CHICAGO – Chris Pronger probably hasn’t been on the ice for six opposition goals since those scary days in Hartford when NHL highlights were chock full of goals against the Whalers with big No. 44 usually pulling up the rear.
But hey, this Stanley Cup final has defied more logic than the Billy Ray Cyrus phenomenon. Just when you think the tide has turned irrevocably one way, it changes directions with the strength of a tsunami.
Case in point was the Chicago Blackhawks’ 7-4 victory in Game 5. The Blackhawks now find themselves one win away from their first Stanley Cup in 49 years because the team that rolled through the regular season and the first three rounds of the playoffs finally decided to grace everyone with its presence.
These Blackhawks were physical and fast, hard on the puck, much better in their own end and finally able to generate some speed through the neutral zone. And the Hawks didn’t simply break up their top line, they totally dismantled it. And as a result, former occupants Jonathan Toews, Dustin Byfuglien and Patrick Kane responded with their best game of the series.
Byfuglien, who scored two goals and added two assists, was as good as he has been in these playoffs after four disappointing outings. Sharp said Byfuglien came out with fire in his eyes and there’s little doubt he was determined to be a difference maker.
“I guess he was well rested,” Pronger quipped.
And the Flyers and Pronger had their worst game of the series. It is under that backdrop we go back to Philadelphia for Game 6 of a series that hasn’t been a masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination, but has certainly had its entertaining moments.
“We know that if we go out and play our game, we’re going to give ourselves a good chance,” said Blackhawks winger Kris Versteeg. “We definitely didn’t come out in the first four games and play our game, but we knew that if we kept with it and got into the right mindset, we would give ourselves a chance to win.”
Much will be made of the shuffling of the lines and there’s little doubt the Blackhawks responded to the shakeup. Toews played the game between Marian Hossa and Tomas Kopecky; Byfuglien was on the left side of a line with David Bolland and Kris Versteeg; and Kane played the right side with Patrick Sharp and Andrew Ladd.
Perhaps it was the line changes that made the difference. But you get the sense the Blackhawks, to a man, finally said “Enough is enough,” and came out with a resolve and a confidence that has been far too absent so far in this series.
“I mean, the line changes obviously looked like a good thing,” Toews said. “But the No. 1 thing was that we played as a team. We all understand in our locker room it doesn’t matter who you are playing with. You have to go out there and make a difference.”
Pronger agreed, basically saying the line configurations didn’t make a difference because the Flyers played so badly, particularly in the first period. But the Flyers have created a cottage industry out of extracting themselves from seemingly insurmountable odds and they’ll have to do so again on home ice in Game 6.
Not that he needed to be, but Pronger was reminded after the game he was on the ice for six Chicago goals and was minus-5. In fact, the only Chicago goal for which he wasn’t on the ice was Byfuglien’s power play goal that ultimately stood up as the winner. And why wasn’t Pronger on the ice? Because he was in the penalty box feeling shame.
“Thanks for the green jacket. Real nice of you,” Pronger said when his plus-minus for the game was pointed out to him.
The Blackhawks refused to admit it, but you’d have to think they were getting a little tired of hearing about the enormous effect Pronger was having on the series. Of course, they don’t read papers, listen to the radio or watch television, so they say, so how would they know?
Going into the first two games of the series in Philadelphia, the Blackhawks had won seven straight road games and were 7-1 in the playoffs away from the United Center. You’d have to think they’d be good for one win on the road in this series, but once again, that would be relying far too much on logic. Plus, this series just has the feeling that it’s going to go the distance.
“We’ve got two days off here to kind of get ourselves ready for the challenge,” Kane said. “It’s exciting. We have one more win and you have the grand prize.”
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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