CHICAGO – Home ice, juggled lines and balanced scoring got the Chicago Blackhawks on a roll. Their stars showed up, especially Dustin Byfuglien, and now the Stanley Cup is one victory from their grasp.
Byfuglien, bumped from the top line along with Patrick Kane, had two goals and two assists Sunday night to lead a 7-4 win over the Philadelphia Flyers, giving the Blackhawks a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven final.
“I think he got rid of us and started performing. That’s all he needed,” said Kane, who also had a goal and assist. “He was a force and had some big hits, one on (Chris) Pronger I think everyone remembers.”
The 257-pound Byfuglien, who had eight goals in the first three rounds of the playoffs but none in the first four games against a tough Flyers defence, had a power-play goal in the second period and added an empty netter in the closing seconds.
“Getting down there two games in their building, we had to come back with some fire and get on them and show them we weren’t going to quit,” Byfuglien said. “Right from the get-go we moved our feet and were physical.”
The line that included Byfuglien, Kane and Jonathan Toews that had been effective earlier in the playoffs, was split up — a strategy that worked for Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville. They had combined for just one goal and four assists in the first four meetings with Philly.
“We had to change things up. We didn’t really have time to sit and think about who we were playing with. It was kind of like the last second,” Byfuglien said.
“All year we’ve mixed the lines around, and everyone has really played with everyone. So it wasn’t a real big thing. It was just going out there and playing together as a team and moving our feet and doing the right things.”
Brent Seabrook added a power-play goal, and Dave Bolland, Kris Versteeg and Patrick Sharp also scored for the Blackhawks.
Chicago can capture the Stanley Cup for the first time since 1961 with a victory Wednesday night in Philadelphia in Game 6. A Flyers win would send the series back to Chicago for a decisive Game 7 on Friday night.
“We’re not going to think about that now. We have to keep level-headed and go into that building with the same mindset and have fun,” Versteeg said of Wednesday’s chance to wrap it up.
All five wins in the series have come on home ice.
Scott Hartnell, Kimmo Timonen, James van Riemsdyk and Simon Gagne scored for the Flyers. Gagne’s goal with 2:36 left made it 6-4, but a half-minute later Byfuglien converted the empty-netter.
“We’ve got to go back home now and start all over,” Flyers forward Ville Leino said.
“I think we were ready. We were a little too ready. I think we were a little nervous. Nobody wanted the puck. We didn’t make plays. We were just giving it to the net. We’ve got to be smarter and work harder,” he added.
Leino acknowledged that the line changes more or less helped the Blackhawks.
“Probably,” he said. “Obviously their desperation was a little higher.”
The Blackhawks blitzed goalie Michael Leighton with three goals in the final 7:43 of the first period, and the United Center erupted as Chicago quickly found the offensive game that had helped it make the final.
“We were slow. We turned a lot of pucks over. Where we had all our success in this series was not turning the pucks over, getting the puck in deep,” Flyers captain Mike Richards said.
“We just didn’t have a physical presence as we did the last couple of games.”
Leighton was pulled — for the second time in the series in favour of Brian Boucher — after giving up three goals on 13 shots in the first period.
“We weren’t very good in the first period,” Flyers coach Peter Laviolette said, adding he didn’t know who would start in goal for Game 6.
Leighton got hit by a puck on the knee during warmups, but he downplayed the effect on his performance.
“It’s just a bruise,” he said. “It didn’t affect the way I played. Once you get on the ice, you don’t really think about it.”
Trailing 3-0, the Flyers wasted little time in getting one of the goals back as Leino took the puck to side of the net and tried to stuff it in. But after hitting goalie Antti Niemi, the puck sat just off the line before Hartnell came in and knocked it home just 32 seconds into the period.
Kane got his second goal of the finals on a nice pass from Andrew Ladd. Ladd had his shot blocked by Flyers defenceman Pronger, recovered the puck and passed it to Kane, who streaked to the net uncovered to beat Boucher for a 4-1 lead.
Pronger finished with a miserable minus-5 rating in Game 5.
As they have done throughout the series, the gritty Flyers responded quickly to a Chicago goal with one of their own. Timonen converted from the left circle after Niemi had gone down making a save seconds earlier, and it was 4-2.
With Pronger in the penalty box for hooking, Byfuglien — who likes the space in front of the net — finally got his first goal of the series after a pass from captain Toews, making it 5-2.
Before the goal, Niemi made a great pad save on a point-blank attempt by Richards during a Flyers power play, keeping it a two-goal game.
Van Riemsdyk scored on a rebound in the final period to cut Chicago’s lead to two and Niemi made another nice stop on Richards with about five minutes left.
Kane then skated down the left side and made a crisp feed to Sharp. That gave the Blackhawks a four-goal lead with just under four minutes left.
Aggressive from the outset, shooting from all angles, getting the puck through the neutral zone and able to keep their own end clear, the Blackhawks were in control early after two losses in Philadelphia that appeared to swing the momentum in the Flyers’ favour.
On a power play, Seabrook took a nice pass from Versteeg, who had skated behind the net, lined it up from the left circle and beat Leighton for a 1-0 lead. The Blackhawks had entered the game just 1 for 9 on the power play in the series.
With a delayed penalty about to be called on the Flyers, Bolland gathered the puck as it bounced off the boards behind the net and then shovelled it in off Leighton’s skate for a two-goal advantage.
About two minutes later, Versteeg took a pass at centre ice, skated high between the circles and rifled the puck past Leighton for a 3-0 lead.
Leighton withstood a furious early attack with a great stop on Sharp, as Chicago had a quick 6-1 shots advantage, but the Blackhawks kept coming. Chicago finished the period with a 13-7 edge.
Quenneville shuffled the lines — with Marian Hossa and Tomas Kopecky joining Toews to start the game. Kane skated with Ladd and Sharp, and Byfuglien was teamed with Versteeg and Bolland.
NOTES: In the 20 previous Stanley Cup finals series tied 2-2, the club winning Game 5 has won the Stanley Cup 14 times. Last year, the Pittsburgh Penguins were one of the six teams to overcome a loss in Game 5 after the series had been knotted at 2-2. … Among the 22,305 in attendance was Michael Jordan, wearing a Toews jersey and waving a souvenir towel. … Pronger, the Flyers’ workhorse throughout the playoffs, logged 28 minutes, 37 seconds of ice time. … Flyers RW Danny Briere got a cut near his eye from an errant stick in the final period.