PHILADELPHIA – The NHL has Claude Giroux and the Chicago Blackhawks forecheck to thank for helping it avert a disaster.
Can you imagine how apoplectic the league, which genuflects at the altar of NBC, would have been had the Stanley Cup final gone four straight games and the Cup had been awarded on a game broadcast by Versus, where fans could find Games 3 and 4?
That calamity, of course, was skirted when Giroux tapped home a pass from Matt Carle at 5:59 of overtime to give the Philadelphia Flyers a 4-3 win in Game 3. The final is now guaranteed to go at least five games, with NBC broadcasting Game 5, plus 6 and 7 if necessary.
But the Blackhawks did their part as well. These eyes have never seen a team more passive on the forecheck in an important game. Ever. Flyers defenseman Chris Pronger, it seemed, had time to consume a four-course meal and pick his teeth when he had the puck in his own zone.
That will have to change for the Blackhawks if they hope to go back home ahead 3-1 in the series. The Blackhawks were passive on the puck all over the ice – shockingly so on the forecheck – and while they were on a change on the overtime goal, even Daniel Briere was shocked at all the time he had with the puck along the boards.
“To be honest…I expected to have a lot of pressure coming from behind and for some reason when I pulled up, I had Claude going to the net and two guys in the high slot,” Briere said. “I hit Matty (Carle) and he made a great play to Claude.”
The Flyers, who were just a little worse than Chicago in Game 1 and not quite as good in Game 2, were full marks for their victory. They badly outplayed Chicago in the third period and have outshot the Blackhawks by a 30-8 total in the past two final regulation frames.
They are sure to use that as a source of confidence going into Game 4. But no matter what predicament this team finds itself in, confidence never appears to be an issue. During his pre-game address Wednesday, Flyers coach Peter Laviolette was almost arrogant in talking about his team’s chances, something that was shared by his players.
“I never thought we were losing that game,” Briere said. “I just had a feeling we were going to find a way tonight. I remember driving to the rink earlier this afternoon and I just had this good feeling we were going to win. There was no way we were going to lose this game. Realistically, you never know, but it was just that feeling we were going to do everything possible to get it done and we found a way.”
Briere wasn’t the only prescient one. Evidently, one of Giroux’s buddies nailed the night spot-on.
“I was taking a nap and my buddy texted me,” Giroux said. “He said, ‘I have a feeling you’re going to score the overtime winner tonight.’ I texted him back and said, ‘You’re crazy.’ I’m going to call him now.”
After three very strong rounds of the playoffs, it seemed Giroux was asleep, or at the very least out of his element, in the first two games of the final. For Laviolette, it might have been a case of a young player putting too much pressure on himself.
“If you tighten up too much, you seize up a little bit,” Laviolette said. “We talked about just having some fun tonight, come out and letting everything roll. And I think he took that advice because he was smiling all day. He came to the rink loose and played a great game.”
There was little doubt this was the best game of the final so far, almost reminiscent of the gold medal game in the Olympics in terms of its frenetic pace.
“It’s very competitive, a fast-paced game,” said Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville. “Both teams have some weapons that can attack offensively. This game was on the line from start to finish, as all three games have been. But it’s entertaining hockey and the pace is all out.”
Ken Campbell is on the road following the Stanley Cup final and will be filing daily blogs until a champion is crowned.
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