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2010 Stanley Cup Finals, Game 2: Flyers, Blackhawks aim for improvement

Blackhawks2.jpgChicago Blackhawks vs. Philadelphia Flyers

Stanley Cup Finals, Game 2

Blackhawks lead series 1-0

Live on NBC, 8 p.m. EDT

Join us for a live chat for tonight’s game @ 7:45 p.m.

Generally the NHL playoffs are defensive battles, close affairs with both teams fighting not to make mistakes as each goal allowed becomes more and more devastating the deeper into the playoffs they go. There will always be breakdowns, but generally the games become intense and low scoring scoring games as every single player on both teams raises the level of their play to levels they’ve never reached before. Teams that fail to keep up with the intensity and drive of the other becomes a footnote in the annals of the Stanley Cup finals.

Game 1 resembled none of this. A sloppy, yet ultimately entertaining game that saw ten goals scored in the first two periods was like nothing anyone expected. After all, the backbone of both the Blackhawks and the Flyers is their defense and while the goaltending was never exactly a strength of both teams it had been a while since we had witnessed breakdowns of this level.

That it happened to both teams, in the same game, is nothing short of extraordinary.

The Blackhawks, despite the win, realized that they were lucky. They allowed a less talented team to come out and get confidence, surprising everyone when the Flyers grabbed a 3-2 lead headed into the first intermission. The Blackhawks fought back in the second and the third, yet walked away knowing that if they hope to hoist the Stanley Cup at the end of the series they’ll need to play much, much better than they did on home ice against the Flyers.

For the Flyers, they should feel confident in themselves after playing the Blackhawks so close. Yet just like Chicago, they know they were nowhere near their best and they paid for it with a tough loss. Despite coming out so energetic and so determined to begin the game, they were undisciplined defensively and allowed the Blackhawks to tie the game and take three different leads after holding a 3-2 lead themselves after 20 minutes.

Was it just jitters for two teams that overall are lacking Stanley Cup experience? The Blackhawks have Marian Hossa and the Flyers have Chris Pronger, but overall these are two generally young and inexperienced teams when it comes to playing with so much on the line.

I don’t expect to see another game like we witnessed on Saturday, and I’m certain that both the coaches and players are determined to have their teams get back to what had been so successful for them leading up to this point.

For the Flyers, that means a more physical approach as they work to keep not only the Hawks’ top line off the scoreboard but also the rest of the team as well. The Flyers were duped into a run and gun game that is far from the style they employ so well, and they need to find a way to limit the attack of the Blackhawks. Keeping the Hawks to the perimeter, forcing them to fight for the puck along the boards and using the physicality that the Flyers are so good at is exactly the approach this team needs; not some haphazard, up and down game that exposes every weakness the Flyers have.

The Blackhawks were surprisingly undisciplined on defense, allowing the Flyers all sorts of space in the first half of the game. What was more amazing was how the Hawks walked away with a win despite Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Dustin Byfuglien having their worst games of the postseason. They weren’t just ineffective, they were horrible.

The scoring depth of the Hawks won’t be there every game, and if the Flyers are able to consistently lock down that top line they they’ll have a damn good chance at walking away with the Cup after all is said and done.

Game 1 was entertaining but for hockey purists it was one ugly performance by each team. Both sides will lock things down, and I expect to see a much more disciplined game by both teams tonight -- disciplined in the actual play, that is. I fully expect to see the Flyers and the Blackhawks get more physical, more undisciplined along the boards and in scrums as they settle into the series and look to get the upperhand in any way possible.