CHICAGO – In a Stanley Cup final that has so far defied definition, there’s a very good chance Game 5 could provide the defining moment.
Because that almost certainly will be the moment in time when we discover one of two things – either the Chicago Blackhawks desperate ploy worked or the Philadelphia Flyers realized they had the Blackhawks on the run and pounced.
No player has set the tone in this series more than Flyers future Hall of Fame defenseman Chris Pronger. He has played havoc with the Blackhawks line matching and in Game 5, will almost certainly prompt the Blackhawks to split up an ineffective Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane.
Toward the end of Game 4, Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville moved Kane off the top line with Toews and Dustin Byfuglien and replaced him with Andrew Ladd. Kane moved to the second unit, taking Ladd’s place on a line with David Bolland and Kris Versteeg.
Most indications point to the Hawks starting Game 5 with the same configurations with which they ended Game 4.
“I thought there was more pressure in their zone,” said Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville. “Whether it’s a difference of them being concerned with a couple of different lines, that might be something we’ll be looking at. I thought it was a little more effective in the third period.”
The Blackhawks are clearly getting tired of hearing about how dominant Pronger has been in the final, but they’re not ducking from acknowledging what he has done.
“He’s one of the best of all-time, I guess you can say,” said Blackhawks center Patrick Sharp.
To be sure, the supposed top line for the Blackhawks has been impotent. Kane has just a goal and three points and Toews and Byfuglien one assist each and the line has not yet scored a goal together.
“I think sometimes change is healthy,” Kane said. “And you can mix things up a bit and hopefully energize guys and get things going with different players. I think it worked pretty good last game. We will see what happens.”
At least for public consumption, the Flyers aren’t about to acknowledge they have the Blackhawks making moves out of desperation. But it has to be comforting to know that as this series progresses, they’re taking more control over the on-ice agenda.
“I don’t think we have them on the run,” said Flyers captain Mike Richards. “Throughout a playoff series, you make adjustments depending on how things are going and what you see out there. This is just one of those things. They’re probably trying to create some chemistry and create a spark for their offense a little bit, but right now we have to worry about what we have to do (in Game 5).”
In the final, Byfuglien has gone from being a dominating presence to a near non-factor, largely because of the nullifying effect Pronger has had on that line. It was interesting to note that Byfuglien had his best chances to score in Game 4 once Toews and Kane were broken up. The Blackhawks improved their pressure in the offensive zone for the first time in the latter stages of Game 5 and it seemed to work for them.
“I think we still want to be hard against (Pronger),” Quenneville said. “We still want to make him turn and make him play defensive and make him play from the back end. We have to be more physical and we have to be harder on him and make it tougher.”
To be sure, though, this is a critical time for both Toews and Kane. Given their performance in the Olympics against the best players in the world – Toews was named a tournament all-star and Kane might have been USA’s best player in the gold medal game – it’s difficult to fathom that this level of competition might be beyond them at this stage in their young careers. But the two must begin to produce, either apart or together, for the Blackhawks to ultimately have success.
“I think he’s a competitive guy and he wants to be the best he can be,” Quenneville said of Kane. “We expect him to move forward in this series and welcome the challenge. And we’ll see how that plays 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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