Chicago Blackhawks super sub Tomas Kopecky can thank his lucky stars for emerging as the hero in the wild 2010 Stanley Cup final series opener against the Philadelphia Flyers.
Not only did Kopecky make the most of his return to the lineup, but he was fortunate that moments before he scored the game-winner there wasn‘t a stoppage in play called by the on-ice officials.
The former Lethbridge Hurricanes forward took a pinpoint pass from Kris Versteeg in the slot, then showed tremendous patience to slip the puck past Philadelphia goalie Brian Boucher midway through the third period of Chicago’s 6-5 win on Saturday.
Moments before Kopecky’s goal, however, there should have been a stoppage in play because the puck hit Kopecky on the bench before he hopped over the boards.
"We had to find a way to win and good teams do that," said Kopecky, who subbed in for the first time since May 9 for an injured Andrew Ladd. "It was a great feeling. We’re in the hardest round of the playoffs and we know they won’t quit. So we have to be at our best."
The two teams certainly were not at their defensive best in this game. The 11 goals were the most scored in a final in 18 years, since the Pittsburgh Penguins beat the Blackhawks 6-5 to complete a sweep of the 1992 final.
This game at the United Center before 22,312 fans — the Blackhawks 100th consecutive sellout — saw the lead change three times and it did not improve the save percentages of Chicago goalie Antti Niemi and his Philadelphia counterpart, Michael Leighton.
The game had so many twists and turns and was reminiscent of the 2006 opener between the Edmonton Oilers and Carolina Hurricanes. In that contest, the Hurricanes overcame a three-goal deficit to win 5-4, but Edmonton’s Chris Pronger also scored a penalty shot and Oilers goalie Dwayne Roloson was knocked out with a knee injury.
Roloson’s backup, Ty Conklin, misplayed a puck in the final minute that led to Rod Brind’Amour’s game winner.
The Flyers blamed themselves for too many defensive lapses on Saturday. They also were lax in their coverage of the slot. That’s where Kopecky took a pass for his game winner. That’s where Troy Brouwer scored his two goals.
"We were bad [in Game 3] in Montreal [in the East final] on a lot of fronts," said Flyers defenceman Chris Pronger, who played a massive 32:21. "Tonight it was defensively.
"We have to be better defending the slot."
Flyers coach Peter Laviolette yanked Leighton after Brouwer put Chicago ahead 5-4 late in the second period. Leighton surrendered five goals on 20 shots, but his teammates came to his defence.
"Everybody has got to be better," Laviolette said. "We win as team and we lose as a team. Tonight we lost as a team. We have to be better if we're going to win as a team."
Remarkably, the Flyers did not take a penalty in the game. This was the first time in a Stanley Cup final game that a team stayed out of the penalty box since the New Jersey Devils in the 2000 opener against the Dallas Stars.
Chicago's top line blanked
The Flyers are a counterattack team and they felt they could take advantage of the Blackhawks up-tempo game, and they did at times. But on too many occasions, the Flyers had difficulty dealing with Chicago’s speed and swift puck movement.
"We're a team that likes to play a fast-paced game," Brouwer said. "I don't think it takes much of a mystery. They have a great transition game, and they're able to move the puck up the ice. They caught us a couple of times sleeping on changes. A little lax on our coverage.
"For us, I don't know if we want to slow the game down at all. We just want to be able to play our game and just be able to do what makes us successful."
The Blackhawks top line of Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Dustin Byfuglien was blanked, but the second, third and fourth lines picked up the slack. Marian Hossa was particularly strong with two assists.
The Flyers, who matched their opponents with 32 shots apiece, were ahead 3-2 after the first period and the teams were deadlocked at 5-5 following 40 minutes. The five goals in the first period was the most in the opening 20 minutes of a Stanley Cup final since 1982 when the New York Islanders and Vancouver Canucks combined for five goals.
After Philadelphia’s Ville Leino scored a strange opening goal when his shot bounded off Niemi and Chicago defenceman Niklas Hjalmarsson, Brouwer and Dave Bolland, with a short-handed breakaway goal, scored to give the Hawks the lead. But Scott Hartnell notched one on the power play and Danny Briere checked in with a goal, too, before the period expired.
Chicago’s Patrick Sharp tied the game early in the second before fourth-liner Blair Betts put the Flyers back on top.
Versteeg and Brouwer scored goals within six minutes of each other for another Blackhawks lead.
But again the Flyers checked in with a late-period goal from Arron Asham to send the game into the third period tied at 5-5.