Blackhawks edge Flyers for 2-0 lead
Niemi made 14 of his 32 saves in the final period and Chicago beat the Philadelphia Flyers, 2-1, to take a 2-0 series lead on Monday night.
“It’s unbelievable feeling how the people react,” Niemi said as the crowd cheered him and chanted his name after the game. “Defense was the key.”
After a 6-5 Chicago victory in the opener when the teams traded goals, both clubs tightened up their defense. The tone was more physical and chippy from the outset.
The Blackhawks, who for the second straight game got no points from their two young stars Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, broke through against Michael Leighton when Marian Hossa and Ben Eager scored 28 seconds apart late in the second period.
And after the Flyers got a power-play goal from Simon Gagne early in the third, Niemi withstood a late flurry from the Flyers to preserve Chicago’s seventh straight win.
“I thought their goaltender played extremely well in the third period. We had more than enough looks to tie up that game,” Philadelphia coach Peter Laviolette said.
Games 3 and 4 will be played in Philadelphia on Wednesday and Friday.
Patrick Sharp fired a shot from the left circle, and after Leighton stopped it and with Chicago’s Troy Brouwer battling for the puck, Hossa poked it in from the left side with 2:51 left in the second. It was Hossa’s third goal of the playoffs.
Just 28 seconds later, Dustin Byfuglien made a steal and fed the puck to Eager. Eager’s shot from the right circle beat Leighton high on the glove side to make it 2-0.
It was the first goal of the playoffs for the former Flyers forward.
Philadelphia broke through with 1 second left on a power play when Gagne scored from the left circle.
Gagne nearly chipped in a tying rebound about 7 minutes later, but was denied by Niemi’s pad in close.
Leighton, who was drafted by the Blackhawks and played parts of two seasons for them, got the nod despite being pulled in Game 1 after yielding five goals on 20 shots. He made 24 saves Monday night.
Trying to get more punch, the Flyers inserted forward Daniel Carcillo into the lineup. A scratch the last three games and known for his agitating style, Carcillo was the team leader in playoff penalty minutes (30) entering the game and joined Philadelphia captain Mike Richards and Jeff Carter on a first line that had been pointless in the opener.
Carcillo replaced Gagne to start the game – Gagne later returned to the top line – and immediately began to mix things up. He took a run at Chicago’s Tomas Kopecky and inadvertently flattened teammate Carter.
The Flyers were called for their first penalty of the series with 5:12 left in the opening period, bringing out a loud roar from the crowd as the Blackhawks went on a power play for the first time in nearly 75 minutes. They couldn’t score.
About three minutes later, Chicago went on another power play when there were three penalties called simultaneously – two on the Flyers with Carcillo being sent to the box for unsportsmanlike conduct.
But the Blackhawks couldn’t convert, and the first period ended scoreless, quite a contrast from Game 1 when there were five goals in the opening 20 minutes. Outshot 17-9 in the first period of the opener, the Blackhawks had a 9-3 advantage in the rematch.
One of Chicago’s best scoring chances came in front of the net as Toews tried to punch the puck in before he was wedged out by defenseman Chris Pronger, who then shoved his Olympic teammate into the boards, prompting an angry exchange.
Niemi used his right pad to stop Richards on a breakaway at 7:35 of the second, preserving the scoreless tie. And moments later, Leighton responded with a nice save on Duncan Keith in the slot after a good pass from Sharp.
Niemi then twice made stops on hard shots from Carcillo and another from Richards, but Leighton did the same against Hossa and Dave Bolland. One of Niemi’s best stops came with a stretched-out glove save against Arron Asham, prompting chants of “Ant-ti Ant-ti” from the crowd of 22,275.
The Flyers had three leads in the opener, weren’t called for a penalty, held Chicago’s top line scoreless and still lost.