The longer a series has gone for the Philadelphia Flyers in their playoff run this spring, the tougher they have become to beat.
The Chicago Blackhawks found this out on Friday, when the Eastern Conference champs enjoyed an impressive 5-3 win to knot the 2010 Stanley Cup final at two games apiece. Philadelphia now has a perfect 9-0 record when playing in either Games 4, 5, 6 or 7 of a series this postseason.
Why the success late in a series? Flyers head coach Peter Laviolette has made the necessary adjustments and the players have executed the wishes of the coaching staff. Plus, the Flyers have been a much stronger team when they put themselves in a dire situation.
“I think the adversity that we went through at the beginning of the year kind of set ourselves up for the playoffs,” said Flyers captain Mike Richards, who scored a nifty power-play goal early in the first period when he stripped Chicago defenceman Niklas Hjalmarsson of the puck behind the net.
“I mean, all year it's kind of been up and down,” Richards continued. “We dug ourselves into a pretty big hole early, battled back. Dug ourselves into a hole against Boston, fought our way back.
“Obviously, a scenario that we don't like being in, but a scenario that I think we're confident in our team and our ability to fight back in. I'm not sure what it is, but no matter what time of the game it is, it just seems like we're confident with the puck and we help each other out and play hockey.”
The Flyers were extremely loose in their end in the series opener when they surrendered six goals. They left the slot wide open and there were too many second chances around Philadelphia goalie Michael Leighton. They also made too many mistakes and allowed the Blackhawks to benefit from their deadly transition game.
In the past three games, the Flyers have played a safer game, especially in their own end. They also have been better in making sure they chip pucks in deep to stem Chicago‘s transition game. This particularly was the case on Friday.
What the record crowd of 20,304 at Wachovia Centre witnessed was a gritty effort, in which there weren’t many rebound chances for the high-flying Blackhawks. Chicago also was frustrated by the Flyers shot-blocking prowess. They blocked 28 shots to Chicago’s 11.
“We knew they were going to come out and put pucks on the net,” said Leighton, who is 6-0 at home in the playoffs. “That was kind of our thing. [Laviolette] said don’t let pucks get to the net.
“Those little wrist shots from the point, try to step in front of the guys and knock those down. We did a great job. They did let some get through. But without the screens it was pretty easy, some of them.”
Richards, whose team is 9-1 at the Wachovia Center in the playoffs, had his strongest game of the series. He scored his first goal in the final, blocked three shots and his goal was one of four takeaways he had in what was easily the most physical game of the series.
“Richie always finds a way to step up when it’s time. Obviously, his goal was huge. He just always finds a way to get that big goal for us,” said Flyers forward Claude Giroux, who made it 3-1, 51 seconds after Chicago’s Patrick Sharp scored the Blackhawks first goal late in the opening period.
The home team now has won each of the first four games of the series and each match has been decided by a goal. Game 5 is slated for the United Center in Chicago on Sunday evening.
The Blackhawks outshot the home team 34-31. Flyers defenceman Matt Carle scored the second Philadelphia goal, when he jumped up into the slot to slam in a loose puck.