Blackhawks 2 Flyers 1
CHICAGO — Antti Niemi was unflappable as the Stanley Cup final turned defensive in Game 2. Different style of game from the opener, yet another victory for the Chicago Blackhawks.
Niemi made 14 of his 32 saves in the final period and Chicago beat the Philadelphia Flyers 2-1 to take a 2-0 series lead on Monday night.
“It’s (an) unbelievable feeling how the people react,” Niemi said as the crowd cheered him and chanted his name after the game. “Defence was the key.”
After a 6-5 Chicago victory in the opener when the teams traded goals, both clubs tightened up their defence. The tone was more physical and chippy from the outset.
The Blackhawks, who for the second straight game got no points from their two young stars Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, broke through against Michael Leighton when Marian Hossa and Ben Eager scored 28 seconds apart late in the second period.
And after the Flyers got a power-play goal from Simon Gagne early in the third, Niemi withstood a late flurry from the Flyers to preserve Chicago’s seventh straight win.
“I thought their goaltender played extremely well in the third period. We had more than enough looks to tie up that game,” Philadelphia coach Peter Laviolette said.
Games 3 and 4 will be played in Philadelphia on Wednesday and Friday.
“They’re playing well at home,” said Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville. “I think we have to go back to what made us so effective on road trips in the Vancouver and San Jose series and look to check our way into a very competitive type of team.”
Patrick Sharp fired a shot from the left circle, and after Leighton stopped it and with Chicago’s Troy Brouwer battling for the puck, Hossa poked it in from the left side with 2:51 left in the second. Hossa, in his third straight Stanley Cup finals with a different team, got his third goal of the playoffs and first since May 5 against Vancouver in the conference semifinal.
Just 28 seconds later with the crowd still abuzz, Dustin Byfuglien made a steal and passed the puck to fourth-line forward Eager. Eager skated to the right circle and unleashed a shot that beat Leighton high on the glove side to make it 2-0. It was the first goal of the playoffs for the former Flyers forward.
“I have that in my game,” said Eager. “I’ve been shooting the puck well in practice. I got a piece of that and a bounce and I’ll take it.”
Philadelphia broke through with one second left on a power play when Gagne scored from the left circle.
Gagne nearly chipped in a tying rebound about seven minutes later, but was denied by Niemi’s pad in close.
“In the third there, at the end of the night you might say it was a goalie ’W’,” said Quenneville. “You’ve got to commend his attitude and his preparation.”
Leighton, who was drafted by the Blackhawks and played parts of two seasons for them, got the nod despite being pulled in Game 1 after yielding five goals on 20 shots. He made 24 saves Monday night.
Trying to get more punch, the Flyers inserted forward Daniel Carcillo into the lineup. A scratch the last three games and known for his agitating style, Carcillo was the team leader in playoff penalty minutes (30) entering the game and joined Philadelphia captain Mike Richards and Jeff Carter on a first line that had been pointless in the opener.
Carcillo replaced Gagne to start the game — Gagne later returned to the top line — and immediately began to mix things up. He took a run at Chicago’s Tomas Kopecky and inadvertently flattened teammate Carter.
The Flyers were called for their first penalty of the series with 5:12 left in the opening period, bringing out a loud roar from the crowd as the Blackhawks went on a power play for the first time in nearly 75 minutes. They couldn’t score.
About three minutes later, Chicago went on another power play when there were three penalties called simultaneously — two on the Flyers with Carcillo being sent to the box for unsportsmanlike conduct.
But the Blackhawks couldn’t convert, and the first period ended scoreless, quite a contrast from Game 1 when there were five goals in the opening 20 minutes. Outshot 17-9 in the first period of the opener, the Blackhawks had a 9-3 advantage in the rematch.
One of Chicago’s best scoring chances came in front of the net as Toews tried to punch the puck in before he was wedged out by defenceman Chris Pronger, who then shoved his Olympic teammate into the boards, prompting an angry exchange.
Niemi used his right pad to stop Richards on a breakaway at 7:35 of the second, preserving the scoreless tie. And moments later, Leighton responded with a nice save on Duncan Keith in the slot after a good pass from Sharp.
Niemi then twice made stops on hard shots from Carcillo and another from Richards, but Leighton did the same against Hossa and Dave Bolland. One of Niemi’s best stops came with a stretched-out glove save against Arron Asham, prompting chants of “Ant-ti Ant-ti” from the crowd of 22,275.
The Flyers had three leads in the opener, weren’t called for a penalty, held Chicago’s top line scoreless and still lost.
NOTES: The Stanley Cup finals record for home teams that sweep the first two games is 31-2. In 1971, Chicago won the first two games at home but lost to Montreal in seven. In 2009, Detroit won the first two games at home but lost to Pittsburgh in seven. … Flyers LW James van Riemsdyk was scratched along with D Ryan Parent, who played only 41 seconds in the opener.