added a breakaway goal that gave the Hawks their first (and only) lead of the game. Even more importantly, he found the space he needed to operate.