CHICAGO – Marian Hossa knows better than most that no lead is safe in the Stanley Cup finals. The Chicago Blackhawks forward, in the championship round for a third straight season, finds himself in a familiar situation.
With Detroit a year ago, he was part of a team that won the first two games at home, lost the next two in Pittsburgh. The Red Wings prevailed in Game 5 back on home ice for a 3-2 lead before dropping the final two games as the Penguins captured the Cup.
The Blackhawks have followed that exact path through the first five games against the Philadelphia Flyers. And now they can secure the franchise’s first Stanley Cup in 49 years Wednesday night at the Wachovia Center.
“We know it’s going to be the toughest game to close it,” said Hossa.
“Having been in that situation, especially last year, the momentum in the first shift next game, first goal is going to be so important to get the momentum. … That’s going to be so important for us to start really well.”
Coach Joel Quenneville’s adjustments and line shuffling helped the Blackhawks’ high-energy offence find another gear in a 7-4 victory in Game 5. Chicago stormed out with three first-period goals, prompted a goaltending switch by the Flyers from Michael Leighton to Brian Boucher and ended up with goals from six different players.
Quenneville broke up his first three lines, separating his former first line of Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Dustin Byfuglien. Is more shifting a possibility?
“Status quo would probably be the best way to go into the next game,” Quenneville said Monday.
Byfuglien had two goals and two assists and Kane a goal and assist as the Blackhawks were able to split their talent and force Philly defenceman Chris Pronger into a minus-5 night. Pronger was also in the penalty box when Byfuglien scored his first goal of the series.
And after going 1-for-9 in the first four games of the series, the Blackhawks converted twice on four chances with a man advantage.
“We just settled down and played our game and that’s a big factor, just even with the even strength, we came out ready to go, controlling the puck a little better,” Byfuglien said. “That led into the power play with guys just settling down, confidence and just playing.
“That’s something we needed to do.”
But now can they carry it over in their return to Philly?
Chicago is 7-3 on the road in the playoffs — having won clinching games away from home in the first two rounds against Nashville and Vancouver — but lost its first two tries in Philadelphia.
“Nothing’s won yet,” Chicago defenceman Duncan Keith said. “We know going forward we’re going to need the same effort, even better.”
The Blackhawks PR machine has been pushing the “One Goal” theme for two years — that of course being the Stanley Cup, something the franchise hasn’t hoisted since the days of Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita in 1961.
A day off the ice Monday gave the Blackhawks time to rest and reflect on how far they have come since training camp started way back in September.
Quenneville was ready to embark on a year of scouting when Chicago fired Denis Savard four games into last season. Now in his first trip to the final as a head coach, he’s appreciative of how his life has changed.
“It’s been a lot of fun. I’ve been very fortunate to come here at the time, receiving a tremendous hockey team with great kids that like being around each other. Have a lot of skill and talent,” Quenneville said.
“Things change rapidly. I was the beneficiary of coming in with a great opportunity at the right time. I feel lucky.”
Quenneville knows his team will face an early hard charge from the Flyers and says controlling emotions will be play a big role.
“It’s a huge game, biggest game of our lives,” Quenneville said. “Channel it properly, and control — we control what we can control and that’s your next shift.”