Game Time: 7:00 Central
TV/Radio: NBC (US),CBC (Canada), WGN720
Freedom of '76: Broad Street Hockey, Flyers Goal Scored By
It's finally here, an opportunity that many of us doubted we'd ever see as recently as four years ago, but with a win tonight, the Chicago Blackhawks can win the Stanley Cup.
Yes, you read that correctly.
Both recent and distant histories make it abundantly clear that tonight will be no easy task. The Hawks have not won the Stanley Cup in 49 years. The last time they were this close, they took a 3 games to 2 lead into the opponent's building with an opportunity to clinch in Game 6 in 1971 against the Montreal Canadiens, and the Hawks painfully lost both that game and the resultant Game 7 to give the Habs the Cup. A similar fate befell Scum just last year, unable to close out Sid, Geno, and the Pens in the Igloo, and then fell in Game 7 back at The Joe. Coming into tonight's game, the Hawks have lost 10 straight games in Philadelphia, their last victory coming in November of 1996. They will be facing a Flyers team that is 9-1 at home this post season, with a starting goalie in Michael Leighton who has yet to lose on home ice this post season. Furthermore, these Flyers have already won four games in which they could have been eliminated - all of them coming in successive fashion in their historic comeback against the Boston Bruins in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, which contained a game 7 three goal comeback from the Flyers as the cherry on top.
But no one will remember any of those things should the Hawks emerge from the Wachovia Center with Win 16.
Prior to Game 5 Joel Quenneville jumbled his lines, seperating the line of Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, and Dustin Byfuglien, putting them now on three seperate lines in the hopes of getting at least one, maybe two of them away from being matched up against Chris Pronger, who to that point had rendered the trio for the most part ineffective. Quenneville succeeded not only in that goal, but in also making Pronger move far more in his defensive zone, something he had not had to do previously in punishing Buff around the net. The result was more than likely the worst game of the future Hall of Famer Pronger's career. Don't expect a repeat performance out of Philadelphia Dick Cheese tonight; he's far too big of a competitior and too great of a hockey player to give anything less than an exceptional performance tonight. Similarly, the Hawks will need to weather an early onslaught of the entire Flyer attack in the opening period, as they will be spurred on by an energetic and likely somewhat nervous (but no doubt smelly) crowd on hand. The line of Danny Briere, Scott Hartnell, and Ville Leino has run wild all series long, and they will need to be contained. Briere cannot be allowed to set up shop behind the net where he likes to operate, as well as sneak out from behind for back-door plays, Harntell needs to be kept at a distance from Antti Niemi, and Leino needs to be kept from doing whatever the fuck it is he's been doing that's suddenly turned him into Pat Fucking LaFontaine. Hawk forwards will also need to front the Flyers point men better, as far too many shots were fired from the blue line and found their way to Flyer tape in Games 3 and 4.
For our Men of Four Feathers, while a repeat performance of Sunday is simple enough to ask for, doing so is the trick, isn't it? The Hawks got scoring from up and down the lineup, and they did so by pushing the pace, initiating contact with Flyers defensemen (specifically Pronger), and clean, controlled breakouts, and all of those things will need to be in place for a win this evening. On top of that, Niemi will need to be markedly better than he was on Sunday, as hell is assuredly coming to breakfast in the first 10 to 12 minutes of the first period. Scoring first is of paramount importance tonight to both take the crowd out of the game and to allow doubt to creep back into the minds of the Flyers, to however miniscule degree given their resilience to this point in the playoffs. Not far behind will be the special teams and face off battles, both of which the Hawks will need to improve upon from their last appearance at the Wachovia Center. There's not much left to say past that.
One win remaining. Let's go Hawks.