Saturday June 5th, 2010

PHILADELPHIA -- Someone put the needle in the Blackhawks' doll before Friday's Game Four. Maybe it stuck Niklas Hjalmarsson, the defenseman who had two pucks knocked off his stick for goals in the span of 10 minutes. Maybe it stuck Antti Niemi, the goalie who didn't notice that Flyer forward Claude Giroux was behind him, about to put a puck into an empty net. Maybe it struck the entire team, which committed three solo penalties in the offensive zone. Give the Flyers credit for the hard-earned 5-3 victory that squared the series at two games apiece. But look at the inexperienced 'Hawks who have come unglued at key moments and now find themselves on the edge of another Flyer rally.

"I thought we were very generous in the first period on what we gave them as far as goals," said 'Hawks coach Joel Quenneville. "We have to be smart and more composed in the discipline area. ... Certainly the goals were all type of goals we don't generally give up. I thought they came rather easily."

For starters, someone give Flyers captain Mike Richards a summons for pick pocketing. As Hjalmarsson was calmly skating out of his own zone less than five minutes into the game, Richards stealthily sneaked up behind him, lifted his stick and in one motion, backhanded the puck behind Niemi before the goalie could set himself. The Hawks defenseman still has an APB out for his shorts. The jock strap disappeared 10 minutes later, as the Flyers pressed the attack. Giroux was stopped on a spinning shot attempt, but just as Hjalmarsson had the puck on his stick and was ready to clear the puck out of harm's way, Matt Carle swooped past him and slapped the puck off his stick and into the net for a 2-0 lead.

It was the Flyers' first two-goal lead of the series. Until that point, the teams had been tied or a goal apart for 193:03 of the first 200:46 minutes played.

After Patrick Sharp scored at 18:32 of the first to cut the lead in half, the 'Hawks again broke down in their own zone allowing for Flyers goal that was simply too easy.

As Flyers forward Scott Hartnell spun away from 'Hawks' defenseman Brent Sopel with the puck on the edge of his stick, Jonathan Toews failed to scoot over to pick up Giroux who had gone by the net and was lodged behind the entire 'Hawks team. Hartnell managed to get the puck back to Kimmo Timonen, who fired a hard pass out of the reach of Niemi's right side, leaving Giroux behind him, with a wide-open net and the Flyers' third goal.

"That goal was just stupid," said Toews. "We shouldn't be giving up a goal like that right after we get a big one. We should be going in there that first intermission thinking we're right where we want to be, just down a goal, not having played our best period. But give up another goal like that is tough to come back from against a team like that."

The two-goal lead held until 6:43 of the third, when the 'Hawks tuned the puck over in center zone again and Ville Leino fired a shot that hit Kris Versteeg's back and dribbled into the net behind Niemi.

"He was standing right there and I figured maybe I could try to hit him on the back," Leino joked. 'No, I missed the shot a little bit there. It was a lucky goal."

All was going well for the home team. Flyers defenseman Chris Pronger, who would finish a plus-4, was having a monster night. 'Hawks forward Patrick Kane, who was quiet again, would finish with a minus-4 and a world of frustration. Toews and Kane have now combined for three points and a minus-9 rating for the series.

It took the Hawks until the final eight minutes to knock the Flyers onto their heels. Within a span of 3:49, Chicago's Dave Bolland scored a five-on-three goal and Brian Campbell cut the lead to 4-3 with 4:10 to play. The first penalty that ultimately produced the Hawks' two-man power-play was actually a misconduct to Hartnell for banging his stick against the sideboards in order to get the officials' attention, a no-no that the league said it would enforce during the finals.

The 'Hawks kept pressing the attack, forcing Michael Leighton to make a key save with two minutes to play on Brent Seabrook, the 'Hawks' defenseman who had sneaked in from the right point to redirect a shot from fellow backliner Duncan Keith from the opposite side. Keith generated offense all night for Chicago, recording five shots on net and assists on all three 'Hawks' goals.

"The guys were good in front of me all night," said Leighton. "I felt confident, but I had help."

For the game, the Flyers blocked 28 shots to the 'Hawks' 11.

Finally in the closing minute, with Niemi on the bench, Keith was unable to keep a bouncing puck in the zone, leaving Jeff Carter to scoot down the ice for a clinching empty-net goal that prevented the fourth straight one-goal game of the series. It marked the second year in a row in which the home teams won the first four games of the finals, matching what the Red Wings and Penguins did in 2009.

At times when the 'Hawks play with desperation, as they have for most of the playoffs, they look like the most talented team in the postseason: swift and strong and despite the preeminence of Kane and Toews, not nearly so reliant on one or two players. When they play as though someone is chasing them, they are a tight team, prone to mistakes that even ruin games in which they play very well.

"A couple of mental mistakes and they buried them," said Sopel. "Obviously we don't make those mistakes very often. Give them credit. They capitalized. We have to be smarter."

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