Could this series be any tighter? Three games, each decided by a single goal, with tonight's requiring overtime to be broken. Claude Giroux masterfully deflected a pass by Matt Carle to take advantage of a Chicago line change and beat Antti Niemi in OT for a 4-3 win.
Once again, neither team ever had more than a two-goal lead, and now the Blackhawks' series lead is down to 2-1 with another game in Philly scheduled for this Friday night. Highlights and video after the jump.
That was playoff hockey at its best. Both teams played well, generating opportunities between long stretches of solid defensive play and game-stealing goaltending. There were some shifts and goals each side would like back, but mistakes weren't the deciding factor in this one. Nor were bad calls or excessive minutes spent on special teams, although the latter was definitely a deciding factor.
It was a straight-up battle, and the Flyers came out on top.
The first period was especially tight, with both sides on lock down in front of their respective nets despite nearly non-stop action for most of the frame. The Blackhawks really played well defensively all game, blocking shots, clogging lanes, and limiting the quality of the Flyers opportunities in normal circumstances. It took power plays and ultimately a rough line change for the Flyers to break through.
The home club took the all-important first goal, with Scott Hartnell making an amazing pass in front of Niemi's crease—backward across his falling body to Danny Briere—who potted it from the back door.
If any player on this team needed redemption on the postseason, it was Hartnell, who would go on to score the Flyers' second goal after the Blackhawks had answered. Hartnell's goal also came on the man advantage, again with Harts wreaking havoc in front of the net. Chris Pronger fired the puck on net from the point, and Hartnell deflected it past Niemi, who had little shot at cleanly stopping it.
It's hard to ask for more from that entire line. Ville Leino's confidence with the puck was again on display tonight, and Briere was buzzing the net constantly and could've easily had another goal or two. Leino's 15 points tie a club record for playoff points by a rookie, held by Brian Propp. Not bad for the guy Homer stole for OKT and a 5th rounder...
If not for a huge night from Niemi, the score would not have been near as close.
For the second straight game, the Flyers led the Blackhawks in third period shots by a huge margin of 15-4. Especially given how gassed the Flyers looked in the third, that ain't easy to pull off, and it finally broke Chicago down. During a frustratingly light start to the OT in terms of shots on goal, the Flyers caught the Blackhawks on a line change and entered the zone with a full line converging on just three Chicago defenders. They moved the puck quickly across the zone, with Briere finding Carle, who fired a pass toward a streaking Giroux, who made an unbelievable tip under his skate to beat Niemi.
Giroux also helped to create the Flyers' tying goal in the third period, a horn blast that stopped the Blackhawks' momentum at a critical point in the game. Twenty seconds after Kane's long break in on Leighton put the Hawks ahead, flung the puck toward the net, hitting Chicago defenseman Jordan Hendry and bouncing to Leino, who put it behind Niemi. Again, a tough stop for any goalie to make.
Mike Richards missed on a few shots that had the Delaware Valley on its feet, and current linemate Jeff Carter had a tough game including too many key turnovers and especially a deflection past his own goalie. Duncan Keith was credited with the game's first equalizer, but Leighton had no chance to make the save on a puck that was severely redirected on a shot-blocking attempt by Carter. Before the torches and pitchforks come out, remember that Carter is playing on surgically repaired broken feet, and he returned to make a difference in the Montreal series.
Dan Carcillo could see the next game from the press box though. Lavvy clipped his wings late in the second period, and I don't remember seeing him after that. He wasn't the only Flyer to see limited time late in the game or overall for that matter, but his is the most likely spot to see a change, if there'll be one at all. However, we can't discount the undisciplined play by some of the Blackhawks in this one. Guys like Carcillo, Hartnell, and Pronger can unnerve a team into taking dumb penalties, and Pronger in particular has won the much-publicized battle with Dustin Byfuglien in this series. Byfuglien took two penalties in game 3 and is a minus-3 for the series. The Flyers' second goal of the game came on a powerplay awarded after Byfuglien broke Chris Pronger's stick with a slash after the two had been battling in front of the net.
When the Flyers' backs are against the wall, they've come out swinging and found a way to win it. It'd help the collective cardiac health of the fanbase to have it come easier, but that doesn't seem to be their style.
Hopefully the haters continue to count them out and call the series over. As soon as that happens, they start to win. This isn't to say they're anything more than down two games to one in the series though. They're still a long way away from celebrating anything more than still being alive with a chance to tie it on Friday. But tonight we'll definitely celebrate that.
(Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)