PHILADELPHIA — His Flyers were dominated from the faceoff to the closing seconds. He yanked his goalie, his top defender suddenly went soft, and his star forward took a brutal stick to the eye.
If coach Peter Laviolette believed Philadelphia’s loss to Chicago in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup finals was a true reflection of how the Flyers play in crucial post-season games, he might have made them come to the ice Monday for practice or an extra video session.
Instead, Laviolette told them to stay home. Relax and regroup. Save the work for Tuesday.
Laviolette sent his team away with a message: Wednesday’s Game 6 is only the next chapter before Game 7.
The Flyers believe they aren’t finished with their post-season stuffed with thrilling comebacks.
“If any team gets it, this team gets it because we’ve been here so many times,” Laviolette said. “Again, to have our back against the wall, we’ll be comfortable with this. I have no question that our team will respond in a manner in which it should so that we can be successful.”
This Flyers team has mastered the art of the comeback, starting all the way back on the last day of the regular season when a shootout win clinched a playoff spot. It became the third team in NHL history to win a series after losing the first three games when it eliminated Boston in the Eastern Conference semifinals, and evened the Stanley Cup at 2-all after losing the first two games at Chicago.
The Flyers have one more edge that’s bigger than Chicago’s tallest skyscraper. Game 6 is in Philly — huge in a series where the home team has won every game and where the Flyers are a sizzling 9-1 this post-season.
They couldn’t wait to escape Chicago after Sunday night’s 7-4 loss.
“They came out harder,” Flyers goalie Michael Leighton said. “For some reason, we weren’t ready to play and it cost us the game.”
It might cost Leighton his starting spot.
Laviolette has decided which goalie will start Game 6 of the Stanley Cup finals. He just won’t say if it’s Leighton or Brian Boucher.
Leighton has started every game for the Flyers since Game 6 of the Eastern Conference semifinals. He’s been yanked twice during the Stanley Cup finals — in Game 1 and Game 5. Boucher took over at the start of the second period Sunday night with the Flyers trailing 3-0.
Leighton is 8-2 with a 2.34 goals against average, and three shutouts in the East finals. Boucher is 6-6 with a 2.47 GAA and lost his job when he was hurt against the Bruins.
Laviolette said Monday he didn’t reveal his starting goalie because he hasn’t talked to his players yet.
“Whatever is best for the team and whatever is going to give us the best chance to win one hockey game,” he said.
Leighton or Boucher. Boucher or Leighton.
The Flyers goalie doesn’t really matter much to the Blackhawks. Neither does Game 6’s locale because the Blackhawks would be back in control if the series shifted back to Chicago for a Game 7 on Friday.
The Blackhawks are just one win away from a celebratory swig out of one of sports most signature trophies for the first time since Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita won it all in 1961. Michael Jordan donned a Jonathan Toews jersey to root on the Blackhawks on Sunday night, and the United Center was rocking again like when Air Jordan was flying and dunking his way through the city.
In the 20 previous Stanley Cup finals that were tied 2-2, the Game 5 winner has won the series 14 times.
Throw in the perfect home records in the finals and the Blackhawks have to like their championship chances.
Coach Joel Quenneville commended his team for its focus in Game 5 and expects the same in Philly.
“I don’t think we want to change off of those levels,” he said. “We’re going on the road. We don’t want to change our approach, play the same way. Same emotion.”
The Blackhawks just might want to watch where they poke their sticks. Laviolette was still upset a day after Chicago defenceman Duncan Keith swung his stick right under Danny Briere’s right eye. Briere left the ice bloodied and Duncan kept playing without a penalty called against him.
“At first glance, I almost thought it was intentional,” Laviolette said. “The puck wasn’t even around. Looking at it again, it should have been a four-minute (major) penalty. You have to be in control out there.”
The Flyers need a stronger effort from defenceman Chris Pronger after he was on the ice for six of Chicago’s seven goals in Game 5 and had one of the worst playoff games of his career (minus-5).
Laviolette refused to single out Pronger, Leighton or any other Flyer for marked improvement in Game 6. He knows they all have to play better to have a shot at keeping the Stanley Cup from being hoisted by Chicago in a post-game celebration.
“I have no question that we’ll respond,” Laviolette said.