Good goalies? Save it!

May 31, 2010|By Helene Elliott

It was our fault, forwards from both teams said of the defensive zone chaos and neutral zone follies that added unexpected drama to the Blackhawks' 6-5 victory Saturday night over the Flyers in the opener of the Stanley Cup finals.

No, really, it was our fault, defensemen from both teams said Sunday, the morning after a game Brent Sopel described as "pond hockey with a tennis ball."

They're all right.

The Flyers' forwards did little to help Michael Leighton, who gave up five goals on 20 shots before Brian Boucher replaced him at 15 minutes, 18 seconds of the second period. Chris Pronger was the only defenseman who regularly got a body or stick on anyone, though the Flyers — remarkably — were not assessed a single penalty.

The Hawks' forwards were too busy chasing the fast-transitioning Flyers and scrambling around their own zone to minimize traffic in front of Antti Niemi until the third period, when he managed to stop all six Flyers shots. Their defense, with an uninjured Brian Campbell trusted to play only 13:07, was under pressure early and needed 40 minutes to adjust. That's too long.

While it's noble of the Flyers to take the fall for Leighton and the Blackhawks to protect Niemi's reputation more energetically than they policed his crease, they can't disguise one simple fact heading into Game 2 Monday night at the United Center:

Both goalies were atrocious, and the team that wins the Cup likely will prevail despite its goaltending, not because of it.

Leighton, one of five Flyers goalies during an injury-marred season, will get the call for Game 2. Boucher gave up only one goal, on a patient and skillful play by Tomas Kopecky at 8:25 of the third, but that was his first action since he injured both knees May 10. Leighton helped the Flyers complete their comeback from a 3-0 deficit against the Bruins, and Laviolette probably feels a sense of obligation.

The Hawks didn't make Niemi available Sunday and coach Joel Quenneville said that in evaluating the goalie he gave considerable weight to the team's poor defensive coverage and the goalie's resilience.

"We like the way he approaches games and he moves on after goals or after every situation," Quenneville said.

helliott@tribune.com

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