Blackhawks rout Flames, lead series
The Chicago Blackhawks kept the home-ice trend going in their playoff series with a 5-1 win over the Calgary Flames at the United Center on Saturday, taking a 3-2 lead in the Stanley Cup quarter-final.
It may have been a 60-minute game but it was essentially decided in a two-minute window in the first period.
The Blackhawks' Brent Seabrook, Patrick Sharp and Kris Versteeg all beat Calgary goalie Miikka Kiprusoff within 1:49 to open a three-goal lead and the Flames could never recover.
With Flames defenceman Cory Sarich in the box for cross-checking, the flurry of goals began at 9:19 with a Martin Havlat pass from behind the Calgary goal that was one-timed by Seabrook from the top of the slot.
A minute and a half later, Sharp's backhander past Miikka Kiprusoff increased the lead to 2-0 and, 19 seconds after that goal, Versteeg converted on a rebound chance that beat Kiprusoff on the glove side.
"I don't know if it was domination. We wanted to start fast, get that first goal," Sharp said. "We wanted to get the second one, as well."
It was a disastrous period at both ends of the ice for the Flames, who only managed three shots on goal in the first and didn't fire the puck at Chicago goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin until halfway through the opening frame.
Khabibulin finished the game with 18 saves.
One reason for the lack of Calgary attempts on net was due to aggressive shot-blocking by the Blackhawks.
This included Chicago defenceman Matt Walker, who looked to have dislocated some fingers after blocking a Dion Phaneuf slap shot with his left hand in the first period. Walker returned to the game soon after.
In contrast to the first, the second period began on a high note for Calgary as Dustin Boyd put the Flames on the board just under three minutes into the middle frame. He slid a loose puck under the leg of a sprawled Khabibulin to cut the Blackhawks' lead to 3-1.
Kiprusoff chased from net
However, Chicago's Andrew Ladd snuffed out any momentum the Flames may have generated and ended Kiprusoff's night when he jammed home a puck at the side of the Calgary net to regain the three-goal lead.
The Finnish-born goaltender was pulled after allowing four goals on 16 shots. Coach Mike Keenan said he pulled his goalie because he wanted time to allow a review on the Ladd goal, as he thought it was kicked in.
"It gave us a time of separation in the game to at least have the goal reviewed," Keenan said. "I told Miikka, if they allow the goal, he's finished. If they don't allow the goal, he's going back in."
The goal was counted and Curtis McElhinney was summoned to fill in as the Flames net minder but Kiprusoff's understudy didn't fare much better. He stopped only two shots before a Cam Barker shot redirected off the skate of Calgary rear-guard Jim Van Der Meer and into the net, making it 5-1 heading into the third.
"We just weren't ready. I wasn't nearly good enough," Flames star Jarome Iginla said. "I was terrible tonight. There's no excuse for that.... We'll be ready for the next game."
Widely thought to be the most aggressive and physical series so far in the playoffs, Game 6 was no different.
Players continued playing the body every chance they got and generally getting in each other's faces. However, the gloves were only dropped once when Calgary's Adam Pardy was taken to the ice by Blackhawks heavyweight Ben Eager in the third period.
The Flames' best chance to get climb back into the game shortly after the fight, about six minutes into the third, when they were awarded 1:29 of a two-man advantage.
But the Chicago penalty killers were up to the task, blocking several attempted passes through the slot and generally frustrating the Calgary power play.
Flames lose Phaneuf
Absent from the power play was the blistering slap shot of Dion Phaneuf. The Flames' blue-liner left the game midway through the third and did not return after colliding head-on-head with Chicago's Troy Brouwer. Phaneuf is listed as day-to-day.
The challenge now for the Blackhawks is to notch a road-ice win that would propel them to the next round of the playoffs and end Calgary's season.
They'll get the chance to do so on Monday night when they meet the Flames at the Pengrowth Saddledome for Game 6.
With files from The Canadian Press