Game Recap: STANLEY CUP FINAL GAME 3 – Flyers vs. Chicago Blackhawks

The headline in today’s Philadelphia Daily News said it all: “LAWDY, CLAUDIE!”

The Flyers hero from Hearst, Ontario sent the Wachovia Center into bedlam last night, and gave the Orange and Black life in the 2010 Stanley Cup Final in the process.

The Game will likely go down as one of the best playoff games in Flyers history.  It was up-and-down, fast paced, and with no clear favorite for much of the contest.  The score was tied for over 45 minutes of the 60+ that were played, and the Flyers twice held leads while the Blackhawks briefly lead for a 30-second period in the second frame.  Being in the building for the contest, I can truly say it was the best Flyers game I’ve ever seen live, and I’m sure many – if not all – in attendance last night would agree with me.

Leighton and the Flyers gave Chicago a rude welcome Wednesday night

The game started with an incredible show on the big-screens that got the crowd roaring and the sea of Orange-clad Flyers fans were determined to make it a rough evening for the visiting Chicago Blackhawks.  The intensity and surreal atmosphere continued into a chilling rendition of “God Bless America” by Lauren Hart accompanied by the late, great Kate Smith.  When it came time for the opening face-off, the Wachovia Center was just flat-out defeaning. 

Once the puck dropped, the Flyers, as expected, controlled the early flow of play.  They took the puck into the Blackhawks’ zone and established a very effective cycle, wearing down the Chicago defensive corps.  The resilient Blackhawks withstood the Flyer onslaught early on however, and got some good chances of their own to beat Flyers netminder Michael Leighton.  Patrick Kane rung a chance at an empty net off a rebound directly off the post, and Leighton was able to turn away other early attempts by the ‘Hawks to grab the lead.

Briere got the scoring started in the first on the powerplay

The play stayed at a back-and-forth pace until Marian Hossa – a token Flyer killer – did the unusual duty of helping the Flyers out by taking an undisciplined slashing penalty with just over six minutes to play in the period.  The Flyers, as they did all night when given the chance with the extra man, made Chicago pay.  During the man advantage, Braydon Cobun let fly a rip from the top of the circle which Antti Niemi was able to turn away.  The puck made its way out in front of the crease and on to the stick of Scott Hartnell.  Hartnell made an incredible, no-look pass as he was falling down to get the puck right to the tape of the smallest, yet most productive player on the Flyers in recent weeks in Danny Briere, and Briere completed the slam-dunk to give the Flyers a 1-0 lead. 

The goal re-energized the Wachovia Center, and jacked up the Flyers as well.  They controlled the play for the remainder of the period, evening up the shot total at nine a piece at the end of the frame.  The Flyers took a 1-0 lead into the intermission.  Although he had gotten lucky with a couple posts, and hadn’t faced too many quality chances, a first period shutout for Michael Leighton was huge.  For one, it gave the Flyers the belief that they could shut down this Chicago attack, and it certainly gave Leighton the confidence that he could stop the surging ‘Hawks offense. 

The second period opened with the Flyers killing off the final five seconds of a penalty that had been assessed to Dan Carcillo for boarding at the end of the first period, then taking a power play of their own for a 1:55.  Dustin Byfuglien had thrown Kimmo Timonen around like a rag doll during a period-ending scrum at the end of the first, and was assessed at two-minute roughing minor. 

The Flyers had tremendous pressure on the powerplay and there was a real buzz in the building that the Flyers would score.  They came close – Niemi made some great point-blank saves, and Mike Richards just missed a wide-open net from below the circles.  Still, the Blackhawks were able to kill off the penalty and get some momentum of their own.  They would ride that momentum to the eventual game-tying goal, off the stick of Duncan Keith.  Keith’s shot hit a body in front of Michael Leighton and changed direction, causing Leighton to lose sight of the puck and allow the disc to find its way to the netting.  The goal was such a fluke, that it momentarily stunned the Wachovia Center crowd, and the Flyers on the ice in the process. 

For the next few minutes, it was Chicago that buzzed around in the Flyers’ zone, looking to get the important lead.  However, it wasn’t meant to be.  Another undisciplined penalty, this time by Dustin Byfuglien, lead to another powerplay for Philadelphia.  Unlike their first opportunity of the period, this time the Flyers came through.  Scott Hartnell redirected a Chris Pronger shot from the point barely past Antti Niemi and into the net to make it 2-1 Flyers.  The goal wasn’t originally called on the ice, and play actually continued for about two minutes after the fact.  At the first stoppage of play, the on-ice officials went up to the booth to review the play and deemed it a goal.  The Wachovia Center again went nuts, and again, the ice shifted in the Flyers’ favor. 

It didn’t stay that way, however.  With just over two minutes to play in the second period, John Madden cleanly beat Mike Richards on a face-off in the Philadelphia zone and won the puck back to Brent Sopel.  Sopel shot the puck through a sea of bodies and past Leighton to even the game up at 2 and give the defensive minded Sopel his first goal of the entire playoffs, all while sending an unnerving feeling through the Wachovia Center. 

The Flyers celebrate Giroux's OT winner

The third period began with the thoughts of those in attendance as well as many watching at home feeling that the next goal could potentially be decisive.  They were wrong.  Thankfully.  Patrick Kane was spurred on a breakaway off a Jonathan Toews pass and beat Michael Leighton less than three minutes into the third to give Chicago a 3-2 lead.  They Flyers could have succumbed then, but they didn’t.  In fact, they rose to the occasion, led by one of the night’s shining stars in Ville Leino.  Leino scooped up a rebound in front just a mere 30 seconds after Kane had given Chicago the lead, and evened up the game at 3.  The crowd was back into it.  The Flyers were back into it.  And they were not going to lose this hockey game. 

Somehow, someway, the Chicago Blackhawks withstood yet another third period onslaught from the Flyers, who outshot them 15-4.  Antti Niemi stood on his head, and helped his team force overtime. 

Giroux salutes the fans after the victory

In overtime, Claude Giroux cemented his name in Flyers lore.  After a goal that was apparently scored by Jeff Carter was disallowed after a review, Giroux became the hero when he redirected a Matt Carle pass in front to make the score 4-3 and final in favor of the Flyers.  The Wachovia Center went absolutely crazy, and the Flyers had given life to a series that likely would’ve been all but over had they not taken Game Three.  Now, the Flyers know that they can beat the Blackhawks.  They have arguably been the better team through the first three games, and now they have something to show for it.  Will it translate to a sweep of both home games on Friday night? 

We’ll just have to wait and see. 

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