PHILADELPHIA – The big guns for both the Flyers and the Blackhawks have been relatively quiet in the Stanley Cup final, but goals are coming from unexpected sources.
Third-line centre Claude Giroux was the hero with an overtime goal and two assists as the Flyers got their first win of the series in Game 3 on Wednesday. His goal came after Ville Leino, who was not in the lineup when the playoffs started, tied it in the third period.
While they were shut out in Game 3, Chicago’s second unit of Patrick Sharp with Marian Hossa and Troy Brouwer was its most dangerous in the opening two games.
Chicago stars Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews finally combined for their first goal of the series in Game 3 and hope that will get them untracked, but it has been tough sledding against the big, physical Philadelphia defence led by Chris Pronger.
”They’re so tightly checked, everyone is, but maybe those top guys a little more,” Blackhawks forward Kris Versteeg said Thursday. ”So it’s not surprising.
”Both teams have depth in scoring and you’re seeing that in the series.”
Chicago leads the best-of-seven final 2-1 with Game 4 of what has been a tight series set for Friday night at the Wachovia Center.
Philadelphia’s first line of Mike Richards, Jeff Carter and Simon Gagne has combined for three points — a Gagne goal with an assist to the other two.
Into that void stepped the second unit of centre Daniel Briere with Leino and rugged winger Scott Hartnell, who between them have six goals and seven assists in the series.
At times, coach Peter Laviolette has two of them take a shift with Giroux, but he is not concerned at the lack of production from his big line, particularly team captain Richards, who also had a quiet Eastern Conference final until he broke out with three points in the fifth and deciding game.
”I’m sure he wishes they were contributing more points, but they’re getting lots of chances,” said Laviolette. ”He’s getting the puck to Carter and Gagne.
”Carter had 12 attempts at the net (in Game 3) and Gagne had five. They got the looks they want, they just didn’t fall for them. It’s only a matter of time for me.”
Richards was huge as the Flyers upset New Jersey in the first round and then bounced back from a 3-0 deficit to beat Boston in the second. Gagne got hot when he returned from a foot injury during the Boston series and carried it into the conference final.
But with tight checking in what has been an intense final, neither top line has broken out yet.
”It would be nice to contribute, were just having tough luck around the net right now,” said Richards, who has dropped to second in team scoring for the playoffs with 22 points, two fewer than Briere. ”We’re having opportunities, but we’re missing nets and he (Chicago goalie Antti Niemi) is making saves.
”I don’t want to put to much pressure on, saying if we don’t score we’re going to lose because we have enough depth that on any given night anybody can score.”
Like Giroux, the 22-year-old who has 20 points in 20 post-season games, or Leino, who was a healthy scratch for the first four games of the playoffs, but has 16 points in as many games since he got into the lineup.
The Briere-Leino-Hartnell unit has played a lot head-to-head against the Toews line and so far is winning that battle, although it helps that the Philadelphia power play has been clicking while Chicago, according to Elias Sports, has become the first team since the 2003 Anaheim Ducks to be held without a power-play goal through the first three games of a Cup final.
”Pucks will pop loose and they’ll land on your stick — things will bounce you way sometimes,” said Toews, the overall playoff scoring leader with 27 points. ”That seems to be what’s happening for that line.
”We have to try our best to take that confidence away fro them. Maybe we have to focus on them a little more.”
Chicago coach Joel Quenneville, who had last line change for the first two games, opted to match Toews against the Briere line and Hartnell wonders if they may rethink that strategy in Game 4.
”I don’t know if we match up against them, but we’ve been playing in their end most of the time,” said Hartnell. ”A good defence is a good offence.”
Still, the Hawks’ young stars showed what they can do with a quick transition goal in which Toews sent Kane in on a breakaway for a 3-2 lead early in the third period.
It would have been a killer goal against many teams, but the Flyers have been the Comeback Kids of these playoffs. Leino tied it up only 20 seconds later to force overtime.
”Sometimes we’re standing around a bit with the puck,” said Kane. ”If we can move our feet and play a fast-paced game and keep the tempo up like we have all year it would bode well for us because all our payers are pretty fast.
”Hopefully we can use it against their bigger defencemen better.”