Chicago Blackhawks goaltender Antti Niemi has yielded more goals in the Stanley Cup finals against the Philadelphia Flyers than during any other round of the playoffs, and he wasn’t at his best in a 7-4 win Sunday in Game 5.
But Niemi was good enough to have the Hawks one win from a Stanley Cup title.
Game 6 is Wednesday in Philadelphia, and it’s likely Niemi will need to raise his level in order to secure that clinching win.
After facing only seven shots and keeping the Flyers off the board in the first period Sunday, he allowed four goals on 20 shots in the latter two periods.
Niemi often has played his best after subpar games, so if that holds true to form, the Hawks should be in good shape.
Midseason form is how to describe the Blackhawks for most of Game 5, especially in the first period. Niemi barely broke a sweat in the opening 20 minutes, indicative of the Hawks puck possession game showing up.
There is little doubt that changing the lines threw the Flyers for a loop, but after the game, most of the Hawks simply credited their work ethic as the difference. And you know what? They were right. The power-play edge, though just 4-3, was proof of that hard work. Moving their legs, making the Flyers chase them, and battling hard created chances and penalties. It was the key to the win.
Chris Pronger had a forgettable night. His minus-5 was the worst single game plus/minus of his career -- regular or postseason. The last player to be at least minus-5 in a Stanley Cup final game was Bob Errey in 1995 for the Detroit Red Wings.
Pronger was asked to comment on Dustin Byfuglien after being reminded this was his first impactful game of the series.
“I guess he's well rested,” Pronger said sarcastically.
Michael Leighton also had one to forget. He was pulled for the second time in the series after giving up three first-period goals. The last team to pull their goalie twice in the Stanley Cup Final was the 1991 Minnesota North Stars, who pulled Jon Casey twice in their series loss to the Penguins.
When asked if Leighton was his Game 6 starter, Flyers coach Peter Laviolette said, “I don't have an answer for that.”
Dustin Byfuglien, on the other hand, had a night to remember. He became just the fourth Blackhawk in their last 20 postseasons to record two goals and two assists in a single playoff contest.
The Hawks and Flyers have scored the fourth-most goals (40) through five games of the Stanley Cup finals and the most -- through five -- since 1980.
Wednesday will mark the first appearance of the Stanley Cup. It’s brought to the arena the first time a team has a chance at winning the series. The Hawks will have two cracks at it.
The Hawks will take the day off on Monday before flying to Philadelphia on Tuesday.
Here’s the Hawks scoring breakdown in the finals, courtesy of ESPN Stats and Information:
Off rebounds: 3.
Initial shot: 18.
In front: 9.
From circles: 7.
All other: 5.